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Chapter Summary

This introductory chapter presents an overview of the book. Using Johann Christoph Woellner as a window onto eighteenth-century Prussia, the book argues that the Enlightenment there was a politically and socially exclusive movement, rather than an emancipatory one. In order to gain a clearer, historically grounded picture of Woellner's edicts and the fights that surrounded them, we must move beyond the binary opposition that has led historians to be much more critical of Woellner than they have of his opponents. Discarding the classic Enlightenment/Counter-Enlightenment dichotomy reveals a much different enlightened world, one that always tempered the search for autonomy with both the duties required by state service and the prejudices produced by an aristocracy of merit. The book examines only one possible alternative to the French model of subversive words and political upheaval; there can, no doubt, be others, just as there have always been multiple visions of the Enlightenment.

Keywords: eighteenth-century Prussia; Enlightenment; Johann Christoph Woellner



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