[This is a somewhat rough machine-assisted translation of “Reaktion, Restauration” in: Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, hsg. v. Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, Reinhart Koselleck, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1984, 1992.]
[This is one of two entries that Panagiotis Kondylis wrote for the lexicon, the other being Würde (dignity). It’s a dense essay, but it’s marked by an incredible mastery of the sources — there are some 296 footnotes, which aren’t transcribed here — and Kondylis’ seamless ability to switch between conceptual and social history, between the big picture and the particular event, all with unparalleled analytic rigor, and while telling an engaging story all the same. My favorite section is II.5.(c) where Kondylis describes the growing split between liberalism and radical democracy in the Frankfurt National Assembly, and the willingness of liberals to demote the polemical use of “reaction,” and how the fear of anarchy and a “rote Republik” like in Paris was an important liberal concern, thus de facto at least in part rhetorically converging with the aristocratic right. This is another important testimony in favor of differentiating liberalism proper as a historical phenomenon from its unrestrained use as a catchword in the 20th and 21st centuries.]
[I had to omit the 8th chapter due to encountering transcription errors; it is brief and its absence does not detract all that much.]
[My thanks to @hispaniccosmist on Twitter for providing me with the scan. Enjoy.]
I. Introduction. II. 1. The origin of ‘reaction’ and ‘restoration’ and their encounter in the revolutionary period. a) ‘reaction’. b) ‘restoration’. 2. Historical-philosophical background of the restoration efforts and the accusation of reaction. 3. Early use in Germany. 4. The dissolution of the concept of restoration after the July Revolution and the development of the intensified concept of reaction around 1840. 5. The reaction in 1848. a) General remark. b) The counter-revolution’s confrontation with the concept and accusation of reaction. c) The ambiguous attitude of liberals towards the concept of reaction. d) Political and social reaction from a democratic and socialist point of view. 6. Social and constitutional historical positioning of ‘reaction’. 7. ‘Reaction’ in the period from 1849 to 1866. 8. The weakening of the concept of reaction in the period when the German Reich was founded. III. Outlook.
If one keeps in mind the pre-revolutionary history of ‘Reaction’ and ‘Restoration’, which from the point of view of the question posed in this lexicon must be described as their prehistory, a simultaneous treatment of the two can hardly be justified. In fact, these are two terms that appear at different times and in very different contexts, to coexist without any contact until the Age of Revolution. The revolution intensifies the politicization that had begun earlier and also brings about a semasiological expansion of both, which first leads to their rapprochement and finally to their merging, i.e. leads to their synonymy – at least insofar as today both terms can mean the striving to restore obsolete views and institutions, even if the adherence to existing conditions in the face of progress is denoted exclusively by ‘reaction’. Only the revolutionary turn makes possible, indeed requires, the parallel pursuit of the conceptual-historical fate of ‘reaction’ and ‘revolution’. The positive or negative mutual influence of the two terms takes place both on a political level in the narrower sense and on an ideological and historical-philosophical level.
II. 1. The origin of ‘reaction’ and ‘restoration’ and their encounter in the revolutionary period
a) ‘reaction’. The word ‘reactio’ is a scholarly neologism that arose during the discussion of aspects of Aristotelian theory of nature or motion during the Renaissance period. Reagere, resistere agenti, as Vossius described the term and admitted its suitability for (natural) philosophical purposes, although he himself preferred vicissim agere. At least the new term seems to have been familiar enough at the beginning of the 17th century, because Goclenius registers and explains it as solemnly established by the formulation of Newton’s third law: Actioni contrariam semper et aequalem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse aequales et in partes contrarias dirigi. As is well known, an important side effect of Newton’s apotheosis in the Age of Enlightenment was the transfer of (reinterpreted) basic concepts from his natural sciences to the fields of biology, anthropology and politics. The ‘reaction’ fared similarly, albeit to a lesser extent, to the ‘attraction’. At first, however, it was only mentioned in connection with the respective action. When Diveror wrote: “je vois tout en action et en reaction,” he meant that action and reaction are the two indispensable moments of dynamic equilibrium, i.e. of the world that is constantly in motion and yet retains certain basic structures. The same idea underlay the contemporary introduction of the concept pair ‘action’-‘reaction’ into the language of biology and the first transfer of this scientific terminology to politics. Montesquieu, following Machiavelli, saw the inner strength of the Roman Republic in the complementarity of its competing parts, which he compared to the parties de cet univers, eternellement liees par l’action des unes et la reaction des autres. Rousseau, on the other hand, used ‘action’ and ‘reaction’ not to describe the internal conditions of a state, but the functioning of the European state system; but since, in contrast to the uncertain peace that this had in mind, he had in mind a permanent one, for him action and reaction represent not so much complementary factors of true harmony as rather the causes of a dangerous agitation continuelle.
The French Revolution coupled the pair of terms ‘action’-reaction’ to each other. When “revolution” took the place of “action” on a linguistic level, with all the momentum this word now has, the prerequisites for the politicization of the concept of reaction were created at the same time. Because the linguistic farewell to the concept of action and thus to scientific metaphors had a real, historical and political reason. While in the scientific concept action and reaction, despite all opposition, ultimately formed forces working together within a more or less stable equilibrium, on the historical-political terrain revolutionary action and counter-revolutionary reaction clashed with such force that a fruitful coexistence of both, within the framework of a (still to be established) balance, could no longer be envisaged. The parallel to the natural science concept lost its justification when the age of world civil war [Weltbürgerkrieg] began.
When the revolution broke out, however, it was still too early to consolidate fronts and ideas. Although this resulted in the at least implicit replacement of ‘action’ by ‘revolution’, the displacement of scientific expression by political expression that began with it stopped halfway insofar as there was no immediate politicization of the concept of reaction in the sense of its unambiguous connection with a single party or movement took place. Since the concept of reaction initially remained true to its scientific origin and continued to designate the respective specific counteraction to a previous specific effect, it could be related to reactive actions of different groups or parties, but not exclusively to a specific one of these. In the early phase of the revolution, Mirabeau was therefore entitled to demand a reaction against incorrigible clerics, just as Bishop Torné could complain about the complots combines de reaction violente.
The concept of reaction is still party-neutral here, namely it points to any action politique opposee a une autre, whereby the authors of the latter must be named in each individual case. The later function of the concept of reaction was therefore initially fulfilled by the term “counterrevolution”, which continued to be used frequently as a synonym. However, etymological associations (counter-, re-) already suggested an identification of the two, and the course of events in France, after 1792 at the latest, also urged it. Yet it could only take place irrevocably after 1815, when the defeat of the revolution allowed its opponents (temporarily) to seize the initiative, which gave the concept of reaction a special intensity and conciseness. It then ceased to refer primarily to reactive actions of various parties and thus to be party-neutral itself, in order to henceforth designate a very specific party or movement whose actions not only defy the current approach of the revolutionary offensive, but a conscious and coherent strategy directed against the temporarily defeated but by no means eradicated revolution in toto. To the extent that the individual counter-revolutionary actions seemed to condense into an ideologically founded counter-revolutionary strategy, the reactions also became the reaction. After ‘history’ and ‘progress’, another significant collective singular entered the plan of political grammar, which was of course closely related to the previous ones. Using the example of [Benjamin] Constant, the steps up to the threshold of finite singularization can be followed well. In his pamphlet “Des reactions politiques”, published in 1797, he regrets excesses that must result in exaggerated “reactions”. These appear as the opposite of moderation and can come from all those involved, although Constant assumes that reactions arise from efforts to contain a revolution that has come hors de ses bornes (come out of bounds). He is undoubtedly thinking of the Thermidorian reaction, but the connection in principle with a particular party still remains off. It is not yet made directly in Constant’s private notes from the years 1814-1816, but this time it is obvious. Because if we continue to speak here of political actions and not of political actors, the former are still understood as components of an organized activity (which is why Constant also uses the singular reaction, in contrast to 1797), which always aims in the same direction and therefore does not have to have interchangeable and unmistakable carriers. If the relationship between reactive activities is certain, and if the same bearers of it are always established as necessary, then the next step can also take place without constraint, namely the political or even historical-philosophical intended hypostasis of the reaction, which in turn, as we shall see, should reach different degrees of intensity.
b) Restoration. ‘Restaurare’ and ‘restauratio’ were in Latin considerably older than ‘reagere’ and ‘reactio’ and also acquired political significance at a much earlier point in time, but it was only after 1815 that they were given that special meaning that gave them a permanent place in the modern political language and at the same time made inevitable its abiding connection with the concept of reaction. In Classical Latin ‘restauratio’ was mainly used in the narrower sense of restoration, the rebuilding of ruined buildings; the metaphorical use of the word also remained within narrow limits. Although a late Roman inscription was dedicated to an imperial restorer orbis terrarum et restitutori, this expression is a rarity. The strengthening of ‘restaurator’ by ‘restitutor’ was not accidental, since in Latin the act or fact of reinstatement in the previous (healthy) state was primarily expressed by ‘restituere’ and ‘restitutio’, Therefore ‘restitutio’, along with ‘reformatio’ and ‘regeneratio’, appeared as a synonym for ‘renovatio’ when in the 10th century the phrase ‘renovatio imperii romani’ was coined. The word ‘restauratio’ was not used in this context ; in medieval texts it basically retains or specifies the meaning of classical Latin to mean the same as ‘reparatio’ or ‘compensatio’. Even when the papal nuncio Bishop CARLO CARAFA published his “Commentaria de Germania sacra restaurata” in Cologne in 1639 to report on the progress of the Counter-Reformation under Ferdinand II, the concept of restoration had the transferred meaning of the “inner renewal” of ‘restitutio.’ With regard to the career of the term after 1815, it is important to note that even when it made its first major political appearance, namely on the occasion of the Happy Restoration of his Majesty to his People and Kingdoms [England, 1660], it remained restricted to the strictly dynastic aspect and was by no means a revival of the previous conditions, let alone their ideological or historical-philosophical justification: in general, nothing less was expected of Charles II than the continuation of his father’s policies. Equally important for understanding the later development, however, is the finding that the concept of restoration had undergone an expansion even before it was used again in the dynastic sense with the return of the Bourbons, which after 1815 also enabled it to take on new meaning beyond its dynastic meaning to take on new tasks. The French National Assembly had already decided in the night session of August 4, 1789 to elect Louis XVI restaurateur de la liberte francaise and while as late as 1779 in the Eneyclopedie ‘restoration’ meant the restoration of buildings and works of art and the return of the Stuarts, in 1801 it is said of the same term: son plus grand usage est au moral, which in turn is explained in more detail by Restoration de L’Etat, des Belles-Lettres, de la Discipline, des Lois etc. The meeting of ‘reaction’ and ‘restoration’ after 1815 now presupposed both the hypostasis of the former and the semasiological extension of the latter. But the fact of this encounter could be interpreted in very different ways, i.e. one could grant either one the ideological or historical primacy if one did not want to equate the two. In order to be able to grasp the concrete polemical-political meaning of the controversies in this regard, we must first outline the broader intellectual and historical-philosophical framework within which the hypostatization of the ‘reaction’ and the semasiological expansion of the ‘restoration’ could take place.
2. Historical-philosophical background of the restoration efforts and the accusation of reaction
The need for a semasiological expansion of the concept of restoration was bound to increase to the extent that the revolution confronted its opponents with a fait accompli. The realization was inevitable that, with social and property upheavals taking place or in progress, there was much more to restore than just overthrown dynasties. FRIEDRICH SCHLEGEL, who was already considering the possibility of a restoration in 1805/06, was extremely skeptical, at least with regard to France – “even in the event that the current system should perish; everything good has been too much eradicated in this country.” Nevertheless, he hoped for a higher restoration of order, which, as he explained more fully two decades later, was not to be limited to the restoration of the toppled thrones, the mere restoration of all the dynasties that had been expelled, but to principles and attitudes, which should encompass the whole of political and religious life. Thinking of the size of the task, he raves about the gradual progression of the great restoration. From the point of view of liberal critics, the same state of affairs was summarized in 1830 in such a way that ‘extremist political restaurateurs’ did not simply mean the reinstatement of a dethroned regent, as was the case when the term restoration was first used in political terms, but wanted to understand the return to the old French monarchy with all its institutions, especially with all the former privileges of the nobility. The detachment of the concept of restoration from the dynastic aspect made it possible to treat the restoration from all sides as a pan-European issue, although the question of dynastic restoration was by no means posed for all of Europe; because the concept of restoration had expanded in terms of content, it could refer to a larger geographical area. This expansion in turn was not without semasiological consequences for the concept: since it had to be connected with different contents in different countries and locations, its ambiguity also grew accordingly. This was an important prerequisite for the fact that its encounter with the concept of reaction could ultimately lead to a far-reaching fusion. Insofar as the task of the restoration was not merely the reinstatement of a dynasty, but the return to the traditional social order or its consolidation, this order, which was fought not least with ideological means, had to be ideologically legitimized. This happened through the assertion that the order in question was given by God or nature, so that social life worthy of human beings could not be imagined in the long run. In this context, ‘restoration’ meant nothing other than a return to nature as it had emerged from the hands of God, while ‘revolution’ represented the unforgivable defection from the natural order and thus from God. Here the paradox arose that shortly after the word ‘revolution’ had shed its traditional sense in order to denote a radical break, a radical reorientation, rather than a circular movement, ‘restoration’ came to change into the earlier meaning of ‘revolution’, or to at least partially adopt it. The difference, however, was that only the politicized and ideologized concept of restoration could and wanted to mean a circular movement, a return on a large scale, while the politicization and ideologization of ‘revolution’ (ultimately) was intended for its detachment from precisely this meaning. On the other hand, the revolution also took up the cause of a return to the natural order, if not as a concept then at least as a movement – so that in the end there were two fundamentally different conceptions of this natural order, as well as of history as the sum of the respective positive or negative relations to the same, had to face in enmity.
This line of thought was already decisive for the first use of the expanded concept of restoration in Germany. Haller worked incessantly with endings such as the course of nature, the state of nature, or the necessary order of nature. This was intended to underline that the attempt at restoration is not antithesis and derivative, but rather thesis and the longing for what is genuine and original. Since for him the state of nature had never ceased and could never cease, since by definition revolutionary ruptures prevented venerable progress, the old also contained truth within itself, while the so-called new only contained a transitory one doomed to perish. The counter-revolution adopted a commonplace of revolutionary enlightenment in order to invalidate it ideologically by reinterpreting it or to be able to use it for its own purposes. The conception of the eternal circular motion allowed Haller to consider his theoretical task as a state teacher [Staatslehrer] to be solved by the fact that he was helping the originally traditional law, which assumed the divine origin of authority, to be valid again against modern natural law; that was the meaning of the words “restoration of political science” for him. Haller, of course, saw his political-scientific restoration as a necessary complement, ideal culmination and at the same time as a means of realizing the political-social. The close connection between political and scientific restoration was also readily admitted by opponents, who, however, saw it only as proof of the bias of the latter. Haller was not entirely without influence and followers, but his comprehensive concept of restoration was not generally able to assert itself. The reason was simple and insurmountable: a return to the patrimonial state, which for Haller represented the sociable state of nature to be restored, was out of the question for practically everyone, although this motive, in a highly glorified and sublimated form, played a role in the ideological disputes played ; the revolutionary utopia could thus be opposed to a conservative utopia in the heat of the polemic. However, wallowing in such circles of thought became increasingly uncomfortable under the pressure of events. Above all, the latest developments in France, whose decisive importance for the future of the pan-European restoration was clearly felt by friend and foe, and last but not least the struggles taking place there in the bosom of the counter-revolutionary party itself, which were evidently characterized by prosaic power politics, did not allow the political and ideological elation that could have borne the spread of the ideologically sound concept of restoration to arise. For their part, counter-revolutionaries who thought more concretely or had political experience could, from the outset, show little sympathy for a restoration in the spirit of Haller. For FRIEDRICH v. GENTZ, the measure of success of a real restoration was exclusively the avoidance of a future Revolution; Gentz also saw the re-establishment and maintenance of a firm order in France primarily in its importance for securing a lasting peace. When finally in 1822 Görres, who was still conciliatory at the time, called for an understanding between liberals and legitimists, declaring both to be equally necessary elements of the restoration process, it became extremely clear that even advocates of the restoration understood something completely different from Haller. What the concept of restoration seemed to gain in terms of political adaptability, however, it lost in terms of historical-philosophical consistency. Its impoverishment in terms of content could not be avoided in view of the impracticability of a comprehensive social restoration. The fact that real historical reasons prevented the ideologically founded concept of restoration from fully developing in the public domain does not change the fact that it was originally linked to the idea of a circular movement in history, which takes place within a divine-natural order that is complete from the beginning.
This must be stated precisely for a better understanding of the concept of reaction, which appeared not least as a pejorative reversal of the concept of restoration. The accusation of reaction only became meaningful when, in Tzschirner’s words, one embraced the comforting and uplifting view of world history, according to which in this latter there is no circular motion, but progress. If it is certain that progress is the objective law of history (or even universal law or eternal law of nature), then the return to the same natural order demanded and striven for by the restoration must not only be seen as a defense against a certain political direction, but as a sin against higher authorities, as blind negation and arbitrariness – in short, to be classified as a reaction in the new pejorative sense — while their opponents are allowed to know that they are in the best agreement with the objective course of the world. The ‘reaction’ had to appear more and more reprehensible as the belief in the necessity of historical progress spread, so that it finally became one of those relatively rare political concepts that hardly anyone was willing to interpret in a fundamentally positive sense to identify with them. In this regard, the singularizations ‘history’ and ‘progress’ paved the way for the collective singular ‘reaction’. Since progress within the unified historical whole could only be one, and since ‘reaction’ was defined in contrast to it, the latter had to become an independent historical entity or even hypostasis, following progress like a shadow. History now seems to be taking shape in the perpetual struggle between progress and reaction, or through the victory of the former over the latter in each of its phases. The historical diachrony of progress is also granted to the reaction, and so Tzschirner: “For example, we can speak of the three great successive “reaction epochs”, reactions, which were directed against Christianity, against the Reformation and against the idea of civil liberty.”
The expansion of the concept of reaction across the entire spectrum of history has not weakened it. But on the contrary, the memory of the defeats of the reaction in the past was intended to illustrate its long-term hopelessness, the reference to its perseverance and adaptability in turn made clear its always lurking danger. The simultaneous consideration of both aspects should not degenerate the historical-philosophical underpinned confidence into apraxia, but increase to heightened vigilance. That was also necessary. It is striking that the first and authoritative liberal analyses of the reactionary phenomenon, which understandably date from shortly after the Carlsbad Decrees, place particular emphasis on the organized, considered character of reactionary politics. The politically applied reaction must lead to a regular “system of reaction” [Reaktionssystem]: the intentional impediment to the progress of improvement in public and state life and the destruction of it, in order to use what is already outdated and lost in its place, is called: reaction, and understands under the reaction system, the planned and persistent, usually violent application and implementation of all the measures, whereby the public, national, and state life destroys better things that have already occurred, and that which has been suppressed by this better thing is to be restored in its entirety (and often in an even broader relationship). More emphatic phrasing pointed out that the ‘reaction system’ seeks to personally apprehend, pursue and, where possible, physically and morally destroy its opponents, and that it does not shy away from subterfuge, deceit, or violence. Those Satanic traits that DE MAISTRE once wanted to discover in the revolution should now characterize the face of the hypostatized reaction. Since the opponents of reactionary ideology saw its essence in combating the new ideas, and thus basically denied it any intellectual originality, they concentrated on the reactionary attempts to refute the ideas mentioned, which in turn offered ample cause for defense or detailed explanation of the same. It was easy to say which ‘ideas of the modern age’ the reaction was directed against. It was about the abolition of the divine right of law, which took the form of the contract theory, the constitutional principle and the demand for the separation of church and state, as well as the principle of equality before the law and the rights of man and citizen under general legislation. Beyond the fundamental defense or exposition of liberal ideas, however, legal and political arguments were also asserted against the reaction. With a view to what was happening in France, it was denounced that the reaction often dissolved and destroyed something that already existed and thus destroyed well-acquired rights, while on the other hand its political successes were sometimes described as uncertain and temporary, sometimes as a paralysis of the people’s power. The argument of the constitutionalists of the time, which reflects their own impotence, against the political expediency of the reaction is the repeatedly attempted proof that there is no threat of revolution in Germany. The polemics were also served by conjectures about the psychological motivation of the reactionary people, in which factors such as self-interest or superstitious admiration/fanaticism were in the foreground.
3. Early use in Germany
It must now be emphasized that, although the historical-philosophical ontology or political phenomenology of reaction described was achieved fairly early on, the reaction concept that summarizes it did not succeed in breaking through any more than the ideologically founded concept of restoration did. And just as the insurmountable practical-political difficulties of the attempt at restoration were responsible for the failure of the latter, so was the (relative) ineffectiveness of the former during the 1820s due to the political weakness of its authors at the time. Although the intellectual work of a few liberal ideologues was entirely sufficient to develop the new concept of reaction, it required a broad political movement to implement it in political language. For this reason, the reaction concept and accusation (albeit now somewhat different) could only gain general validity shortly before and in 1848. In retrospect, ROBERT von MOHL thought with good reason that the nomenclature ‘liberal’/‘servile’, taken from the political debate in Spain, had dominated the 1820s. But were the “illiberals” or “serviles” also to be simply called “counter-revolutionaries,” or rather “historically retrograde” (which in turn presupposed the belief in progress) – as in expressions such as “darklings” and “children of darkness”? The term ‘Ultra’ introduced from France seems to have been particularly common, from which terms such as ultraism and ultra-royalism emerged as synonyms of anti-liberalism, obscurantism, and imperfectibilism. Even terms from the classical political tradition such as aristocracy and oligarchy were still used in place of ‘reaction’ at this time. This points to the important fact that the final acceptance of the concept of reaction or modern political terminology went hand in hand with the suppression or reinterpretation of the vocabulary of classical politics. The initial reluctance towards the new concept of reaction is also reflected in the further use of the plural, which in itself implies adherence to the original, party-neutral meaning of ‘reaction’, even if the origin of the reactions is now clear and reference is made to it that they can be not just reactions of individuals, but reactions … of conspiring corporations, reactions from the combined self-interest of the higher classes. Characteristically, old and new reaction concepts sometimes appear side by side. Thus Bunsen complained in 1823 that in the epoch of reaction moderation becomes suspicious, in order to subsequently appreciate the new policy of the Catholic Church against principles “… which dissolve all religion as a reaction which, not only inevitably, but to a certain extent meaning is salutary for the whole of Christian Europe.” Reaction here means “targeted counteraction”. As late as 1831, Pfizer speaks of the “party of standstill or reactions”. With regard to the still living, original meaning of ‘reaction’, Rotteck also raised against Pölitz’s tripartite division of the political systems into revolution, reaction and reform systems in 1832 he objection that the reaction does not necessarily have a counter-revolutionary character, but can just as well rise up in the interests of the revolution against an anti-revolutionary party that may have come to power, which is why it would be more specific and clearer to give the system of the revolution … that of its opposite counter-revolution, or, even better, to name the first system that of rational law and ideal politics, but the second one of rigid historical law or also of the dictates of power. However, it can be assumed that the reticence of certain liberals towards the new concept of reaction was not simply a matter of linguistic conscientiousness. Rather, it was rooted—in the 1820s as well as in 1848—in the fear of the irrevocable polarization of political forces suggested by the new concept of reaction, which ultimately left submission or revolution as the only practical alternatives. This may also be the reason why Rotteck prefers to use the pair of terms ‘conservatism’-’radicalism’, which leaves room for compromises, rather than ‘reaction’-“revolution’ to describe the two basic political currents of the time. As a publicist, he preferred to use the reaction term when it came to describing political events abroad.
Nevertheless, the use of the reaction term could not (entirely) be dispensed with. Because it was only through it, through the historical-philosophical construction behind it, that the ideological aureole of the expanded concept of restoration, whose practical implications were not wrongly viewed as a tangible threat to the rights of the bourgeoisie that had meanwhile been “well-acquired” or were to be fought for in the future could be destroyed, such that they had to prove that “restoration” in view of the objective nature of history cannot be a return to natural harmony, but only resistance to progress, i.e. essentially “reaction”. This resulted in the polemical peak of the liberal identification of ‘reaction’ and ‘restoration’ or the consideration of the latter as a mere time-related modification of the former. The same argument could therefore be used against the “restorers” as against “reactionaries” in general: they would fight progress in vain. TZSCHIRNER considers the use of ‘restoration’ instead of ‘reaction’ to be a deception on the part of the latter’s friends; “is that how HALLER called his recommendation of the reactionary system a restoration?”. For his part, Pölitz defined ‘Reaction’ in 1823 in such a way that its identity with ‘Restoration’ had to result. There is no reaction where no reforms are initiated, but where something better that already existed is removed, i.e. the state before the appearance of the better should be restored. Even before the concept of reaction became commonplace, restoration, alongside revolution and constitution, was one of the three mutually clashing tendencies of our age. This anticipates Pölitz’ tripartition of political systems, with the later replacement of ‘restoration’ by ‘reaction’ suggesting the emerging identification of the two and the related fact that ‘reaction’ was conceived from the outset as a pejorative inverse of ‘restoration ‘ was intended. By reducing the restoration to a mere reaction and thus drastically changing the historical-philosophical perspective, the legitimacy that the restoration claimed was withdrawn. The ideologists of the Restoration appealed to the idea of legal order and continuity, and accordingly they presented the revolution as the arbitrary seizure and exercise of power, i.e. as unlawful and immoral. To the extent that the facts created by the revolution forced the restoration to use violence in order to restore the old situation, the restoration had to put up with the accusation that it was giving up its own legitimizing slogans, i.e. that it was already infringing existing rights. Those affected had to deny or downplay this, especially since they assumed a completely different legal concept in terms of content, described completely different rights as “truly” legitimate rights and relied on their own understanding of the natural order. Its destruction by the ideology of progress made the counter-revolutionary violence not appear as a mere blemish or a necessary evil, but rather as a terrible illustration of the historical, political, and moral nature of the restoration effort; The purposeful use of the term ‘reaction’ instead of ‘restoration’ was intended to underscore precisely this, since the former was more suitable for evoking dynamic action or blind violence by way of etymological associations than these. The accusation that the Restoration betrayed its own concept of legal continuity was, however, mere polemics insofar as it tacitly assumed a view of the ‘true’ rights that differed significantly from the restorative one. Nevertheless, in view of the practical hopelessness of the restoration effort, it did not fail to have an effect, which in turn had to motivate its advocates to carefully distinguish between ‘reaction’ and ‘restoration’ and to vigorously reject the accusation of reaction. It can be assumed that there is not always a willingness to compromise and tolerance, but at least as much a desire to preserve purity, i.e. of the high moral claim and polemical-political value of the expanded concept of restoration, statements by counter-revolutionary authors are made against a passion-driven “reaction.” Even BAADER, who sometimes uses ‘restoration’ in a mystical sense, is concerned about the staining of the restorative ideal with the censure of pure, even ruthless negation, and also has such a high idea of its political and social mission that after Napoleon’s downfall, to turn the tables and, with the help of an etymological innovation, ascribes to the word ‘revolution’ the negative sense of inhibiting free evolution. However, there is no direct talk of ‘reaction’: in the first two decades after its introduction, the new term did not yet achieve the intensity and dissemination that it would have been obligatory for the ‘reactionaries’ to use it abroad. When this happened, however, the concept of restoration had lost its luster even in the case of the opposition and was no longer able to appear as a positive counter-concept to reaction.
4. The dissolution of the concept of restoration after the July Revolution and the development of the intensified concept of reaction around 1840
The July Revolution sealed the fate of the restoration efforts and also brought about the final dissolution of the ideological and historical-philosophical concept of the restoration. It had not been blessed with a strong following from the start; now, however, almost all counter-revolutionaries left it open or silent, so that no significant resistance was offered to its identification with the concept of reaction. … When Radowitz proposed an organic restoration in 1850, he wanted it to mean something other than the failed restoration of 1815. Nothing is more impractical and misguided for him than attempts at recovery after a period in political history has come to an end. What is called restoration in this sense carries within itself its condemnation and its renewed downfall at all times. In view of these and similar statements by counter-revolutionaries, it can be assumed with a fairly high degree of certainty that even Leopold von GERLACH, who after the November events of 1848 got the impression that one could “go far with the restoration” if things continued like this, a return to the pre-1848 situation as a revival of the Ancien Regime was what he had in mind. After 1830, the awareness of the final end of the restoration efforts was articulated in the talk of the “age of restoration” or of the “restoration epoch” as a forever closed chapter of contemporary history. Thus ‘restoration’ became the established concept of historians. In its present completeness, the restoration represents only one historical phase, a further defeat of reaction—inevitable in view of the objective course of history. A younger generation now takes over and works on the older motif of the essential identity of reaction and restoration. Just like Tzschirner, so for example, Hess in 1842 also thinks that the reaction “… still dates from the time of the Restoration.” And when someone writes that the reactionary party appeared all over Europe soon after the Restoration, he does not claim the opposite, but only wants to say that the reaction was able to organize itself more effectively and on an international level after 1815. In principle, it remains the case that the reaction must at the same time assume the character of a restoration or that this emerges from that. Restoration is therefore nothing other than the backward-looking reform of the reactionaries. Assuming the essential identity of reaction and restoration, the attempts at restoration could be contrasted with the revolutionization of the German spirit or, more pathetically, with the restoration of freedom as such. Thus the concept of restoration was no longer arbitrarily expanded by its friends in a positive sense, but by its enemies in a negative sense, so that finally hardly anyone bothered to define the effort to restore as a phase of a reaction process: both simply coincide, how e.g. For example, in Marx’s statement from 1843: “We have shared the restorations of modern nations without ever having shared their revolutions. We have been restored, firstly, because other nations dared to make revolutions, and, secondly, because other nations suffered counter-revolutions…” This use of language did not change significantly in the future either.
The heightened concept of reaction developed around 1840, when a particularly lively movement became noticeable on the political stage in Germany, which led to closer (party) political mergers than had been the case up to then. Twenty years earlier, the impression rightly prevailed that there were differences of opinion in Germany, but no real parties. The lack of an autonomous and intensive political life, i.e. independent of the most merciful appointment of a state parliament, etc., meant that local political positions as well as hopes and fears were partly projected into events and debates abroad or read from them. The partly spooky fictitious character of political life also gave the concept of reaction at that time—despite historical-philosophical classifications and with all moral pathos—a certain abstractness and colorlessness. The concrete political reference was missing. The reaction was there, but there was no imminent threat of revolution, and therefore their sharpness was limited. The opponents of the reaction denounced it, but they too hesitated when it came to the questions: who, where, when and by what means? Since the concrete public naming of the opponent is in fact tantamount to a declaration of war, which is expressed in a feeling of one’s own strength and readiness to fight, so in view of the political weakness of liberalism, instead of a declaration of war, a declaration of truce often had to be made – by the way, through parallel expressions of confidence in the good intentions of the princes, and rhetoric against the “powers of darkness”. Such rhetoric was intensified in the 1840s – to the extent that the historical-philosophical view on which it was based was radicalized – but the decisive difference from the 1820s was that the opponents of the reaction now quite concretely attacked people, publications and specific measures, i.e. no longer shied away from naming the bearers of the reaction and thus openly declaring war on them. Concretization of the political struggle, increase in rhetoric and historical-philosophical radicalization now went hand in hand, whereas rhetoric used to be a substitute for direct political debates. This sweeping change was in turn due to a change in the social composition of the main originators and proponents of the reproach of reaction. It was no longer liberal professors who set the tone, although their definitions of ‘reaction’ lived on in the dictionaries, but more or less democratically minded journalists who, because of their work, experienced the reaction (as censorship) first-hand on a daily basis, while on the other hand, thanks to their Hegelian background, they were also able to underpin the intensification of the concept of reaction from a historical and philosophical point of view. In addition, they saw themselves as the irreplaceable mouthpiece of an increasingly politicized age. Politics is the core of modern life, is the center of contemporary intellectual movement, and journalism is precisely the expression of this moving spirit itself. This sentence was largely correct in the 1840s as a statement of the intertwining of the spiritual and the political with a simultaneous increase in radicalization and partisanship in both areas. Observers from all camps shared the impression that around 1840 there had been a change in both directions.
After the Bundestag resolutions of 1832, there was a dull silence almost everywhere in Germany. The reaction that occurred at that time, which reminded some of the retrograding France of the years 1825-1830, was forced into a new form of theory after the failure of the Restoration ideology because it … “was not possible to control the national spirit.” In view of the double, political and ideological attack of the reaction, the members of the new intelligentsia that was just grouping realized that “our time was reacting in many directions” and “wanted to counter the reaction in life and in science.” Leading the fight; dealing with the reaction, especially the ideological one, was their vocation and profession at the same time. According to Arnold Ruge, who had introduced the intensified concept of reaction almost officially into journalism with his work “Prussia and the Reaction” published in 1838, the hostile thoughts of the reaction rebelled against three things: “against the justification of the intellect, … against enlightenment and rationalism ; … against the German Reformation, both in its principles and in its development, the current religious-political life in Prussia, and finally against the justification of the most recent history, against the French Revolution and the state formations that arose from it, namely the centralization, official [civil servant] and administrative system.”
Two points are of interest with regard to the development of the heightened concept of reaction: on the one hand, Ruge’s distancing from abstract liberalism – to which, however, he ascribes the principle of honor and freedom in contrast to reaction, which has no principle at all but arbitrariness itself — and, on the other hand, his radicalization after 1840. Until then, whether out of conviction or tactical considerations, he used to play off official Prussia as the bearer of the liberal spirit of the Reformation against the local obscurantist reaction. After Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s accession to the throne, he was disappointed to state: “the movement of reaction—is currently our politics.” The intensified reaction concept and reproach was intended precisely as an answer to “that shameful reaction that is now rearing its brutal head in Prussia.” It was based on a political and historical-philosophical clarification of the political battle front, which in turn was intended to suggest that the coming conflict was inevitable, even desirable. Politically, this simplification usually appears as a fundamental denial of the difference between conservatives and reactionaries. According to Bakunin, the former are just inconsistent, mediating reactionaries whose point of view can be described as that of theoretical dishonesty, while the latter are sincere and honest—they want to be whole men. “In short, the reactionary party is called in politics: conservatism, in jurisprudence: historical school and in speculative science: positive philosophy.” There are no conservatives, NAUWERCK wrote shortly before, because “mere preservation” or absolute immutability is simply impossible. Conservatives could therefore only reform backwards, i.e. operate reaction. By identifying ‘conservatism’ and ‘reaction’ while at the same time treating ‘liberalism’ as a hybrid of transient importance, ‘reaction’ and ‘revolution’ are ultimately left as true political factors. The revolution was willing to recognize reaction as the only worthy adversary, and vice versa—this negative consensus helping to increase hostility. Being the exact opposite of the enemy thus becomes a condition of one’s own existence, part of one’s own definition of being: “The reaction … is the reverse revolution, the counter-revolution … Both revolution and reaction are children of theory, only that one has the truth as content, the other caprice …, both therefore abstract from the law or break through the law, the reaction in terms of the past, … the revolution in terms of the future. But the future is inevitable.” Accordingly, the historical-philosophical perspective will continue to be kept in mind, but this time it is not just about the liberal ideology of progress, but about an almost eschatological expectation. The more the hope grows for a revolution that will be even more comprehensive, profound and far-reaching than the one that the previous (century) brought to light, the reaction is painted in the brighter colors: because the last fight shall also be the greatest—in scope, intensity, and consequences. Given the extreme horror of reaction, their victory at the very moment of greatest historical tension would mean the definitive victory of barbarism and brutality, since barbarism and reaction are inseparable!
5. The Reaction in 1848
a) General remark. The intensified concept of reaction was brought into being and used primarily by a certain group, but its sharpness was bound to give the concept and accusation of reaction a hitherto unknown emphasis and thus help it to gain general acceptance for the first time. This was particularly evident from the fact that now the “reactionaries” themselves — unlike in the 1820s, when they did not take too much notice of the concept of reaction — could not avoid discussing it publicly. This process began around 1840 and reached its climax in 1848. The revolution, which was victorious at least temporarily, dictated the use of language, which, moreover, it modernized and unified by the fact that its slogans forever supplanted the vocabulary of classical politics. The catchphrase aristocrat used to be the norm, in 1848 people shouted reactionary, registered F.J. Stahl. In 1848 the concept of reaction had to be extremely ambiguous because of its simultaneous use by many sides; Incidentally, it had already been established earlier that because of the fragmentation and the diverse regime in Germany, very different concepts could be combined with the usual words of position and opposition, of liberalism and conservatism, of progress and reaction. The ambiguity and therefore the unreliability of the concept, understandably, tended to draw the attention of those who were hostile or reserved to it. The advantage of the catchphrase, however, did not lie in the clarity of its content, but in the fact that its use itself revealed a certain political attitude. In this sense it fulfilled a symbolic function and had a most obvious meaning—especially if it was intended to express, with pejorative intent, the irreconcilable opposition to the principles of the revolution. Its role consisted mainly in partly registering the intensification of the political and ideological contradiction, partly in driving it further. Therefore, shortly after 1848, STIRNER was able to define ‘reaction’ in the same way as Ruge did in 1841: “Reaction is the opposite of revolution. With this statement it is assigned its historical place.” The socio-historical explanation of the extreme polarization on the conceptual level, Stirner believed, was to be provided by pointing out that the reaction as a party in the modern sense did not appear until 1848. In this he could also gain the consent of those affected, such as ERNST LUDWIG von GERLACH and HERMANN WAGENER.
b) The confrontation of the counter-revolution with the concept and accusation of reaction.
The hitherto unusual intensity of the counter-revolutionaries’ confrontation with the concept of reaction was due to the fact that they encountered it at every turn in the years 1848-1849. STAHL expected that his political system would be widely described as reactionary, just as RAUMER knew that some Berlin do-gooder students considered him a reactionary fool. The need to defend oneself against this was not (merely) psychological, but had tangible political reasons: only the liberation of the constitutionalists from reaction-phobia could provoke their energetic opposition to all demands of democracy and finally lead them into the arms of the counter-revolution. Radowitz, who saw the political opportunity of monarchy in 1848 in the “clash of liberal constitutionalism with radical republicanism”, welcomed the fact that the bourgeoisie had become shy and dubious before anarchy, to add sceptically: “they are still not less shy and hesitant about what they call a reaction?” And a little later the Kreuzzeitung complained: “The fear of reaction is what keeps the better-minded part of the National Assembly in Berlin from taking a strong stand against the republican and anarchic efforts of the other part. This fear is an insult to the cool and healthy disposition of the enlightened mind. We have suddenly returned to the infantile and childish period of belief in and fear of ghosts… Everywhere we see the monster confronting us, it paralyzes our actions, it blocked the path on which we want and should go; its name is reaction. But the very general spread of the fear of reaction is the best and surest proof that it is useless and completely unfounded; when all fear reaction, who is left to want it and undertake it?” The reaction, said another article from the same period, could not be the creed of a conservative party because it had been branded by public opinion and in the eyes of every consistent absolutist, apart from its objective impracticability, had already become impossible through the king’s word. The conclusion, which served to calm the liberals and to disarm democracy, was: reactionary people in the sense in which the word is spoken to the rabble, i.e. knights of the abstract restoration either don’t exist or have no influence.. Radowitz explained something similar to the National Assembly: if one is a reactionary who wants to bring about a perished situation, then nobody in the assembly is reactionary. This trivialization or denial of reaction as a political power and danger was the dominant attitude of the counter-revolutionaries in 1848.
It is obvious why they could not always stick to this: they had to react to the revolutionary challenge with concrete measures and at the same time it had to be made ideologically plausible that this type of “reaction” had nothing to do with the one intended by the opponents. An alternative strategy developed – at least for emergencies – which was based on the distinction between “good” and “bad reaction”. In doing so, however, the concept of reaction had to be openly adopted, and for this it was necessary to overcome the first shock after the revolution… it can already be inferred that the concept of reaction could only be used in the service of the counter-revolution if it suggested that reactionary politics was the imperative of general national, i.e. not party-political interests would. A return to the original, party-neutral meaning of the reaction concept seemed advisable for this purpose. “Let’s take a closer look at the term “reaction”. It presupposes that of action, it consists in the counteraction caused by the influence. It is realized in every organism on which something foreign to it acts, which it does not , or cannot assimilate immediately… This is how the living body reacts against the disease.” Highly partisan results are obtained by using the nonpartisan concept of reaction in a roundabout way: the revolution is declared an illness, combating which is the natural task of an organism that is still basically healthy. ‘Reaction’ thus turns from a frightening word into a message of hope, and then the fight against the slogan ‘no reaction’ can also be taken up with confidence, which seemed to be absolutely necessarybecause the phrase: ‘no reaction!’ has a loyal, peaceful ring, through which it captivates the weakness of the well-meaning or paralyzes the resilience of the body attacked by the revolutionary disease.” A third, statistically and politically insignificant counter-revolutionary attitude to the concept of reaction consisted in its blunt use in terms of the Democrats. This happened either with a semi-ironic — when one celebrated defeats of the revolution: “Reaction everywhere! as the Radicals say” — or with a menacing undertone: “We can predict to the spokesmen on the left … with confidence that it is they themselves who will bring about a reaction.” In addition, heroic and quixotic voices were raised from time to time, professing the real reaction, insofar as this meant the striving for a return to an earlier state, which is of course much better described by the term restoration should. “Since it is practically impossible to “lock up” the use of language, while on the other hand the appearance of a cooperative with very heterogeneous elements must be avoided, the only option is ‘finally to put up with the distinguishing designation that the language usage would like to assign to us’ – just the term ‘reactionary’.” The author obviously failed to notice that the implementation of the opponent’s terminology usually constitutes a decisive step towards the implementation of his evaluations as well. The vast majority of “reactionaries” who rejected such proposals felt this all too clearly.
c. The Ambiguous Attitude of Liberals to the Concept of Reaction.
The rejection of the intensified concept of reaction is significant and decisive for the liberal use of language in 1848. Not only was its democratic origin known, but its political implications were also obvious: if the reaction or the political situation caused by its machinations were really what the democrats claimed, then the democratic-revolutionary attitude towards it would also be if not the only meaningful one, neither completely senseless nor merely adventurous. As a whole, however, the liberals were not willing to let the material of boundless distrust, which was expressed in the catchword “reaction,” become revolutionary explosive material. Their contributions to demythologizing the ‘reaction’, to invalidating the increased concept of reaction, therefore serve to distinguish it from political positions of democracy and also appear regularly in such a context. Against Ruge’s supposedly extreme and hasty demands, Rosenkranz wants to remind people of the real balance of power and in doing so admits the existence of a counter-revolutionary reaction in the actually existing conditions, in order to then claim that revolutionary democracy does not deal with these conditions in a sober political way, but use them as raw material and cause for navel-gazing. However, the vagueness of their fictitious concept of reaction does not prevent them from systematically rousing the fear of a retrograde reaction and using such fear to woo proselytes for the Republic. The attack by the Deutsche Zeitung on the “reaction howlers” was also a response to the revolutionary propaganda, which would have deployed slander, lies and threats against the “‘bourgeoisie'”. The following sentences from the Scholium, which give a direct impression of the political atmosphere of the summer of 1848, deserve to be quoted extensively:
“Intelligent Berlin is at this moment seized by a mind-beguiling fever in which it sees nothing but reaction, and screams ….. Step into one of the countless rent-slip-covered houses — at this time of reaction, the owner tells you, all rents have fallen; if your tailor has little work, he complains of the reaction a few days ago. A lightning conductor was erected on the castle dome – it was a signal that the reaction gave to the military standing outside to advance against Berlin; whereas if arms are carried away from the arsenal – the reaction wants to disarm Berlin in order to then hand it over to the soldiery. In short, the epitome and the source of all real and dreamed-of evil is the reaction, which is all the more frightening as the incomprehensible foreign word everyone says something other thinks!”
ADOLPH GÖDEN’s reckoning with the concept of reaction before the National Assembly began with the following colorful description of its effect: “The word ‘reaction’ was a power for the Prussian National Assembly; by this word, used in due season, it won the majority of her house; through this word it was able to stand up to the people for months without any result. Hurled by raging masses into the sanctuary hall, from here it mysteriously penetrates the people again, unfolding its effectiveness like an avalanche in the well-calculated cycle, drawing man after man, place after place into its magic circle and causing feverish madness.”
Göden’s unwillingness to recognize reaction as such a force to be feared was not based on an analysis of the situation, but was based partly on wishful thinking and partly on optimism. The expression ‘reaction’ was unacceptable to him, firstly because it represented a mockery of the German people as a people of free men, secondly because it insulted the German princes, who henceforth have the honor of leading their people in obedience to the constitution and to show that they are the first servants of the law, and third, because it makes the struggles of liberty-loving men seem in vain. All this did not mean that the constitutionalists did not make use of the concept of reaction. However, it remains significant that it is more likely to be avoided. Only the politically active nobility is mentioned for designation.
Of the latter, it is usually used only when accompanied by an unequivocal condemnation of ‘anarchy’ as well. This is intended to underscore the liberal position in the middle, which is elevated above the “‘one-sidedness'” of the extremes, and at the same time provide psychological relief. The demarcation from the “rabble” saves bourgeois decency from the mocking and still feared eyes of the court and the nobility, just as the distancing from the ‘reaction’ saves the bourgeois conscience – or the feeling of being in the service of “of well-understood progress” – calming it against the democratic suspicion of treason. This two-dimensional and ambiguous attitude is reflected in almost identical formulations of all wings of the liberal-constitutional movement. In the declaration of the “Gesellschaft im Casino” of May 27, 1848 it said: “Political freedom should be justified – so no reaction; but we must fight with all determination for public order against anarchy.” But also JUULIAN SCHMIDT thought: “Whoever conjures up reaction, who favors anarchy, … is a traitor to the common cause of the fatherland.” Its intention to fight anarchy and reaction is announced by the “central committee of seven associated bunden” in its appeal of August 13, 1848, and the Cologne Citizens’ Association was just as ready to vigorously counteract all reactionary as well as anarchist efforts. After the September Events, GABRIEL RIESSER explained to the National Assembly why anarchy and reaction would have to have the same disastrous effect: “Anarchy would make German unity impossible, and the reaction that would be unavoidable after such horrors were repeated would destroy freedom and destroy the unity of Germany for a long, long time.” In these words is the – already formulated before the revolution — stereotypical liberal thesis of the objective interaction, even of the conscious interaction of reaction and anarchy (a thesis that actually only represents the flip side of the simultaneous rejection of both). The reaction favored the emergence of the “reds” because the red republic was always the predecessor of the red monarchy, said Karl Zittel in the 2nd Baden Chamber. Based on the same assessment of the complementary effect of reaction and anarchy in impairing liberal politics, SCHULZE-DELITZSCH warned: “Nothing will lead us more into the hands of reaction than anarchy!” What had been expressed as a worrying prognosis in 1848 was repeated a few years later as a sad statement. “By … embittering or frightening the middle class, the Democratic Party paved the way for reaction with its own hands,” wrote ROCHAU. The liberal complaint that the reaction is allied with communism, which they otherwise tend to present as a necessary and consistent product of liberal thought, brings to light an aspect of the same problem that is extremely important in terms of intellectual and social history, by adopting anti-capitalist slogans — in the form of moral English condemnation of the money bag [Geldsacks] and Mammon as well as public indignation at the misery of the industrial proletariat — for propaganda purposes being appropriated. The rejection of the heightened concept of reaction, i.e. the simultaneous rejection of reaction and anarchy, finally meant that the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad reaction’ proposed by counter-revolutionaries also appeared in liberal vocabulary, albeit in different ways. It is striking that the relative justification for a reaction against de facto anarchy and against fraud, lies, and charlatanry was asserted not (only) by right-wing liberals, but (also) by those who did not want to forget that behind the justified reaction there is another lurking, in which it can remain doubtful for a moment whether it should be preferred to the terror of the red republic. The fullest exposition of the difference between the healthy reaction directed against the arbitrary liberty of (revolutionary) idealism and that other reaction called passionate (fanatical, schwärmerisch) comes in a text in which the politicians of the centre-right, those of the double indignation against reaction and revolution eke out an insignificant existence, are not exactly treated kindly. However, this does not prevent the author, like those politicians, from distancing himself from the specter of reaction and indeed from regarding this fiction as a sign of a lack of moral depth in the revolution.
d) Political and social reaction from a democratic and socialist point of view.
The aforementioned more or less violent polemics by counter-revolutionaries and liberals against the increased concept of reaction may have already indicated its importance in the world of ideas and propaganda of democracy. Democrats are not ashamed to place the concept of reaction at the center of programmatic public statements, e.g. when they warn against the secret adherents of the old regime, who will seize the first opportunity to “steer time back, which is already too advanced for them, back into the bed of reaction, when they demand the annihilation of anti-popular reaction or if they expose the snake of the resistance party (reaction) in all the abomination of their being.” It is precisely this extreme, inescapable abomination of reaction that democratically justifies revolutionary insurrection, with its inevitable sacrifices and suffering; for no violent struggle (against it) could be more damaging than the victorious reaction. In Struve’s appeal to the German people he said: “If the reaction wins in Frankfurt, Germany will be sucked dry and enslaved more terribly by the so-called legal channels than can happen in the bloodiest wars!” In the democratic context, however, the concept of reaction not only reaches the highest intensity, but also the greatest scope: the further to the left a political group is, the broader the political spectrum becomes to the extreme right, with at least some of the groups or parties located in between because of their closer to the enemy extreme, appear as either related to him or as standing in front of him in a protective position. So from the point of view of revolutionary democracy, there had to be not only open but also covert reactionaries. “Who are the people of reaction?” asks a democratic leaflet. “All, all, who do not fully, really and honestly want the rights won by the revolution … even those half-hearted hamlets of liberalism belong in the army of reaction!” These phrases hit the core problem of the democratic concept of reaction, namely the question of to what extent and in what sense liberalism is to be included in it: in itself the necessity of (partial) inclusion is certain and forms the great conceptual-historical novelty of 1848, which, together with the social-historical novelty of the same year, i.e. the independent and self-confident appearance of revolutionary social democracy. As far as the history of the concept is concerned, it is paradoxical and interesting to note that the process which ended with the (partial) inclusion of liberalism in reaction began with a certain indifference to the very concept of reaction. To put it more precisely: the democratic unmasking of the reactionary features of bourgeois liberalism finally took place (ie to the extent that democracy consciously developed into social democracy) with reference to the social question and the position of the bourgeoisie in the class struggle. First of all, the same primacy of the social over the political in some of the earliest ideological representatives of social democracy, the aforesaid indifference to the concept of reaction—even the heightened one. For it was the intellectual child of the radical democratic writers and publicists of the Vormärz, who were not (yet) interested in the social phenomenon of class struggle, but primarily advocated political freedom and freedom of (public) criticism. Therefore, the concept of reaction was primarily conceived as political and not social, i.e. its counter-concept was political freedom and not social equality. As long as liberal freedom had not yet been ‘unmasked’ as a constitutional bandaid or even an anchor of capitalist exploitation, this reaction concept could not refer to liberalism, whose political-liberal principles the democratic writers of the Vormärz welcomed in general. Their own distancing from liberalism did not result from a commitment to the primacy of the social, but from a different understanding of the political concept of freedom. Precisely because of the (relative) indifference towards this latter concept, some ideological representatives of early socialism also showed a certain indifference towards its counter-concept, namely the concept of reaction. Political liberties appear empty in themselves and constitutional forms socially irrelevant when the despotism of the rich over the poor is regarded as the most abominable.
“The spirit which they all — absolutists, constitutionals, republicans, ultras or helots, and liberals or moderates … — worship is the spirit of money and commerce, or the spirit of greed and selfishness!”. Months before the March revolution, a pamphlet said: “Before we have people’s freedom, the people can starve to death!,” and in October 1848 WEITLING wrote: “What will the people gain from a purely political movement? . … A change in the form of government does not make it better. We do not want a bourgeois republic. The government of the moneybag is the most disgusting of all. Better a saber regiment than this one!” In some working-class circles there was indeed strong resentment because the democratic deputies they elected only touched on the sidelines of the social question in the national assembly; also the view was put forward that “each party stands up for the needs of the people in order to forget them when they come to power.” And Bakunin articulated the anarchist rejection of a policy behind the backs of the workers as the bearers of the elementary power of Revolution thus: ‘Official reaction and official revolution vie in futility and stupidity… Reaction is a thought made stupid by age; — but the revolution is much more an instinct, and that is why it is betrayed or made ridiculous by the philosophers, writers and politicians, all those who carry a ready-made little system in their pocket!”. Although the original tendency to keep the working class and labor movement out of dubious political goings-on was also evident in 1848, events had already overtaken it. The upheaval that took place required concrete political positions and perspectives. Regardless of whether the participation of the workers in (party) political goings-on ultimately made them instruments for satisfying their leaders’ claims to power and thus also forever prevented their only true liberation, namely their self-liberation – such as the anarchists feared then and later not without reason – the fact remains that the attitude of that group (around Marx) which in 1848 advocated the political activity of the working class by reserving a leading role in it corresponded most closely to the concrete situation and mood. It took into account the existing thirst for action and wanted to channel it into the most up-to-date direction, precisely that of political struggle. This required a double polemic: against liberal formalism, i.e. the fundamental separation of political and social rights, and against the “utopian” rejection of any “politics.” Since this rejection appeared to be the opposite of adopting the liberal separation of the political and the social, both polemical goals could be achieved in one fell swoop. We now understand why the intensified concept of reaction was only able to lose its original (negative) orientation towards the postulate of political freedom after this merging of the social and the political, in order to now also refer to liberalism, or even the “red” social democracy, while some of its authors, such as Ruge, who seemed to cling to that postulate one-sidedly, were dismissed from Marx’s point of view as petty-bourgeois democrats.
Nevertheless, the use of the reaction concept with regard to the bourgeoisie remained ambivalent, even in the camp of social democracy. For that merging of the social and the political, which made it possible to transfer the originally political concept of reaction to the social, to the social character of bourgeois liberalism, took place in turn in the sign of the demand that the proletariat should take on political tasks, so that it could (also) result in a new political definition of the concept of reaction as a successor to the old one. As a radical ally of the bourgeoisie in the struggle for political freedom, the proletariat was allowed to further intensify the concept of reaction in order to use it to measure the political honesty of the bourgeoisie with polemical intent, but at the same time it should continue to relate it primarily to the nobility and court. To those who count solely on the proletariat, however, the reaction appears—rather undifferentiated—in the form of “the bourgeois, the bureaucracy and the Junkers!”, and even in workers’ newspapers ‘reaction’ is defined in such a way that the “moneyed aristocracy” (industrialists) also falls under it. On the other hand, there is the gradually gaining insight that bourgeois rule, no matter how “reactionary” it may be as class rule, ultimately also means progress from a social point of view. According to a socialist journal, only the introduction of industry could finally break the “Junker reaction”, since its social strength lies in agriculture and the “narrow” worldview of the farmer associated with it. Moritz von Mohl also said during the nobility debate in the National Assembly, after he had pointed out the still strong economic position of the nobility: “Gentlemen, if you do not abolish the nobility, you will never abolish the efforts of the state reaction either.” And in 1849 Lassalle summed up the contradiction between the bourgeoisie’s subjective political willingness to compromise and the objective, social progressiveness that caused the ambivalent attitude of the young social democracy towards it in the following words: “as reactionary as this ministry (Hansemann) had shown to be, in one point it had remained true to its revolutionary bourgeois origins. It favored the interests of industry at the expense of large landowners!”. Paradoxically, it came about that not simply the political, but also the social point of view itself was asserted against a (total) extension of the concept of reaction to the liberal bourgeoisie. This way of looking at things was already sketched out in the “Communist Manifesto”, where it resulted from the Marx-Engelsian interlacing of categories of political economy with the Hegelian-inspired scheme of the ascending sequence of steps and accordingly the revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie is emphasized. Since, according to the historical-philosophical construction standing in the background, the completion of one historical stage is a prerequisite for the transition to the next, the bourgeoisie must fulfill its historical task in toto before it becomes incurably reactionary; therefore, also in that (preliminary stage) the merger of the proletariat, which is also following the historical movement step by step, is just as inevitable as the later break between the two. In contrast to France, where the sole ruling bourgeoisie has come to the head of the counter-revolution, the German bourgeoisie is in the wake of absolute monarchy and feudalism and therefore does not make its own counter-revolution. Because of this consideration, the liberal bourgeoisie in the understanding of social democracy – despite conflicting ideas and proposals – remained only “secondarily” reactionary, as CONSTANTIN FRANTZ put it in an apt summary of the situation in 1851: “The constitutionalists originally came from the Action until democracy came along, Then they became reactionary on the spot, but they became so in a secondary way. The great primitive action, on the other hand, had also evoked a primitive reaction, and compared to this they still appeared as revolutionary.”
6. Social and constitutional-historical positioning of ‘reaction’
LORENZ von STEIN once again proved his talent for formulating with classical conciseness when he defined reaction in 1850 as follows: “Reaction is the principle of feudal society equipped with kingship, its necessity, its rights and its power, which starts the fight with civil society.” To put it bluntly: the reaction embodies the extremely increased militancy of the supporters of corporate society, who form up for a decisive battle against the supporters of the new “civil” society that arose from the dissolution of the corporate society — with their backs against the wall, so to speak, since until then have had to vacate important positions. Crucial to the socio-historical physiognomy of the reaction, however, remains that this agglomeration of the corporate powers can only be achieved through the involvement of the monarchy, whose power still lies in the direct control of the state apparatus (army, bureaucracy). The underlying paradox, which Stein did not discuss, is of course that the corporate society shortly before its end does not seek its own salvation in the (relative) weakening of monarchy, as it often did in its heyday, but in its strengthening. The revolutionary threat forces the monarchy (the bearers of statehood) and the nobility (the traditional opponents of the complete implementation of this statehood) to unite, and so the use of that statehood or state power that in absolutist times at least undermines the corporate structures, if it had not openly fought and destroyed, in favor of these very structures, insofar as they are preserved. The reactionary undertaking thus conceals an ambivalence, which, however, is basically only a form of that ambivalence, corresponding to the post-revolutionary situation, which was inherent in the relations between statehood (achieved and represented by the monarchy) and the nobility from the very beginning, insofar as the latter had to defend themselves against the dissolution of the corporate society by the state, but at the same time had to fill the posts in the young state apparatus (largely) from their own ranks and thus more or less identify with its fate. The importance of the alliance between the representatives of the corporate society and the monarchy as the bearer of state power for the socio-historical determination of the location of the “reaction” was only brought to the point of such clarity by Stein, but many observers were aware of it. Engels means the same thing as Stein when he speaks of the “monarchical-feudal reaction, whose socio-political pillars are the big feudal nobility, the small squires, the clergymen and last but not least the kingship with its army and its bureaucracy.” The liberals also knew that the (corporate) reaction in Germany had always had the upper hand overall only with the help of the state power that was in their hands and through which they could command the use of arms. In view of the crucial role played by the bureaucracy in the implementation of some reforms in the past, it pained the liberals particularly that the reaction sought to usurp the civil service as well; if this succeeded, the monarch would have no other independent advisors than the landed nobility.
ERNST LUDWIG von GERLACH confirmed the liberal fears in his own way when he admitted the traditional power of the civil service in Prussia in order to draw the practical conclusion: “The civil service should therefore not be despised, but should be imbued with Christian, legal and political truth.” The fatal contradiction that was in the efforts of the representatives of the corporate society to harness state power for their own goals, ROCHAU in 1853 successfully formulated to the day “However, it always remains a remarkable phenomenon that that party which constantly talks about historical law, organic structure, natural state life, as opposed to legislation, bureaucratic rule and mechanical government from their point of view… now demands that the people be re-encapsulated by law in a corporate system, which it has outgrown through historical development… The reality that was once inherent in the corporate concepts is now to be re-established by official decree – the “organic structure” of society is to be worked out at the green table and imposed from the State Chancellery.” The old stereotypical accusations against the decisionistic-voluntaristic state that crushes the “living” and “organic” are now becoming therefore, in view of the revolutionary danger, at least some representatives of corporate society have forgotten that the monarchical state must and should behave energetically and dynamically, provided, however, that it becomes an instrument of the opponents of the new society. Partly under the influence of French reactionary journalism, sympathies for dictatorial solutions had to be voiced, although for reasons to be explained below they found neither many supporters nor partisan political articulation at the end of the forties, the purpose of which was that the counter-revolutionary principles should be saved by revolutionary means of all things—or else that the reaction would have to entail a truly revolutionary, violent upheaval, at least where the new had meanwhile established itself. Seen in this light, as early as 1838 the political reactionaries actually seemed to be “revolutionaries turned backwards,” are active and offensive by nature. “They root and agitate incessantly, and their talent for the business rivals that of democracy. They don’t shy away from violent means either; on the contrary, coups are very familiar thoughts to them, and their heart swells with the desire to fight!” Frantz also believed that conservatism must lead to reaction as soon as it wants to become active. “By definition, conservatism is a static element; to reform means something other than to conserve, and conservative reform is either nonsense or pleonasm, so that the only reform that conservatives as conservatives could imagine and carry out would have to be a return to the past.” This remark was etymologically correct, and it also had its indirect socio-historical justification. Since the rapidly unfolding social dynamic had made impossible a merely historical basis of conservatism in the immovable framework of the existing, its adherents had either to succumb to reaction as backward reform or to free their conservatism from its literal static sense and broaden it to include the perspective of forward reform. It must be left open here whether what the conservatives had in mind could also be recognized by their opponents as “true” reform, although liberals – if only out of expedient optimism – sometimes tried to distinguish between genuine conservatives and absolutist parties with a pronounced reactionary character. After all, F.J. Stahl also divided the party of legitimacy into three factions, namely “the absolutists, the feudalistic legitimists and the supporters of the estate-based constitutional monarchy.” while EL von GERLACH reports in the years 1851-1852 of a split in the conservative party … “one into an absolutist faction, and the other that wanted to make the king dependent on conservative chambers, believing that absolutism was revolutionary in principle.”
The last sentence gets to the heart of the matter and at the same time lets one guess why the “absolutist” faction, which according to the usage of the time included the “red reactionaries”, remained in the minority. The aversion of most of the estates to the “red reaction” was not rooted in goodwill towards mass movement parties, but in unpleasant memories of the enlightened state, nurturing their fear, which caused real panic in the face of the specter of Josephinism, that the excessive strengthening or centralization of state powers in the fight against the mass movement party would ultimately have to bring about the dissolution of the corporate order, or at least give a ‘revolutionary’ minded monarch the means to do so. Although those who flirted with the idea of a monarchical dictatorship wanted to save the corporate order and therefore wished for a dictatorship with a limited mandate until the revolution was eradicated (the boundaries between absolutists and feudalistic legitimists, as STAHL called them, remained fluid), the danger of a transformation of the required provisional dictatorship into the feared sovereign one could not simply be dismissed out of hand, especially since the movement party was already strong enough to tempt the monarchy into an alliance, which might have taken the form, if not of a constitutional form, of bureaucratic reformism in favor of civil society. The various possibilities for the development of the existing constellation of forces, the dangers of a liberal or even democratic derailment of the monarchy endowed with absolutist powers, were repeatedly clearly seen by the relevant corporatist counter-revolutionary circles. As early as 1823 SCHLEGEL had regarded the enthusiasm of the Ultras for absolute monarchs like Louis XIV as a remarkable example of the lack of clarity and confusion of concepts that now prevailed. For him, legitimacy as such represented neither a virtue nor a counter-revolutionary guarantee, when he considered that that purely mathematical and mechanical view of the state and treatment of the state procedures of the most legitimate governments, the same Zeitgeist is at work. This attitude was also shared by other conservatives like BAADER, STAHL, the GERLACH brothers, and RADOWITZ. At the latest since 1851 it was clear to the representatives of the corporate principle that Bonapartist tendencies could be inherent in bureaucratic absolutism. Of course, all this had its downside. Because it was obvious that the corporate order with its particularism, without leaning on the concentrated power of the kingship, was not able to defend itself against the attacks of the movement party, which in the meantime had its own centers of power in the cities that were becoming increasingly important economically and culturally. STAHL, who welcomed Haller’s rejection of absolutism, on the other hand made it clear that the times of the patrimonial state were finally over, although he considered a strengthening of the kingship corresponding to the progress of statehood to be inevitable. According to L. von GERLACH, the kingship now had one double task: “A prince must now first create the basis of a military despot, … but alongside that build and rule with the moderation of a patrimonial prince.” From these words spoke the desire to place a strong monarchy at the service of a nobility weakened by social development, in order to partly reverse this weakening and partly to compensate for it. Interventions carried out with state power could be interpreted away or reinterpreted as long as and insofar as they favored the ex officio representatives of the “organic”.
Because the estates claimed two different things for themselves at the same time, they had to vacillate between their organicist self-understanding and a decisionist-voluntarist policy. The pale or crimson reactionaries saw their own justification in the practical inevitability of the latter—and their own salvation in its radicalization. This attitude was not based on a realistic assessment of historical development, but it nevertheless implied a realistic registration of the bankruptcy of organicism and legitimacy. The dichotomy between legitimacy theory and power-political practice in the counter-revolutionary camp, which was later also admitted by conservatives, was denounced early on by liberals and democrats, which pushed the counter-revolution ideologically into the permanent defensive. The eldest daughter of legitimacy was the partition of Saxony, DAHLMANN had written as early as 1820, and Krug had added no less gleefully that it was impossible to claim that Napoleon was not a legitimate ruler without grossly insulting all the European powers who but would have acknowledged it literally and physically. In view of the irrefutable nature of such arguments, the “red reaction” had to come to the conclusion that political action based on the principle of legitimacy was simply impossible. Their (partial) realism was based on this, and in this respect it was no coincidence that Bismarck of all people, who had started out as a “red reactionary”, was able to settle accounts with the principle of legitimacy in his 1857 correspondence with L. von GERLACH, whose consistency is unparalleled. Stein’s definition of ‘reaction’ as an alliance between royalty and corporate society for the purpose of subjugating civil society implied the thesis that monarchy was basically an independent authority. This was also assumed by those members of the Estates who feared absolutism—and the liberals did the same, insofar as they wanted to win the kingdom for themselves. In their view, however, the full practical-political development of the reaction, i.e. the “reaction system”, was impossible without the cooperation of the kingship; but if they wooed the favor of the monarchy, then, understandably, they had to portray the estates, who misled the monarchy, as the actual originators, bearers and beneficiaries of the reaction. It was the reactionary party, ROTTECK thought, that was diligently sowing mistrust between princes and people, and other liberal voices also rose up against the reactionary party, which unfortunately always pushed its way between prince and people. The “monarchical-democratic regime” formed a liberal counter-concept to the reaction as the alliance of royalty and corporate society. Even the Carlsbad Decrees had been countered, not without bitterness, by arguing that the combination of monarchy and democracy was not fanciful but corresponded to the spirit of Art. 13 of the Federal Act. Some tried again to prove to the princes that their true friends were to be found among the constitutionalists, since the nobility basically only cares about their own private benefit, that the intimate merging of the kingdom with the the freedom of the people is the only defense against the growing dangers. “Aristocrat’s princes” and “people’s princes” were held against each other and hoped that the latter would provide security against the “reaction”. After every new disappointment of such hopes, however, the concept of ‘democratic monarchy’ endured some mockery.
7. ‘Reaction’ in the period 1849-1866
With the defeat of the revolution, a period of stagnation begins for the concept of reaction. Not only does it hardly gain anything in terms of political or historical-philosophical content in the decades that follow, it also very often comes across as dull or even conventional. The originators and bearers of this concept had to suffer from the victory of reaction, and that is why the reality of reaction had to partly suppress and partly weaken “reaction” as a polemical concept directed against this reality: for the power of concepts does not rest (or not primarily) on their real content, but (above all) on the real power of their originators and beneficiaries. The change of 1849 was not able to force the concept of reaction to resign from the political stage: it had been too widespread since 1840 for that. The term “Reaktionszeit” for the years after 1849 became popular in historiography in the 1870s, and even counter-revolutionary authors spoke of the victory of the reaction at that time: this must, however, be interpreted more as a sign that that ‘reaction’ partly became the terminus technicus. Technical use of the word and disapproval of the “red reaction” are combined in Radowitz when he distances himself from the reactionary party at court and in the country in 1850/51. STAHL also uses, albeit seldomly, ‘reaction’ in the pejorative sense of mere negation. The word appears frequently in liberal journalism, especially in contemporary historical reports, and is also (continued to) be applied to intellectual and literary phenomena. When GERVINUS makes the reactions of 1815-1830 the subject of his historiography, he means that the reaction can take several forms – not only political but also cultural and ideological – which he also describes in detail.
Even after the defeat of the revolution, it was clear to a counter-revolutionary like MANTEUFFEL that (feudal) reaction, even if one tried it by all means, would fail due to the resistance of the facts, since the entire modern civilization was faced with an inevitable necessity for the dissolution of feudalism. Such findings of the victors, however, brought only a very feeble consolation to the vanquished. Because they saw the thoroughbred reaction at work and often had to state: “The procedure of our present-day reaction is very vividly reminiscent of that of 1819. It seemed particularly disturbing that the setback of 1848 created a large number of followers for the reactionary efforts, while on the other side indifference to all politics … had sadly spread. The party of the Kreuzzeitung has everywhere, favored by governmental favours, established socio-political associations … which for them are a powerful lever of influence and growth … If the constitutionalists remain idle in the face of this, then the gradual crumbling must come and dissolution of their party association was the inevitable consequence of this.”
Pure parliamentary work did not seem to suffice as a defense against this onslaught of reaction Although the general situation now appeared gloomy, the fact that the reaction did not use open dictatorial violence but embarked on a constitutional game, which in time would take an unpleasant turn, gave rise to hope. This was regarded as an indirect victory of the constitutional principle, to which—in view of the objective unstoppability of progress—greater importance was to be attached than the provisional direct setback. Even the reaction had to improve in the sense of general progress, as the comparison with the 1820s suggested: “if we are about to retreat as quickly as possible for the moment, one must not forget that this is within the law of the ebb and flow; that we are generally progressing is shown by the first best comparison with the analogous conditions of 1819. Both the Reaction and the progressive party of 1851 are better than those of that time, the Reaction has been forced to use our own means, and the Liberalism is clear in all circumstances.” The Liberals were particularly optimistic about the assessment of long-term trends in the economy. For it was clear to them that the reaction could suppress political and intellectual progress at least for a while with the help of violence or suitable constitutional mechanisms, but such means could do little against the dynamics and logic of the economy, and indeed of industry – all the more so since the social supporters of the “Junker Party,” as the reaction was now often called, needed economic modernization for their own survival. Schulze-Delitzsch formulated in 1861: “The Junker party preached the reversal of science and similar nice things and … promoted the reaction in church and school, in politics and business as they could, only in the industrial field there are limits, over which this party can never go out in its own interest.”
This combination of the reaction concept and accusation with economic considerations is in itself a sign of the shift in the main interests of the bourgeoisie after the political disappointments of the revolutionary period. The pejorative use of ‘reaction’ in this case is more of a linguistic-political reminiscence than a call for new political action. In addition, the constellation of forces after the still recent defeat was a bit confused. Among other things, there remained open the question of relations between Liberals and Democrats, which continued to be discussed in relation to the necessities of political struggle against reaction. In 1859 Schulze-Delitzsch was able to get the impression that, thanks to the reaction of the last few years, a rapprochement had taken place between the constitutionalists and the democrats?, and he wanted the disastrous break between the liberal parties to be leveled out, which “… mainly started in the social field and alone benefits the reaction. The precondition for the unity between the educated middle class and the workers should, of course, be the elimination of the fear of the red specter, namely through a clear renunciation of pernicious socio-political daydreams.” The failure of this reconciliation project was bound to revive the older thesis, repeatedly underlined in the early years of the new reactionary period, of liberalism’s equal distance from reaction and (social) democracy, the downside of which, as we know, is the theory of cooperation between the two extremes. Schulze-Delitzsch also provided the best formulations for this: “Here the socialists with the feudalists, the Ultramontanes and all other hosts of reaction in the most beautiful unity … On the other side the entire liberal party in all its shades.” The reproach against the Prussian state as a whole seemed out of place after Prince Regent Wilhelm took office in October 1858, which was seen as a decisive move towards an honest constitutional life. It soon regained ground, however, as the constitutional conflict shattered the illusions associated with the New Era and made many liberals realize that they were only an opposition. An important reason for their opposition to military reform was certainly their aversion to the absolutist tendencies of the military aristocracy, or their suspicion that the military transformation would be carried out in a reactionary sense. Frantz, too, wishing to speak in the spirit of 1813 and rejecting the current institutionalism as much as feudal reaction, wrote that in 1862 the latter wished to gather the last of their strength “to dam the river to prevent the old building from collapsing; It therefore intends to isolate the army as much as possible from the bourgeoisie, in order to find in the barracks the support it lost after the ruin of the knight’s castles.” Faced with such prospects, at least some liberals had to assert the militant view, against the hesitant in their own party, that “the people expect us, their true representatives, to express their mood and openly expose the system of lies and reaction.” However, the course of events removed the sharpness from the discussion that suggested the use of the concept of reaction as a weapon in a battle with clear fronts. The constitutional conflict became less topical to the extent that the army whose reorganization had sparked it was not used against the liberal forces, but against Austria of all places, which for most liberals was the embodiment of the priestly restoration, the most narrow-minded reaction par excellence. This use of an army, which in every respect was regarded as reaction’s dearest child, against reaction itself and for the attainment of the old great liberal goal, of national unity, had to at least partially confuse the traditional opponents of reaction and thus make it more or less unsafe to deal with the concept of reaction: between 1863 and 1866 it served more to carry out the struggles within liberalism than to publicly designate its opponents. Two things were at stake: firstly, to prevent the respective other liberal faction from splitting the liberal movement by pointing out that this would lead to the strengthening of the opposing reactionary party, and secondly, with reference to the danger of reaction, to justify one’s own attitude towards Bismarck’s politics. Liberals like Twesten, who declared against the war in 1866, argued thus: “The outward outcome will be much the same, though; if victory is won without us or with our simple submission, then the success for the transformation of Germany will probably not be very great and the rule of the reaction at home will certainly be long and oppressive.” On the other hand, BAUMGARTEN pointed to the unintentional, but nevertheless factual cooperation of the anti-war liberals with the reactionary forces from Austria and the “Kreuzzeitung”, in order to then ask the question: “What would you think if Bismarck fell in a few weeks, then Manteuffel followed and came to an agreement with Austria on a guarantee for Venice and joint restoration in Germany?” After the 1866 victory he feared a full reaction only if the liberals were unable or unwilling to help shape a new policy. However, a change in the constitution should be sought: to act differently would simply mean to join the reactionary camp.
[cut section 8]
The weakening of the concept of reaction around the time when the Reich was founded did not mean the beginning of its end, but rather the end of the epoch in which it had developed and worked. It has survived this epoch and has been able to retain its political usefulness to this day because the ideology of progress, against the background of which it could be felt as a reproach (see Section II.2), both in the liberal and in the socialist world of thought of the 20th century remained decisive. As far as his concrete social connection in Germany is concerned, one important thing deserves mention, which arose within the social-democratic left of the Wilhelmine era, and which, in different variations, proved to have a promising future. It was based on the thesis that in the period after the founding of the Reich, the interests of the big bourgeoisie and the Junkers were reconciled, that the two were even intertwined, so that they could pursue aggressive-expansionist goals with combined forces; the Junkers thus form the military leadership and big industry the economic pillar of an imperialist policy, to which the ruling class of all advanced countries in the age of the unified world market tend anyway; nevertheless, German imperialism had to be characterized by particular aggressiveness because of the continued existence of the Prussian-militaristic tradition, which was still carried out by the economically modernized feudal nobility. ‘Reaction’ in the specifically German sense referred to the whole complex of big-capitalist interests and Prussian-militaristic-authoritarian traditions as it developed in the world-historical epoch of imperialism. Precisely because those traditions were said to be extremely strong at work, the proponents of this newly conceived reactionary charge were able to tie in with the older concept, which had referred to the nobility — not least as the backbone of the army — although the nobility did not this time around possess a corporatist/anti-capitalist nature, but on the contrary its close connection with industry was emphasized. ROSA LUXEMBURG, for example, had this concept in mind when she attacked the “united forces of reaction,” by which she understood the dark powers of capitalist society, feudalistic Junkerism and militarism. “A profound reactionary streak is currently running through the entire bourgeoisie,” she wrote in 1911, to underline the alleged community of interest between the bourgeoisie and the Junkers and to underpin her rejection of coalitions with the liberals. Kautsky also believed at the time that a coalition policy would be suicidal for social democracy at a time when the phrase “reactionary masses” had come true. The statement made in 1906 that the word “reaction” has not lost its bad ring to this day; implied that its weakening, which began around the time of the founding of the Reich, was by and large continuing. Nevertheless, the new concept of reaction, which was primarily conceived in sociological terms, was to experience an astonishing spread a few decades later – namely when it came to the sociological explanation of the National Socialist phenomenon. Not only did the Marxist-Leninist analysis understand National Socialism as the political expression of big capital in alliance with the traditional bearers of militarism for the purpose of imperialist action, but also liberal circles in the West, for whom militarism and ‘feudal-patrimonial capitalism’ were the very opposite of true liberalism – tended to make similar assumptions, so that one can speak of a reaction or fascism theory of the Allies that was widespread in its embryonic form, although by no means uniform, which was also partly reflected in the economic policy measures of the occupying powers. Since then, ‘reactionary’ has primarily meant ‘fascist’, ‘fascistoid’ or referred to ‘capitalist’ and ‘conservative-militarist’ circles as the ‘stirrup holders’ of fascism. This implies e.g. the following appeal from the programmatic declaration of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in April 1946: “reaction must never again come to power.” As a guarantee for this, the destruction of reactionary militarism and the shattering of the reactionary state apparatus of violence, along with the smashing of their economic base, was demanded.
The view that fascist or National Socialist totalitarianism is the political and military outgrowth of (late) capitalist structures in crisis, directly or indirectly underlay the warnings about the assumed ‘restorative tendencies’ in West Germany. It is remarkable that in the allegations and warnings regarding the Federal Republic of Germany, the word ‘restoration’ is preferred or even revalued. The concept of reaction remains dependent on the concept of progress and can therefore be interpreted at will, since the definition of “true” progress varies depending on the specific situation and opponent. However, it has not become a mere empty formula insofar as it – unlike e.g. B. the concept of democracy (= Democracy, Vol. 1, 821ff.) – is not used by all political tendencies, but primarily by the left, i.e. at least its symbolic-ritual, if not its substantive, clarity has largely been preserved and thus it is a recognizable linguistic sign of one’s political and ideological affiliation.