Johann August Schlettwein and the economic faculty at the University of Gieβen

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Abstract:

Johann August Schlettwein established a reputation during the later eighteenth century as Germany's foremost Physiocrat. Schlettwein's primarily literary reputation was lent authority by his direct participation in two practical Physiocratic experiments: the Markgraf of Baden's trial introduction of a single tax during the the early 1770s, and the creation of an Economic Faculty at the University of Gieβen as part of a general financial reform in the state of Hessen-Darmstadt. It is this latter case which will be examined here, where university reform was assigned an important role in the general reconstruction of state finances. But why should the reformers in Darmstadt have lighted upon a maverick figure such as Schlettwein to lead a Faculty which was in turn assigned a leading role in the reform of their state university? And given the apparent failure of Schlettwein to fulfil the hopes placed in him, to what can we attribute his generally lacklustre performance in Gieβen? While the first of these questions can be fairly readily answered by considering the choices facing the state government, the second problem is more open: a number of possibilities suggest themselves. The fact that Physiocratic principles conflicted sharply with those governing cameralistic teaching in the German university could have been a significant obstacle; or it could have been that the role assigned to Schlettwein proved impossible, caught between the agenda of Physiocratic reform and that of the state government; or it might of course be that Schlettwein bore personally the major share of the blame. The Physiocratic programme was sweeping in its ambitions; but where it was put into practice (in Baden), or was lent an academic platform (in Gieβen), it failed. By examining the reasons behind the failure in Gieβen we can perhaps learn something more of the scope of Physiocracy as a programme of reform in the eighteenth century and thence, indirectly, about the contemporary reception of Physiocratic ideas.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Gieβen.

Publication date: January 1, 1994

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