Marginal Notes to the Accusations of the Ministerial Rescript - Karl Marx

Submitted by pogo on April 12, 2015

Marginal Notes to the Accusations of the Ministerial Rescript by Karl Marx

Karl Marx

Marginal Notes to the Accusations of the Ministerial Rescript [132]

Source: MECW Volume 1, p. 359

Written: on February 12, 1843

First published: in the book Rheinische Briefe und Akten zur Geschichte der politischen Bewegung 1830-1850, 1. Bd., Essen, 1919.


“From the outset, it” (the Rheinische Zeitung)"pursued such a “reprehensible course” etc. “Unmistakably,” it is stated, “the intention continued to prevail in the newspaper to attack the basis of the state constitution, to develop theories which aim at undermining the monarchical principle, to maliciously cast suspicion on the actions of the government in the eyes of the public, to incite some estates of the nation against others, to arouse dissatisfaction with the existing legal conditions, and to promote very hostile trends against friendly powers. Its views on alleged defects of administration, apart from the fact that they were mostly without foundation and largely devoid of thoroughness and expert knowledge, were not couched in a serious, calm and dignified tone, but marked by malicious hostility towards the state and its administrative forms and organs”.

It is obvious that a trend does not become reprehensible merely because the government declares it to be so. Even the Copernican system of the universe was not only found reprehensible by the supreme authority of the time, but was actually condemned. Furthermore, it is everywhere the law that the accuser should provide the proof. Finally, there is attributed to the Rheinische Zeitung the “unmistakable intention” of committing the crimes laid to its charge. But an intention only becomes recognisable, and the more so unmistakable, when it has been realised in acts.

But if even for a moment we were to concede (what, however, we expressly deny) that all the accusations of the ministerial rescript were well founded, the result nevertheless would be that in their present indefinite and ambiguous formulation they would provide just as much and just as little reason for a ban on any newspaper whatever as for a ban on the Rheinische Zeitung.

First of all, it is said that there prevailed in the Rheinische Zeitung “the unmistakable intention to attack the basis of the state constitution”. It is well known, however, that there unmistakably prevails a great diversity of opinion on the Prussian constitution and its basis. Some deny that the basis has any constitution, others that the constitution has any basis.

One view is held by Stein, Hardenberg, Schön, another one by Rochow, Arnim, and Eichhorn. Hegel in his day believed that he had laid the basis for the Prussian constitution in his philosophy of law, and the government and the German public concurred in this belief. One way by which the government proved this was the official dissemination of his writings; the public, however, did so by accusing him of being the philosopher of the Prussian state, as one can read in the old Leipzig conversational dictionary .133 What Hegel believed at that time, Stahl believes today. In 1831, by a special order of the government, Hegel lectured on the philosophy of law.

In 1830, the Staats-Zeitung declared that Prussia was a monarchy surrounded by republican institutions. Today it says Prussia is a monarchy surrounded by Christian institutions.

In view of this great diversity of opinion on the Prussian constitution and its basis, it seems natural that the Rh. Z. also should have its opinion, which of course may differ from the current view of the government, but which nevertheless can quote in its favour both Prussian history and many elements of the present-day life of the state as definitively highly placed authorities.

Far from intending to attack the basis of the Prussian constitution, therefore, the Rh. Z., on the contrary, was convinced that it was attacking only deviations from this basis.

In regard to the banning of the Rh. Z, an official article in the Allgemeine Königsburger Zeitung described Prussia as a state of liberal sovereignty. This is a definition which is not to he found in Prussian law and allows of all possible interpretations.,

“Liberal sovereignty” can be understood in two ways: either that freedom is merely the personal frame of mind of the King, and therefore his personal quality, or that freedom is the spirit of sovereignty, and is therefore realised, or at least should be realised, also through free institutions and laws. In the former case we have a despotisme éclairé [Enlightened despotism] and the person of the prince is contrasted to the state as a whole as to a mindless and unfree material. In the latter case, and this was the view of the Rh. Z., one does not confine the prince within the bounds of his personality, but regards the whole state as his body, so that the institutions are the organs in which he lives and acts, and the laws are the eyes by which he sees.

Further it is said to have been the intention of the Rh. Z. “to develop theories which aim at undermining the monarchical principle”.

Once again, the question arises: What is to be understood by the “monarchical principle"? The Rh. Z, for instance, maintained that the predominance of distinctions between the estates, one-sided bureaucracy, censorship, etc., contradicted the monarchical principle, and it has always tried to prove its assertions, and has not put them forward as mere ideas. In general, however, the Rh. Z. has never given special preference to a special form of state. It was concerned for a moral and rational commonweal; it regarded the demands of such a commonweal as demands which would have to be realised and could be realised under every form of state. Hence it did not treat the monarchical principle as a principle apart; it treated monarchy rather as the realisation of the state principle in general. If this was an error, it was not an error of underestimation, but of overestimation.

Further, the Rh. Z. has never tried maliciously to cast suspicion on the actions of the government in the eyes of the public. On the contrary, it is out of goodwill that it has tried to cast suspicion on those measures of the government itself that are contrary to the spirit of the people. Furthermore, it has never abstractly counter-posed the government to the people; on the contrary, it has considered defects of the state to be just as much defects of the people as of the government.

As far as thoroughness and expert knowledge are concerned, as also the tone of the Rh. Z, at least not a single newspaper in Germany has shown more thoroughness or expert knowledge. As for its tone, it is truly serious, calm and dignified, compared with the rowdy tone of the servile (conservative) journals. In this respect, the Rh. Z. has been accused, not unjustly, of unpopularity, of being too scientific in its form, which directly contradicts the ministry’s accusation.

No more has the Rh. Z. tried to incite some estates of the nation against others; on the contrary, it has tried to incite every estate against its own egoism and limitations, it has everywhere brought civic reason to bear against estate unreason, and human love against estate hatred. Moreover, if it has sinned in this respect, it has only committed a sin that is sanctioned by the law and usage of the Rhine Province.

The reproach of having wanted to “arouse dissatisfaction with the existing legal conditions” cannot in this indefinite formulation even he regarded as a reproach.

Even the government has tried to arouse dissatisfaction with the existing legal conditions, for example with the old Prussian marriage situation. All reform and revision of the law, all progress, rests on such dissatisfaction.

Since legal development is not possible without development of the laws, and since development of the laws is impossible without criticism of them, and since every criticism of the laws sets the mind and therefore also the heart of the citizen at variance with the existing laws, and since this variance is experienced as dissatisfaction, it follows that a loyal participation of the press in the development of the state is impossible if it is not permitted to arouse dissatisfaction with the existing legal conditions.

The reproach that the Rh. Z. persecutes loyal organs by unworthy ridicule, which is obviously intended to refer to the newspaper controversy, cannot provide grounds for a ban. From all sides, the Rh. Z. has been denounced, has had mud cast at it, and been attacked. It was its duty to defend itself. Moreover, there is no official press.

The Rh. Z. has not insulted foreign powers, but has only condemned their insults against Germany. In this respect it has merely pursued a national policy. As far as the states of the German Confederation are concerned, it has only expressed the view of the majority of the representatives of the people in these states.

As regards religion, the newspaper has treated it in accordance with Article II of the 1819 censorship decree, that is to say, it has opposed religious truths being fanatically transplanted into politics and the confusion of ideas arising therefrom.


If the Rh. Z. had wanted to promote systematic opposition to the government, it would have had to employ entirely opposite tactics.

It would have flattered the prejudices of the Rhine Province, instead of opposing them. Above all, it would have paid homage to its religious prejudices and have exploited the antithesis between North-German and South-German culture after the manner of the ultramontane, instead of introducing North-German culture in the Rhine Province.

It would have based itself on French, and not German, theories.

It would have put forward the provincial spirit with its special limitations in opposition to the idea of state unity; hence, like Görres, it would above all have taken the provincial assemblies under its protection.

It would have considered that all that was good came from the estates while all that was bad came from the government, as ordinary liberalism does. In its criticism of the Rhine estates it would not have laid stress on the general wisdom of the government in contrast to the private egoism of the estates, as it has done in contrast to many Rhine a liberals. Lastly, it would have joined in the chorus of other newspapers and demanded extended rights for the commissions, instead of describing such a demand as contrary to the interests of the state.


Finally, it is strangely exaggerating to speak of the malice of the whole tendency, since in that case

1. the fight for the Customs Union,

2. for Prussia in the matter of the Russian cartel,

3. for Prussian hegemony,

4. the constant reference to Prussia as the progressive state,

5. the praise of Prussian popular institutions, such as the army, administration, etc.,

would likewise be ill-intentioned.

Neither has the Rh. Z. one-sidedly opposed the bureaucracy. On the contrary, it has brought the influence of the latter to bear:

1. against Bülow-Cummerow,

2. against the romantic trend.

On the contrary, it was the only liberal newspaper which recognised also the good aspect of the bureaucracy, as well as the good aspect of the old Prussian legislation.

Thus, the Rh. Z. alone has defended the main principle of the new divorce law, in contradiction to almost all other newspapers.

Thus, lastly, it was the first and almost the sole newspaper to welcome the Cabinet Order on corrections as a progressive step.

We cite these examples only to prove that the Rh. Z. has not conducted a systematic, abstract opposition, but has always asserted only what it was convinced was rational, from whatever side it proceeded.