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1Die Göttliche Ordnung (The Divine Order), written by the German theologian Johann Peter Süssmilch, is widely recognized by population historians as a major contribution to demographic thought. In this article, Justus Nipperdey analyses the evolution of Süssmilch’s thinking, and the developments in his argumentation over the twenty years that separate the two editions of his major work. The possibility of human intervention as a means to modify behaviour gradually replaces the perfection of the world as the grounds for analysing demographic events such as population growth, numbers of births and deaths, the sex distribution of births and the age distribution of deaths. Following the success of the first edition, and in the context of emerging European interest in population politics in the eighteenth century, Süssmilch‘s work was substantially revised, taking greater account of population heterogeneity in analyses, and giving expression to his desire to serve as advisor to the Prince.

2Johann Peter Süssmilch has long been recognized as the most important German contributor to the development of demography and statistics. Jacqueline Hecht, editor of the French translation and eminent scholar of the early history of demographic thought called his Divine Order of 1741 “le premier traité de démographie de l’histoire.” (The first demographic treatise in history) (Hecht, 1980, p. 667). Twenty years later, the Brandenburg pastor published a second edition that was so different from the earlier book that it may well be called a separate work. While maintaining his original demographic theses, Süssmilch enlarged the scope of demographic enquiry to the field of social and economic policies. Many commentators have alluded to the differences between these two editions (Arisawa, 1979, p. 23; Hecht, 1980, p. 670; Rohrbasser, 1996, p. 984; Dreitzel, 1986a, p. 43). Still, the evolution of Süssmilch’s work has not yet been adequately highlighted and even less explained in the context of the population debates of his time. In this article, I contend that Süssmilch radically changed his project and his outlook on the purpose of assembling demographic material in the twenty years between the two separate editions. The latter one deliberately forms part of the German political and economic discourse of the second third of the eighteenth century, while his previous intervention showed no signs of knowledge of this discourse and little interest in contributing to it. This reading of Süssmilch is informed by the assumption that the erudite discourse on population development and the debates about population politics were largely separated in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, thus differing from the situation in Western Europe.

3To outline Süssmilch’s development of thought, I will first clarify the author’s objective, the sources he drew upon, and finally how he engaged with previous and contemporary authors in the first edition of the Divine Order. In the second section, I will analyse the reception of the work by German cameralists and show how, while neglecting his central religiously based contention, they were influenced by Süssmilch’s method and terminology. Yet, this influence was mutual. As I will demonstrate in section three, the theologian himself became a part of the cameralist discourse in the 1750s and started employing his material for political arguments in a way he had not done in his earlier life. His involvement in the political debates of his time ultimately reached its apex in the huge second edition of the Divine Order, which is the subject of the fourth and final section.

I – The Divine Order of 1741: in search of divine law

4In the 1741 preface of his great book, Süssmilch provided a clear picture of his motivation, his sources, and the ultimate goal of the publication. As a then unknown clergyman who had not published a scientific work, Süssmilch had to justify his undertaking. [1] As his primary inspiration he cited William Derham’s Physico-Theology that he had encountered during his university studies at Halle and that shaped his worldview. Following Derham’s lead, the German pastor wanted to show the perfect order of the world as God had implanted it. When Süssmilch referred to the function and benefit of his work, it was always in reference to the knowledge of God. There is only one exception: his dedication to Frederick II did mention the utility of his reflections for the ruler. In practice, however, he did not offer policy prescriptions, but praise for the current state of affairs in Brandenburg-Prussia (Süssmilch, 1741, Dedication, pp. 5-7). [2] These few sentences were intended to flatter the new king and do not reflect the main body of the text. Here, the aim was not to provide information or specifications for political or economic purposes.

5This becomes especially clear in his treatment of the Dutch mathematician Nicolas Struyck (1687-1769). Süssmilch reveals having questioned the publication of his own finished work when hearing of Struyck’s recently published Introduction to General Geography. Adding his own data, the Dutchman had used material put together by the eminent political arithmeticians John Graunt (1620-1674) and William Petty (1623-1687), and the historian William Maitland (c.1693-1757). Süssmilch justified the use of much of the same material in his own publication by emphasizing the difference of their respective approaches. He stated that the intention of Struyck’s calculations was “directed at the political use” of calculating life annuities (Süssmilch, 1741, Preface, p. 31). The Dutchman’s bid for the “political use” of demographic material was a respectable enterprise in a country where a large number of life annuities were sold, Süssmilch acknowledged (Süssmilch, 1741, Preface, pp. 33-34). Nonetheless, it was far removed from his own wide-ranging project. The pastor was interested neither in calculating life expectancy for the sake of financial products, nor in delivering prescriptions of how to enlarge the state. He participated in the learned discussion of theologians and natural scientists debating the maximum population of the earth, its actual size in ancient and modern times, the pace of multiplication, and the time it took for mankind to double after the Fall or the Deluge (Ducreux, 1977; Egerton, 1966).

6To explain the meaning of Süssmilch’s participation in the erudite discourse, it is of prime importance to stress the divisions between various discourses concerned with population matters. The historiography on early demographic thought has tended to collect and lump together all texts that feature any statement on population, regardless of their discursive context (Bonar, 1931; Pearson, 1978). In Western Europe, the debate on biblical and global demographics and the economic and political arguments on increasing the number of inhabitants were indeed connected (Rusnock, 2002). William Petty, for example, was at home in both discourses (Rohrbasser, 2002, p. 28). During the Enlightenment, this association was intensified, as population development became the arena of broad ideological debates in France and England (Whelan, 1991). However, this merger of differing discourses on population certainly did not take place in seventeenth and eighteenth century Germany. There, the disjunction between those texts that strove to uncover scientific answers on the one hand, and the political and economic tracts that prescribed basic principles of population policy on the other, was especially strong. A potent discourse of population politics had developed since the end of the Thirty Years War, but these texts never revealed the faintest knowledge of the ongoing learned debates that were taking place in Western Europe. [3] This segmentation is crucial for understanding Süssmilch’s contribution of 1741. While he was well aware of the scientific debates on population, he did not cite one single German text on economic matters or population policy. [4] As Süssmilch was an author who frankly acknowledged his sources, it is obvious that he did not know these texts at the time. Indeed, he did not have to! The cameralist population discourse of the early eighteenth century focused solely on economic policy to stimulate population growth. These texts did not contain any information that could have been relevant to his project of finding universal demographic laws. [5]

7In contrast, Süssmilch was obviously at home in the erudite discourse on world population development. He explicitly mentioned and frequently cited the major participants in these pan-European debates, starting with the humanist Justus Lipsius (1547-1606), continuing with the Dutch scholar Isaac Vossius (1618-1689), the Jesuits Jacques Bronfrere (1573-1643), Denis Petau (1583-1652), and Giovanni Battista Riccioli (1598-1671), the English physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), and reaching his own century with the theologian and physicist William Whiston (1667-1752), and the Swiss natural scientist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733). [6] These debates were peculiarly situated between theology and the natural sciences (Sieferle, 1990), which made them particularly interesting for the pastor whose wish it had originally been to become a physician. Two questions were loosely connected to the general themes of chronology and ancient population growth: had mankind retained a natural tendency to increase? And was the current world population larger or smaller than the ancient one? Scholars who claimed a decrease since Roman times challenged the idea of an inherent tendency to grow (Whelan, 1991, pp. 41f.). Others acknowledged a general disposition towards natural growth, which was periodically swept away, however, by great mortality crises. In this widely held view, plague, war, and famine were not the scourge of the world, but actually necessary correctives sent directly by God to alleviate demographic pressure (Cipolla, 1974). While Süssmilch strongly believed in the natural growth of mankind, he abhorred the idea of God deliberately killing people to maintain an equilibrium. Instead, he wanted to show that God had much more lenient instruments at his disposal to influence population development. Süssmilch’s physico-theological outlook and his participation in these learned debates led to one peculiar consequence: as he saw everything preformed by God’s governing laws he was – at the time – not especially interested in the possibilities of human regulation of the demographic process. A very striking difference from his later work.

8This specific point of view may further be illustrated by the way he used the works of John Graunt and William Petty. Because of his reverence to and his frequent citation of the two Englishmen, Süssmilch has been characterized as a disciple of Political Arithmetic (Dreitzel, 1986a, pp. 31f.; Hecht, 1998, pp. XVIf.). This classification is only partly fitting. Süssmilch praised the methods and results of the English writers. Yet, he was initially disinterested in the use of figures as imagined by the political arithmeticians, i.e. in the realm of political economy. In particular, the economic aspect that was so important to William Petty is totally missing in Süssmilch’s work. He used Petty’s data and calculations and commented on the method, but not on the benefits Petty envisaged in his concept of Political Arithmetic. [7] The German had the original publications sent from London and it can be assumed that he did read some political or economic propositions. Still, those concepts did not enter Süssmilch’s Divine Order. His calculations were supposed to show the general order and the capacity of his statistical methods and not to contribute to governmental knowledge. In his use of the methods of Political Arithmetic, Süssmilch tried to overcome the deficiencies of the erudite discourse, as he saw it. For all his praise of the aforementioned authors, methodologically they did not appeal to him at all. He criticized them for speculating too much, as their assertions were not derived from empirical observation (Süssmilch, 1741, Preface, p. 36). Epistemologically, he sided with the political arithmeticians. However, the questions he sought to answer were not those of political economy, but derived from the erudite discourse of theology and natural history.

9There was a third discourse in Germany in which population figured prominently: the so-called Staatenkunde, a form of descriptive statistics. The Helmstedt professor Hermann Conring (1606-1681) had introduced descriptive statistics at German universities as a sub-discipline of politics (Horváth, 1979; Seifert, 1980 and 1983). Following a tradition initiated by Giovanni Botero (1540-1617) in the late sixteenth century, he examined the causes of the perceived depopulation of Spain (Rodríguez, 1985; Conring, 1730, pp. 69-73). Staatenkunde was thoroughly oriented towards politics; in fact, it had a propaedeutic function for the understanding of politics. Population size was only treated in its effect on power relations or as a consequence of population politics. This was the exact opposite of Süssmilch’s concept of population studies and his quest for universal laws. Without mentioning Conring or other well-known exponents of the genre, Süssmilch ridiculed the arguments of the descriptive statisticians in a critique of the Italian-born historian Gregorio Leti (1630-1701) who later converted to Calvinism and became city historiographer of Amsterdam (Jaumann, 2004, pp. 405-407). [8]

10According to Süssmilch, Leti had explained the assumed decrease in the European population by three causes: celibacy of Catholic priests and the abolition of polygamy in Christian countries; over-harsh taxation; and the caution of the nobles who would not allow their children to marry for fear of dividing the family wealth. Most of these factors were staple arguments in the seventeenth century (Protestant) Staatenkunde literature on population matters. For the statistically literate author, these were all petty causes that might merely have amplified the really decisive factors of plague, famine, and war. In his eyes, Leti had “provided true and false causes, but he left out the most relevant ones” (Süssmilch, 1741, p. 48). Süssmilch disproved most of Leti’s claims by providing counter-examples or pointing to the small numerical relevance of the factors. The only argument that Süssmilch accepted was that of high taxes, which he integrated into a broader context of the demographic impact of poverty (Süssmilch, 1741, p. 51).

11Obviously, Süssmilch was far removed from the thinking of the descriptive statisticians. Despite studying at the university of Jena for four years, Süssmilch does not seem to have been in contact with Martin Schmeizel (1679-1747), professor at Jena and a main protagonist of descriptive statistics at the time. Jürgen Wilke, an expert on Süssmilch’s life and intellectual contacts has termed this lack of personal acquaintance “surprising”, as he sees both men working in the same field. Wilke also expresses his surprise that he could not link Süssmilch personally to Gottfried Achenwall (1719-1772), the famous Göttingen professor of Staatenkunde (Wilke, 1994, p. 227). [9] Examining the first edition of the Divine Order, it seems totally plausible that there is neither a personal, nor an intellectual connection between Süssmilch and the representatives of descriptive statistics; they differed in methodological approach and posed opposite questions. Süssmilch followed in the footsteps of the seventeenth century authors on biblical and world demography. While criticizing their haphazard methods, he acknowledged their merits in searching for general rules of demographic behaviour. He felt an affinity with their questions, while the purely political concerns of descriptive statistics were alien to his project.

12In fact, the Divine Order did contain a lot of information that could easily be interpreted as showing the demographic impact of political and economic circumstances. Yet, the author himself refused to do so. Frequently, he noted divergences in the demographic data from different European countries and regions of the Holy Roman Empire. In these cases the pastor explicitly declined to comment on possible reasons. In the context of his general system of human demographic development, these reasons were bound to be social or political. Thus, Süssmilch staunchly repudiated the age-old theories of higher fecundity of certain peoples. He dryly rejected Livy’s claim that French women were especially fecund: “this opinion has led me to conduct a special investigation, but I have ascertained that it is unfounded and that France does not have any advantage in this matter” (Süssmilch, 1741, p. 111). Similarly, he disproved the theory that northern peoples were especially fertile, which he ascribed to Niccolò Machiavelli, Pierre Bayle, and many other writers (Süssmilch, 1741, p. 118). Instead, Süssmilch insisted on the universally equal capacity of propagation, allowing only for certain differences between the temperate zones and the extreme parts of the world.

13While emphasizing the natural uniformity of human reproduction, Süssmilch did notice differences between certain German regions. In Eastern Prussia he found sixteen to seventeen births for every ten deaths, while in Westphalia there were only twelve to thirteen. The Berlin pastor placed his own region of Brandenburg in between these two extremes. For an audience that was not accustomed to statistics, he explained that these differences amount to huge effects when considered “in large sums” (Süssmilch, 1741, p. 23). The author did, of course, notice the general interest of this finding. “I know the reader will immediately want to know the cause of this difference, but I cannot name it as I do not know the inner conditions of these lands” (Süssmilch, 1741, p. 108). People closely acquainted with those regions might be able to discern the causes. Only those people could then devise political means to alter the negative demographic situation in certain territories. The young Süssmilch delegated the mundane task of population politics to others, while taking the high ground of investigating the universal law of nature. Consequently, he did not return to the subject in the remaining three hundred pages of the book.

14To close, throughout the first edition of the Divine Order, Süssmilch shied away from translating his observations into suggestions for administrative action. He established the generally higher mortality of large cities, but also detected considerable differences among them. He speculated very briefly on the potential causes of urban mortality (Süssmilch, 1741, p. 65). The data suggested that different ways of organizing a city led to different rates of mortality, thus presenting a starting-point for alleviating this threat to population growth. However, Süssmilch did not seriously follow the lead. Reducing the rate of mortality by political measures or administrative means was not his concern in the original publication – although he would return to this subject later in life. The same is true about varying fertility, whose causes were far clearer and thus more susceptible to political intervention. Süssmilch identified the average female age of marriage as the prime factor influencing this figure (Süssmilch, 1741, p. 65). He mentioned that Swiss women supposedly had twelve or more children on average, a lot more than in his German cases. For Süssmilch, there was only one possible explanation for these figures: the age of marriage had to be much lower in Switzerland. Once again, Süssmilch stopped at that deduction and turned to another argument. He did not use this obvious gateway to suggest political measures for lowering the age of marriage, although this would have constituted the most effective form of population politics under his system. The German cameralist readers of his tract were less timid. As soon as Süssmilch provided them with these indicators, they started to think of ways to alter the averages by political means. They used Süssmilch’s findings and vocabulary to construct a field of biopolitical intervention. In the twenty years up to the second edition of the Divine Order, both the German discourse on population and Süssmilch’s own perception of the aim and scope of his project changed fundamentally, influenced by the debates surrounding him.

II – Süssmilch’s impact on cameralism

15Süssmilch’s Divine Order of 1741 equipped German cameralists and political thinkers with tools they had not possessed before. He introduced indicators concerning the frequency of marriage, the fertility in these marriages, and the mortality of the population as a whole and of its special sectors. Additionally, Süssmilch offered proof of differing growth rates in German territories. All these findings stimulated the imagination of the cameralists who were already certain that population growth had to be a key goal of princely politics. To hold this conviction, they did not need the counsel of a theologian interested in statistics. In fact, the discourse on population with its focus on increasing the number of inhabitants had developed without any impact of statistical proof. The political demands emanating from this discourse had remained rather vague, apart from the universal call for immigration policy. The German writers of political economy lacked a clear vocabulary designating the demographic process. Thus, cause and effect in population growth were not treated systematically, while a general relation between economic prosperity and procreation was assumed. Economic writers from Johann Joachim Becher (1635-1682) onwards placed expansive economic policy at the centre of population politics. In their eyes, childbearing could not be forced on the princely subjects. They were free and rational beings that would only procreate in the desired way if they could afford to do so. These authors arrived at this conclusion not from ideological inclination, but from pragmatic reasoning. They did not frame their theory in the form of positive valuation of the self-determined individual, nor in the language of Samuel Pufendorf’s natural law. Instead, their attribution of freedom of choice in procreation to the subjects resulted from a matter-of-fact approach that presented various facts as obvious and requiring no further proof. The consequence of this economic understanding of procreation was that the state or prince was not able to regulate the procreative behaviour of his subjects directly.

16The ensuing theory of indirect population policy runs through the only monographic treatment of population policy in Germany in the first half of the eighteenth century, Samuel Wagner’s 1711 Der Herrschafften / Städt und Länder Volcks-Besatzung (The inhabitation of principalities, cities and countries) (Wagner, 1711). [10] While officially treating population matters, Wagner in reality wrote about economic policy, taking up the underlying assumption of the German authors of the previous fifty years. Wagner’s work does not contain original ideas on population. Yet, it is important in the way it sums up all the prescriptions his predecessors had established and accumulated to increase the population. Basically, they all come down to economic policy. Every single chapter of the main part of this book on demography is entitled “Vermehrung des Handels und Wandels durch...” that might be translated as “Increase of commerce and industry by…” (Wagner, 1711, Register). Wagner introduced his chapters on economic policy with a self-explanatory argument: in order for a mass of people to live and stay in a certain country, they must be able to find ample subsistence and even fortune. This can only be brought about by shrewd economic policy (Wagner, 1711, p. 42). Consequently, the population could only be regulated indirectly through economic policy – this was the conviction of the German early cameralist authors up to the mid-eighteenth century. In 1744, Philipp Jacob Döhler maintained that the best way to fill the state with people was justice, security of possession, and economic prosperity of the territory. Apart from the opinion that population could only be increased through growth in economic activity, Döhler also adhered to the reciprocal thinking of the cameralists whereby a rising population would stimulate consumption and production, and would thus provide for itself (Döhler, 1744, 10, pp. 394-95). Contrary to some oft-repeated contentions, the promotion of marriage and the development of health care for reasons of population enlargement were not staple arguments in the early cameralist discourse (see, for example, Rosen, 1953). It was in this context of the theory of indirect population policy that Süssmilch’s Divine Order had a massive impact. In its system of population development there were several potential starting points for political intervention, even if the author himself had not marked them out as such. His cameralist readers were less interested in the beauty of God’s design than in these specific insights.

17The first edition of the Divine Order was an instant success. The author was acclaimed in Germany and abroad, and in 1742 an unauthorized reprint was published (Hecht, 1998, p. XV). However, the process of appropriation of demographic language and thinking by cameralist writers took some years. At first, the Divine Order was mentioned and cited mainly in theological works that tried to reconcile theology with the natural sciences, thus exactly in the physico-theological discourse to which Süssmilch had wished to contribute. Particularly popular in this genre was his calculation of world population. It was cited by the pastor Joachim Böldicke (1704-1757) in his 1746 Versuch einer Theodicee (Essay on theodicy) as well as in a classic physico-theological endeavour, Johann Gottfried Richter’s (died 1765) Ichthytheologie of 1754, that sought to lead men to admiration, reverence, and love of God through the observation of fish (Böldicke, 1746, p. 141; Richter, 1754, pp. 212, 390 and 709). Theodor Christoph Lilienthal (1717-1781), the Königsberg professor of theology, used the same arguments in a famous work on God’s revelation (Lilienthal, 1760, p. 327). Furthermore, already in 1744, Süssmilch’s account of the English and Dutch calculations of life span and annuities were reproduced and commented upon by the mathematician Johann Friedrich Unger (Unger, 1744, pp. 242-249).

18The first cameralist writer to notice Süssmilch’s work and its potential importance for the nascent science of state administration was Georg Heinrich Zincke (1692-1767). Having been appointed to teach Kameralwissenschaften at the University of Leipzig in 1740, Zincke tried to systematize the new subject. In the following twenty years, he was to become one of the most prolific cameralist writers (Tribe, 1988, p. 54; Brückner, 1977, pp. 80-91). From 1744, Zincke published his own magazine, reviewing the Divine Order in the first issue. Not surprisingly, the review started with a justification of introducing an apparently theological book into the realm of cameralist knowledge (Zincke, 1744, pp. 78-80). Zincke noted that while the book did contain a lot of edifying thoughts on God’s providence concerning births and deaths, it also held important lessons for readers interested in or assigned to the administration of a principality. As it was a prime rule for administrators to advance a proportionate number of subjects, they were obliged to know the size of the population, its growth or its decline, and its development in relation to the populations of other states. Valuable remarks concerning all these topics may be found in the book of the Prussian pastor who was, according to Zincke, the first German to tackle this complicated subject by using the works of English and Dutch scholars.

19The Leipzig cameralist did not elaborate on any specific policies that might be deduced from the demographic tract. Instead, he concentrated on the knowledge of the territory and population that was essential to the cameralist project and furthered by Süssmilch’s insights. Consequently, Zincke integrated a chapter on the truths and rules concerning the proportional size of the population into his Kameralisten-Bibliothek (Library of/for cameralists) that brought together all books relevant to cameralism in a monumental work of more than 2,000 pages. Here, he included Süssmilch’s Divine Order and his most important sources, notably the works of Petty, Graunt, Davenant, and Struyck. To these he added some older medical tracts on birth and monstrous children that had no demographic content whatsoever (Zincke, 1751, pp. 480-482). While Zincke had initially grasped the wide-ranging possibilities for cameralist intervention emanating from Süssmilch’s demographic concept, he had not followed the lead. His classification of the Divine Order and its English predecessors together with older medical works shows that he was not interested in the direct and practical use of the demographic indicators Süssmilch had provided. In his 1755 Anfangsgründe der Cameralwissenschaft (Foundations of cameralism), he introduced the pastor only as the man who had provided hints for establishing lists of births and deaths (Zincke, 1755, p. 273). Hence, Zincke was the first to introduce Süssmilch into the cameralist discourse, but it was not until the 1750s that the real impact of the new mode of argument became perceptible.

20In 1753, the historian and mathematician Michael Christoph Hanow (1695-1773) published a guide to the profitable use of permanently kept records of births and deaths. Hanow, professor at the Danzig Gymnasium, had himself accumulated the data for the city of Danzig from 1601 onwards, which Süssmilch went on to use in his second edition (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, vol. 2, p. 358f.). Demographic data, their composition, and utility were still a novelty, so Hanow wrote an introductory note to justify the endeavour (Hanow, 1753, pp. 3-11). His goals differed significantly from those of the Berlin pastor (Hanow, 1753, pp. 35, 37). Hanow’s interests were directed towards the historiographical and political use of the data. As a historian of Danzig he wanted to establish the former population trends and the influx of foreigners. “From these registers one can discern the increase and decrease of livelihood (Nahrung) in the city and therefore also of the inhabitants” (Hanow, 1753, p. 5). The curious causality (the registers first show the changes in livelihood and only derivatively those of the population) shows that Hanow adhered to the then standard economic population theory in Germany. In addition to historical interest, he stressed the practical usage: “A statesman will easily be able to find the causes of a decline of inhabitants and will try to eliminate them as far as it is in the power of man” (Hanow, 1753, p. 6). In the following years, the publication of birth and death registers started to flourish in the growing realm of learned journals. At times, the bare lists were published; other authors commented in detail on their interpretation, always referring to Süssmilch’s theories as their paradigm of thought.

21Simultaneously to Zincke’s and Hanow’s introduction of Süssmilch’s concepts into the cameralist field, a rise in calls for more direct action for the advancement of population is discernible. The most striking concept was devised by Goethe’s granduncle, the Frankfurt writer Johann Michael von Loën (1694-1776). In 1748, he published his Entwurf einer Staats-Kunst, Worinn die natürliche Mittel endecket werden, ein Land mächtig, reich, und glücklich zu machen (Essay on statecraft revealing the instruments to make a state powerful, rich and happy). Despite this broad title, Loën concentrated on one issue: population increase. He stated that in the end, the size of the population is the decisive basis for the power of the state and the happiness of its people (Loën, 1751, p. 3). This claim was by no means extraordinary at the time. Nonetheless, Loën exceeded his peers in transcending the economic population theory with its indirect mechanism, by opting for direct state intervention in the administration of marriages. His aims were twofold: Loën wanted to increase the number of marriages, perceiving this as the only way of expanding the population. He likened the concern of the prince for his subjects’ marriages to forestry and its planned nurturing of young trees (Loën, 1751, p. 20). The same image informed his second goal: the prevention of biologically detrimental marriages. In an unprecedented manner, Loën ranted about the marriages of the infirm who could only beget frail and disabled children. Consequently, such marriages were to be discouraged by local commissions. Loën’s radical plan for restricting the right to marry on biological terms did not go unanswered. Johann Albrecht Philippi, a later police director of Berlin, reviewed Loën’s proposals in his own tract on The Enlargement of a State. The obligatory medical examination before marriage struck him as “too far-fetched” (Philippi, 1753, p. 28). It is an interesting feature of this debate that neither author makes use of statistical evidence or the demographic concepts of mean marriage age and birth or death rate, so their respective arguments, and particularly Loën’s interventionist programme, appear rather vague. This was to change when the idea of direct population politics was merged with the argumentative power of Süssmilch’s data and ideas about population development.

22It was Johann Heinrich Gottlob von Justi (1717-1771), the most prominent German cameralist of the mid-eighteenth century, who made this association (Tribe, 1988, pp. 55-64; Wakefield, 2009, pp. 81-110). In the history of demography, Justi is best known as the adversary of Süssmilch in a debate on the mortality rates of cities and countryside (Bonar, 1931, p. 52). It is often overlooked that by quarrelling with the Berlin pastor, Justi in fact completed the transfer of demographic reasoning into the cameralist discourse. The debate generated wide interest and while modern demographers have rightly sided with Süssmilch, it also established Justi as an expert in the field of population studies (see Bergius, 1767, p. 282). At the same time, Süssmilch’s investment in the debate and his arguments testify to his interest in the German economic and political discourse that he had developed in the preceding decade. In January 1756, Justi published a brief article on the benefits of bills of mortality for the establishment of “Policey” in his own Göttingen journal. As Süssmilch and Hanow had done before, he declared that these could be used for observing God’s benevolence and providence. “Still, this is not our intention at the moment”, Justi maintained (Justi, 1756, p. 1). He would follow the leitmotif of his journal and only investigate the profitable use of registers of births and deaths for public administration. Justi identified six areas of utility of varying scope. Provisioning for war or famine would be simplified, the rate of stillborn children could provide information about the quality of the midwives, the knowledge of causes of death would help the medical councils, and the rate of children born out of wedlock plus the number of deaths of young men caused by drinking and feasting would cast light on the moral situation of the people. However, the prime benefit of the such registers was in making the government aware of the demographic situation across its territory. They would also provide information on whether regional differences were caused by natural quality, by negligence of local administrators, or by “certain mistakes in constitution of government” (Justi, 1756, p. 5). The “wisdom of the government” would then find appropriate means to populate the deficient regions.

23At the time, Justi did not elaborate on these instruments of population politics. It would be another thirteen years before he anonymously published his (in-)famous Physicalische und Politische Betrachtungen über die Erzeugung des Menschen und Bevölkerung der Länder (Physical and political considerations on the procreation of men and the population of countries) in which he likened the production of men to the rearing of sheep, cattle, and horses (Justi, 1769, p. 59f.). However, already in the 1750s, he wrote on the impact of marriage law and customs on the size of the population. Two assumptions pervaded all his writings: the welfare of the state and of the people depended on the growth of the population and all European countries could at least quadruple their population without jeopardizing their capacity to feed all inhabitants (Justi, 1757a). These assumptions had been well established before, but Justi revitalized their content by linking them to the systematic elevation of the overall marriage rate. In his book on marriage, Justi attacked both Catholic and Protestant notions by declaring marriage a solely civil treaty and by no means a spiritual matter (Justi, 1757b, p. 34). In addition, he refuted the primarily Protestant concept that one of the main functions of marriage was mutual assistance. Instead, Justi declared procreation to be the only veritable purpose. In his eyes, the Romans had based their marriage laws on the appreciation of this rule, while the Christians had lost sight of it. In the end, Justi converted marriage into a government tool for populating the country (Justi, 1757b, p. 69). Therefore, the promotion of marriages was to be directed only at those couples who were able to have children. Marriages of old or sickly people should not be allowed, as they did not conduce to procreation (Justi, 1757b, p. 83).

24Justi was not the first to refer to ancient models of population politics. This had been the standard procedure of the seventeenth century university professors who treated population matters in their large Latin compendia of politics. However, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, this tradition had been disrupted. Among the economic writers who became the main protagonists of the population discourse, the Roman model of coercive marriage laws did not play a role. As they totally adhered to the theory that population size was solely dependent on economic conditions, compelling people to marry would not have made any sense. Only in the mid-eighteenth century was this strand taken up again, fuelled by enlightened optimism that there were no short-term boundaries to population growth, and the newly established facts about rate of marriage and the mean age of first marriage. Combining these two perceptions, the obvious way to enhance fertility was to encourage marriage directly rather than promoting it indirectly via the improvement of living standards, the argument that had dominated discussion up to that point. An anonymous contributor to the 1759 edition of a Hannover magazine followed this argument to its logical end (Anon., 1759). He demanded that the state should pay all those who decided to marry. The state was obliged to compensate all those serving it, he declared. Marrying and rearing children was the greatest possible service to the state, so it was obvious that this activity deserved a salary. Up to now, the author claimed, this had not been decreed, on the assumption that there were already enough incentives to marry. Considering the population size and the dearth of marriages, this assumption was evidently wrong, he concluded. The essay on the state’s duty to compensate marrying couples illustrates the paradigm shift in the German population discourse in the two decades around 1750, moving from indirect to direct intervention in marriage and procreation.

III – Süssmilch’s participation in the cameralist discourse

25Parallel to developments in the debates on population politics, we can trace the evolution of Süssmilch’s own interests in practical political matters. Of course, the theologian did not lose sight of his original “anthropotheological” project as he himself called it (Süssmilch, 1756, p. 4). His thinking on population policy did not replace his theological and statistical concerns; it rather added another dimension of interest to his treatment of population questions. It was still his primary goal to identify the divine laws governing population and calculate them as accurately as possible. For that purpose he enlisted the famous mathematician Leonhard Euler to help him. Euler had come to Berlin in 1741 and was the Director of the mathematical class at the Academy of Sciences in Berlin. In 1747 he showed that it was mathematically possible for the earth to be peopled by the descendants of just one couple. Following Süssmilch’s request to aid him in calculating population doubling times, he constructed a mathematical model for the evolution of a given population (Girlich, 2007). At the same time, Süssmilch continued to collect all available statistical data for subsequent use in his second edition.

26His new interest in the political ramifications of his findings became apparent in the late 1740s. Süssmilch presented some of his findings in the meetings of the Academy of Sciences. Here, the possible political interpretation of the data did not go unnoticed. In a letter to King Frederick II offering his services as an advisor in population matters, Süssmilch claimed that Maupertuis, the President of the Academy, had encouraged him to compose a memoir containing all his politically relevant observations (ed. in Wilke, 1994, p. 193). This scheme, however, came to nothing. Maupertuis wrote a rather detached recommendation that did not indicate any personal interest in the matter. The King brusquely declined the offer, basically telling the pastor to mind his own business and not to interfere in the sphere of politics (ibid. p. 198). In fact, this short correspondence put an end to Süssmilch’s career as political advisor before it had even begun. Jean-Marc Rohrbasser has referred to the main chapter on population politics in the second edition of the Divine Order as the “political testament” of a man who had not attained the powerful advisory position he had dreamed of (Rohrbasser, 2001, p. 211). In a sense, this assertion may be true for all of Süssmilch’s publications on the matter. For it was not until after the refutation by his King that the pastor began to publicly proclaim the laws of good population politics – thus doing exactly what he had eschewed ten years earlier.

27This change in outlook is illustrated in a text on the fast growth of the city of Berlin, which is informed by a strong concern with current population change (Süssmilch, 1752). [11] In contrast to his earlier work, this time he explicitly speculated on the causes of some of the demographic facts he had uncovered, although still stating that “the exploration of the causes […] is in fact somewhat detached from my proper goal and insight” (Süssmilch, 1752, p. 37). Süssmilch was not only interested in the causes of Berlin’s growth, he was even more intrigued by a recent rise in mortality in the city despite the absence of epidemic diseases at the time. The statistician concluded that the growth of the poor population and the prevailing health standards in their living quarters must be responsible for the increasing average mortality. As the prime reason for the multiplication of the poor he identified the rise of the textile industry in the city. The new manufactories employed large numbers of labourers whose wages were so low that they could not afford medicine or rest when they fell ill. The traditional institutions of poor relief were not able to handle the fast growing number of destitute, as Süssmilch knew from his own experience. As pastor of St. Petri, he was a member of the “Royal Directorate of the Poor” that was responsible for the provision of the poor, the sick, and the orphans of Berlin (Dreitzel, 1986b, p. 371). To counter these developments, the pastor demanded the enhancement of poor relief and medical treatment in the city, employing utilitarian arguments: If “we” – meaning the propertied classes as well as the state as a whole – want to enjoy the benefits of the existence of the poor, that is, the product of their labouring hands, “we” have to look after them. Without the workers the manufactories would stand still. Therefore, “we” must not let them become too poor, because they will be weak and die even in salubrious times (Süssmilch 1752., p. 48).

28In the German political and economic discourse of the time, this was a new approach. While wage labour and wage levels had been established themes in English discussions for over a century (Coats, 1958; Dew, 2007), this cannot be said of the Holy Roman Empire. There, the whole subject of wage labour had been neglected in economic discourse although it did exist in reality, albeit on a smaller scale than in England. While there had been constant debates about poor relief, and both repressive and supportive administrative measures, these debates had never focused on a specific group of wage earners in the manufacturing industry, as had already been the case in English manufacturing towns in the early seventeenth century (Goose, 2006). Arguing from his position as population expert, it was Süssmilch who introduced the concept of the working poor into the German debate. Around 1750, he did this in a cautious style. He lauded the growth of manufacturing in Berlin and his discussion of its social consequences took up only a handful of pages. Still, next to the statistical data presented, one reviewer recognized his thoughts on the textile workers as the most interesting part of the book (Göttingische Zeitungen, 1752, pp. 1051-1053).

29Over the following years, the style and force of Süssmilch’s political arguments changed as he devoted more space and energy to them. A fine example is his answer to Justi’s attack of 1756. In his text on bills of mortality, the cameralist had not only detailed their potential benefits. As discussed above, he had also attacked Süssmilch’s conclusions on the average mortality rate, especially in large cities. The pastor had stated that in normal years one in thirty people would die, while in towns this rate increased to one in twenty-five and in cities to one in twenty. In contrast, Justi claimed that overall mortality stood at one in forty, and in large cities at a mere one in sixty (Justi, 1756). Obviously, this argument was not mainly about statistics, but about the direction of economic policy (Dreitzel, 1986a, p. 95f.). Justi advocated large-scale manufactories that would lead to a growth of cities as centres of production. Süssmilch’s claim that those cities consumed men and depopulated the country was a threat to Justi’s reasoning, as the effect on population was by far the most persuasive argument in the contemporary debates on political economy. Thus, he countered with the opposite contention that cities had, in fact, a lower mortality than the countryside. Süssmilch refuted these claims in an extensive open letter using the materials he had long been collecting for the new edition of the Divine Order (Süssmilch, 1756). Interestingly, he added another letter commenting on Justi’s uses of the registers, although there was no disagreement between the two in this field. The pastor lauded the patriotic intentions of his opponent and amplified his statements. Contrary to his declaration in the Divine Order of 1741, Süssmilch was now very clear on what induced differing fertility: “The cause of this difference is due to the political constitution of the land” (Süssmilch, 1756, p. 6). He repeated his arguments about the central role of the age of marriage. A low general fertility indicated a high age of marriage and a low overall proportion of married couples, and therefore pointed to the existence of impediments to marriage. Süssmilch suggested that a late mean age of marriage was not in itself a bad sign, but rather showed that a region was sufficiently well populated. In the 1756 text, he only hinted at overcoming this obstacle to population growth by measures like the introduction of new labour-intensive crops and reflected on the merits of Roman agrarian law in creating small farms (Süssmilch, 1756, p. 46f.). He would elaborate extensively on these issues in the new edition of the Divine Order, granting human impact a new and prominent place in his system.

30Two years after the dispute with Justi, the pastor returned to the social question that accompanied the growth of industries and cities. Again, the setting was his hometown Berlin, which had been hit by several epidemics the preceding year (Süssmilch, 1758). At first, Süssmilch proved that 1757 had indeed been a year of epidemics and high mortality, which had not been generally acknowledged, since there had not been one massive disease outbreak. In the second part, he identified the most deadly diseases of that year by analysing the death certificates, before finally turning to the probable causes of this high mortality in the third part. In his opinion, these causes were to be found in the economic and social realm. In contrast to other epidemics, this time death did not strike indiscriminately across the city. Instead, the old parts of town where the affluent resided were not affected while the new quarters of weavers and spinners suffered most. Hence, who died in 1757 was determined by social rather than by medical factors. This discovery supported his 1752 thesis about the living conditions of the textile workers and their impact on mortality. While they had been general and speculative previously, Süssmilch now tried to provide undeniable proof. In methodical manner, Süssmilch investigated all the possible and publicly discussed causes of the high mortality, concluding that the food shortages of that year were undoubtedly the primary reason (Süssmilch, 1758, p. 50). As workers’ wages were fixed, their purchasing power fell when food prices increased. Süssmilch explicitly acknowledged that the suffering of the textile workers was the inevitable flipside of prospering manufactories (Süssmilch, 1758, p. 53). He did not offer a genuine solution to the problem, declaring that it was impossible to raise wages without destroying the industries that were enriching the city. Instead, he advocated a new form of private charity, so that the wealth acquired through the factories would alleviate the workers’ distress.

31In the 1750s, Johann Peter Süssmilch increasingly engaged in social and economic policy debates using his demographic findings as a powerful argument, and his involvement originated in the intertwining of two features. First, he was personally interested in discovering the actual causes of every single demographic peculiarity that he observed. It was this interest that led him to establish the mortality rate of the textile workers and to denounce the responsibility of the system of manufactories. Second, the growing popularity of his initial results and methods among cameralist writers encouraged him to take part in this discourse, to clarify his conclusions, and to introduce some of his new ideas, especially on the possibilities of intervening in the demographic process. Therefore, the change in German cameralist discourse initiated by Süssmilch’s work and his own shift towards a more political approach went hand in hand, possibly exacerbated by his failure to wield true political power at the Prussian court. This formation culminated in the second edition of the Divine Order, in which the author presented his own model for the economic and demographic development of the German territorial state.

IV – The second edition of the Divine Order: a manual for population politics

32In the new edition of 1761-1762, the Divine Order had grown from the original 446 pages to 1,415 pages in two volumes. However, not only the size, but also the content had changed. The larger number of pages was partly due to extra data that Süssmilch had acquired. Beyond that, the book now contained long descriptions of population politics that had been totally missing in 1741. Süssmilch started the first volume by unfolding the order of population development that he presented in nine chapters (I-IX). While his statistical evidence had broadened considerably and some of his arguments had been refined, his fundamental concepts nevertheless remained unchanged. This demographic part was followed by five chapters (X-XIV) on the princely duty to populate his country and four golden rules the prince should follow to achieve this. The second volume contains a discussion of miscellaneous topics and their respective effect of promoting or obstructing population growth (chap. XV-XIX) before the author returns to statistical questions such as world population or the proportion of men and women (XX-XXV). This rough division between demographic and political parts is intended to point up the new prominence of population politics in the Divine Order, as there had not been a single chapter explicitly devoted to this subject in the first edition. In reality, of course, the statistical and political findings and arguments were much more intertwined than this division suggests. On the one hand, the first nine chapters were already loaded with the political implications of the respective demographic results, while on the other hand, the political advice was time and again substantiated by fresh figures from across Europe.

33In the introduction, Süssmilch pre-emptively defended his newly found interest in population politics. When seeing the revisions, he wrote, some people had already criticized him for “overly engaging in political reflections” (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, XI). Süssmilch retorted with a rhetorical question, asking whether he should have omitted the truths that emanated from the observation of the divine order, and whether it was improper for a theologian to develop true politics and the wisdom of governing directly from God’s words. His acknowledgement of this new focus on the worldly consequences of his research shows that the pastor was well aware of the fundamental transformation his work had undergone.

34Emphasizing the anthropogenic influence on population development posed a systematic challenge to Süssmilch’s concept of the Divine Order, since it was based on the assumption of a universal law that kept populations across the world on the same track. Epistemologically this was a problem, as the existence of this law had been proven by demonstrating the similarities among populations, downplaying any differences as insignificant. Now, Süssmilch concentrated precisely on these differences. He dealt pragmatically with the problem. In a perfect world, he declared, the marriage rate would be roughly equal all over the world. But in reality a lot of disorder in reproduction could be found, caused by the specificities of differing states and societies. They interfered with the order of nature without destroying it. Therefore, it was still possible to discern the divine order while identifying local deviations from its prescribed course (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, vol. 1, pp. 120; 208 and 210). Simultaneously, this argument made it possible to present all his recommendations to policy makers as indispensable for returning to the path of natural order. Ignoring them was not only politically foolish, but also defied God’s plan. Consequently, in the chapters explicitly devoted to population politics, Süssmilch proved in long and sometimes tedious arguments that a government was always obliged to increase its population by adhering to four general rules: (1) remove all obstacles that hinder or delay marriage; (2) remove all obstacles to the fertility of married couples, mainly by providing easy livelihood; (3) preserve the lives of all inhabitants, mainly by sanitary measures; (4) make all inhabitants stay in the country and stimulate immigration (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, vol. 1, pp. 416-418). This political programme was in no way exceptional in 1761. Most of Süssmilch’s arguments and propositions were universally accepted by political economists throughout Europe. If anything, it was the constant statistical argument that distinguished the Divine Order from the cameralist tracts on the subject that had started to appear in the 1750s.

35It was by way of one of those statistical results that Süssmilch introduced his most distinct idea about the nature of population politics, to which he had already hinted in his 1756 response to Justi. Reviewing the development of his most significant demographic indicators, he found that the rate of marriage had dropped all over Germany since the beginning of the century. The discovery would have caused a huge outcry on the part of every cameralist writer lamenting a general decline. Not so of Süssmilch: instead, he figured that this fact actually reflected the recovery of the German countryside after the ravages inflicted by the wars of the seventeenth century. The strong population growth of the immediate aftermath had slowed down considerably, since the number of people who could live off the land was limited. Thus, he declared, the lower proportion of marriages “is in fact not a bad, but a good sign” (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, vol. 1, p. 142). While the young Süssmilch would most probably have stopped at this point, having sufficiently explained a demographic fact, he now went on to enquire as to whether this was the end of the story. Even if all opportunities for acquiring a decent livelihood were taken by the existing population, would it not be possible, he asked, to create new opportunities to reinvigorate population growth (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, vol. 1, p. 143)? The pastor emphatically affirmed that if the population reached a plateau in the circumstances of the “old-fashioned economic system”, it was the duty of the prince to ponder the ways of changing the system (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, vol. 1, p. 154-155). Contrary to most cameralists, for Süssmilch this change of economic system did not equate to the expansion of manufacturing. Being an opponent of large cities and manufactories, he was mainly interested in the potential growth of employment in the agrarian sector.

36Even so, the author did show the benefits of ‘factories’, meaning mainly proto-industrial textile manufacturing, by calculating the number of workers employed, their wages, and the overall financial gain of the country (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, vol. 2, pp. 46-53). For the first time, he used the economic aspect of political arithmetic by trying to calculate economic interrelations. For all its obvious benefits, the manufacturing industry also had its drawbacks, according to Süssmilch. It could lure workers out of farming, and their absence would cause declining yields. In addition, he was concerned with the precariousness of an industry that depended on the international economic cycle. An interruption of cotton imports from Turkey would lead to a total breakdown of the industry and expose thousands of workers to starvation and death (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, vol. 2, pp. 55 and 62). Demographically, the possible negative impact of industry was aggravated by the fact that the manufactories were often located in the large towns with higher mortality rates. Prudent princes should try to distribute the facilities causing population growth across different cities, creating a network of well-populated towns throughout the state instead of one huge capital (Süssmilch, 1761-1762, vol. 1, p. 116).

37In contrast to the dangers of industry, an intensification of agriculture promised lasting growth of employment and population. Again, Süssmilch elaborated in detail on an idea that he had already mentioned in a mere three sentences a few years earlier. Now, he devoted a whole chapter of forty pages to his thoughts on the demographic merits of agriculture in general, and the Roman agrarian laws in particular. While the agrarian societies that were springing up in the third quarter of the eighteenth century mostly advanced the introduction of new farming techniques or crops, Süssmilch concentrated on the structural reform of the agrarian society. He turned his attention to the distribution of land that he deemed detrimental to population growth. Instead of large landholding, all fields should be distributed to small farmers who would cultivate them more efficiently. Even the princely demesne was to be abolished and allotted to single farmers, as was the common land. For only exclusive owners of their land would care for it in such a way as to raise productivity. For the same purpose, all feudal duties should be abolished as they hindered efficient production. In effect, Süssmilch demanded the abolition of the prevalent system of landholding in the German states, basing his claim on a population argument.

38He was not the first to express these thoughts on the interrelation of population and the system of landholding. His main inspiration was the French author Ange Goudar (1708-1791), the chief protagonist of a group of “agrarians” preceding the physiocrats (Hasquin, 2008, p. 175; Spengler, 1954, p. 64f.). Süssmilch quoted liberally from Goudar’s 1756 Les Intérêts de la France mal entendus. Still, the German pastor had expanded the argument, bolstering it with erudite information about the Roman agrarian laws and his own demographic calculations. And it was Süssmilch, this time in collaboration with Justi, who introduced into the German cameralist discourse the concept of land reform as an indispensable prerequisite to population growth. [12] Süssmilch’s reasoning was to become a staple argument among cameralists as they finally combined the two roots of their academic subject – the literature on economic policy and on husbandry – into one system (Garner, 2005, pp. 144-146). The Ökonomische Encyklopädie of Johann Georg Krünitz (1728-1796) presented this thesis as common knowledge in its 1773 article on farms and the landholding system (Krünitz, 1774). Süssmilch’s critique of the premature expansion of manufactories did not succeed in changing the cameralist discourse. Among cameralists, their benefits were mostly undisputed. Still, from 1760 onwards, the amelioration of agriculture in general, and the subject of land reform in particular, became the second pillar of cameralist economic reasoning. It would surely be exaggerated to attribute this only to Süssmilch’s influence. Nonetheless, he was one of the thinkers who put this subject on the agenda. Furthermore, he equipped the proponents of land reform with quantifiable arguments, which had gained considerable persuasive power in the preceding decade.


39Close scrutiny of the different editions of the Divine Order shows both the evolution of Süssmilch’s personal interests and the transformation of the German economic and population discourse between 1740 and the 1760s. These two developments did not unfold independently, but were closely interconnected. In his original publication, the physico-theological demonstration reigned supreme and the pastor did not concern himself with the political implications of his findings. Still, already in 1741, he unwittingly presented a number of starting points for the implementation of population politics. Despite some early reviews, it took a decade until Süssmilch’s methods and conclusions started to penetrate the cameralist discourse. Justi’s text about the benefits of bills of mortality was of crucial importance to this development. While criticizing some of Süssmilch’s central claims, the best-known cameralist of the day wholeheartedly adopted the mode of reasoning by population indicators. Süssmilch’s impact was thus felt even more strongly in the method of argument than in the field of actual demographic findings. A minor, but significant spelling mistake in a 1759 book review journal may illustrate the novelty of his approach. It states that Süssmilch had presented his remarks concerning the particular “morality” of the bygone year (Physikalisch-oekonomische Auszüge, 1759, p. 300). We do not know whether the omission of the ‘t’ was the editor’s or the printer’s mistake, but this episode shows that mortality was only starting to become a major concept for the learned public.

40At the same time as his methods and results were becoming widely known, Süssmilch took up economic and political questions that he had largely neglected in his early life. In this, he was influenced by a number of factors. First, his failed attempt to become advisor to the King may have prompted his desire to publish his political ideas. Moreover, the reception of his book among cameralists and his dispute with Justi sharpened his interest and knowledge of the German economic writers whom he had largely ignored until 1750. Second, he continued to follow the international, and especially the French economic debates that were turning more and more towards agriculture and its general role in the economic life of a nation. Although Süssmilch was no physiocrat, the high value attributed to agriculture was central to his own conceptions of society and the economy. Third, his duties as clergyman and overseer of charity in the growing city of Berlin sharpened his understanding of the workings of the proto-industrial economy. Finally, another factor has to be taken into account when establishing the causes of the shift in attention to which the re-edition bears witness: in Süssmilch’s eyes the Divine Order had been established beyond any doubt. From the Europe-wide response to his work and the ever-growing data pool, he discerned the accuracy of his quantitative claims and his underlying theory. For this reason, he could now turn to the mundane aspects of demographic research in his second edition and use the weight of his word to promote a specific kind of economic and population policy that was both conservative and progressive. His wholehearted adoption of the idea of land reform did have an impact on the cameralist discourse. Thus, Süssmilch was not only influenced by economic writers to think about population politics, but he also transformed their debate. This time he did it deliberately and not unintentionally as in 1741.


  • [1]
    He had previously published his dissertation on the physical attraction of bodies. A comprehensive list of Süssmilch’s publications and his lectures at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin is given by Elsner (2000).
  • [2]
    All translations from German sources are mine.
  • [3]
    This split is not acknowledged but is reflected in practice by the literature on population thought in Germany. Fuhrmann (2002) only covers the discourse on population policy while Sieferle (1990) presents in detail the erudite debates on population development.
  • [4]
    See the list of cited works in the translation of Süssmilch (1741) by J.M. Rohrbasser (1998, pp. xliii-il).
  • [5]
    On the one occasion where he did introduce an argument of political economy, he used a six-page quotation from an English magazine, totally deviating from his usual style (Süssmilch, 1741, p. 38). It seems fair to assume that this passage mainly attracted his interest because of the numerical calculations of the human losses triggered by the wars of Louis XIV, while the economic reasoning entered the Divine Order merely by chance.
  • [6]
    Most of these are named in Süssmilch (1741), Preface, p. 25.
  • [7]
    Petty, 1690, Preface. From the massive literature on Petty see McCormick (2009). For an overview of the project of Political Arithmetic in the context of seventeenth century politics and economics, see Slack, 2004. For Petty’s demographic reasoning in particular, see Reungoat (2004).
  • [8]
    Süssmilch quotes from Leti’s Il ceremonial historico, e politico, Amsterdam (1685).
  • [9]
    However, an examination of Achenwall’s private papers has revealed that he studied Süssmilch’s writings thoroughly and was strongly influenced by his results (Streidl, 2003, pp. 126-128).
  • [10]
    Nothing is known about the author Samuel Wagner. The book was published in the protestant city of Erlangen and the author reveals keen knowledge of events in neighbouring Ansbach-Bayreuth.
  • [11]
    He had already presented his text in a lecture at the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1749.
  • [12]
    Justi changed his mind on the subject around 1760. From then on he favoured the breakup of large estates to foster population growth (Justi, 1761).


The research of Johann Peter Süssmilch’s demographic theories has tended to concentrate on the enlarged second edition of his Divine Order of 1761/2. While the differences to the original edition of 1741 have been noticed, they have not been systematically analysed and explained. This article charts the development of Süssmilch’s thought in relation to the changing German cameralist discourse of the time. Both Süssmilch’s original project as its further development cannot be understood without closely correlating it to the German discourses on population and economy. Süssmilch influenced the cameralist discourse by providing a new mode of argument in favour of population politics. However, this had not been the goal of the theologian who had deliberately avoided any political interpretation of his findings in 1741. It was in the following two decades that Süssmilch became interested in the possibilities of changing demographic behaviour by political means. During the 1750s he started to engage in political arguments that peaked in the second edition of the Divine Order that was as much a book on the laws governing population as on population politics.


  • Süssmilch
  • cameralism
  • Germany
  • eighteenth century
  • history of demographic thought
  • population politics

Johann Peter Süssmilch : de la loi divine à l’intervention humaine


La recherche sur les théories démographiques de Johann Peter Süssmilch s’est concentrée sur la seconde version révisée et augmentée de L’Ordre divin de 1761-1762. Les différences avec l’édition originale de 1741 ont été signalées, mais pas systématiquement analysées et expliquées. Cet article dresse un tableau du développement de la pensée de Süssmilch en relation avec l’évolution du discours caméraliste allemand de l’époque. On ne peut comprendre le projet originel de Süssmilch ni son développement ultérieur sans le rapprocher étroitement des discours allemands sur la population et l’économie. Süssmilch influença le discours caméraliste en renouvelant l’argumentation en faveur des politiques de population. Mais ce n’était pas l’objectif du théologien, qui avait délibérément évité toute interprétation politique de ses résultats en 1741. C’est dans les deux décennies suivantes que Süssmilch s’intéressa aux possibilités qu’offrent les instruments politiques de changer les comportements démographiques. À partir des années 1750, il commença à s’engager dans des polémiques qui atteignent leur apogée dans la deuxième édition de L’Ordre divin, ouvrage portant aussi bien sur les lois gouvernant la population que sur les politiques de population.


Johann Peter Süssmilch: de la ley divina a la intervención humana


La investigación sobre las teorías demográficas de Johann Peter Süssmilch se ha concentrado esencialmente sobre la segunda edición corregida y aumentada del Orden Divino de 1761-62. Si bien las diferencias con la edición original de 1741 han sido señaladas, ellas no han sido analizadas y explicadas de manera sistemática. Este articulo sigue le desarrollo del pensamiento de Süssmilch poniéndolo en relación con la evolución de las ideas cameralistas en la Alemania de su tiempo. Tanto el proyecto original de Süssmilch como su desarrollo ulterior no pueden ser comprendidos sin ponerlos en relación estrecha con las ideas que circulaban en el dominio de la población y de la economía. Süssmilch influenció el discurso cameralista suministrando un nuevo tipo de argumentos a favor de las políticas de población. Sin embargo, ése no fue el objetivo del teólogo, el cual quiso evitar cualquier interpretación política de sus resultados de 1741. Fue sólo en las dos décadas siguientes que Süssmilch empezó a interesarse a la posibilidad de un cambio del comportamiento demográfico por medios políticos. Durante los años 1750 comenzó a implicarse en las discusiones políticas que culminaron en la segunda edición del Orden Divino, la cual es una obra tanto sobre las leyes de gobierno de una población que sobre las políticas de población.


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Justus Nipperdey
Universität des Saarlandes, Germany.
Correspondence: Justus Nipperdey, Universität des Saarlandes, Lehrstuhl Frühe Neuzeit, Campus Saarbrücken, Historisches Institut, B3 1, 3.05, Post: D - 66041 Saarbrücken, Tel.: 0049-681-302-3595
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