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Whaley on Stollberg-Rilinger: Des Kaisers Kleider (Read 1808 times)

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Whaley on Stollberg-Rilinger: Des Kaisers Kleider
17.09.2009 at 12:05:45
Joachim Whaley on:
Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger:
Des Kaisers alte Kleider : Verfassungsgeschichte und Symbolsprache im Alten Reich
München : Beck 2008
ISBN 978-3-406-57074-2
("Published on H-German (September, 2009)")
: A New View of Old Ritual?
Stollberg-Rilinger's starting point is that the new historians of the Reich since the 1960s have essentially misunderstood the nature of the polity. They have generally focused on its constitution and, more recently, some have debated its character as a state. In doing so, Stollberg-Rilinger suggests, they have applied anachronistic notions of constitutions and of the state to a system that was, in reality, held together by something different. According to her, the real glue, indeed essence, of the early modern Reich was ritual: the symbolic language of imperial authority exercised in person through acts of majesty such as the enfeoffment of princes and the opening of a Reichstag. On these occasions, the emperor was surrounded by his vassals and together, they enacted the rituals that constituted their polity. Vassals, in turn, enacted similar rituals with regard to each other in ways that expressed, affirmed, and, in a sense, created the hierarchy of which they were all part. Once that ritual language ceased to be meaningful, the polity ceased to function. When powerful princes, starting with the electors, ceased to participate in the constitutive rituals of the Reich, a long decline began that ended with its dissolution in 1806. In Stollberg-Rilinger's account, the first signs of crisis began to appear with the Reformation. By the mid-seventeenth century, she suggests, the crisis was acute. By the mid-eighteenth century, the ritual language was dead. Thereafter the Germans, as Hegel commented, were simply looking at the emperor's old clothes. They imagined that they were as fresh as they had been when they were new, but in reality they had become meaningless rags.
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