Fear of Freethinking in Germany, 1650-1750
University of Virginia historian (emeritus) of early modern Germany H.C. Erik Midelfort, the Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the Academy this spring, is at work on a project called “Fear of Freethinking: the Suppression of Dissent in Germany, 1650-1750,” which examines the ways in which the German states during that century, with no Inquisition (like that of Catholic Italy or Spain), and with virtually no effective central government, managed to suppress radical and dissenting political, moral, religious or irreligious views. Why did this happen – and how?
It is Midelfort’s contention that certain cultural dynamics led to the development of a surprisingly academic culture in which Catholics and Protestants (both Lutherans and Calvinists) could survive in their own separate religious niches, but where other thoughts were rigorously censored. It was a time when the ideas of Descartes, Spinoza, La Peyrere, and Hobbes were read in secret reading rooms and clandestine discussion groups. Amidst this culture of guarded secrecy, Midelfort wonders, How did the authorities become aware of and control the spread of ideas? How, in fact, did oppression work?
To watch the video of Midelfort's lecture, click here .