Karl Ludwig von Haller  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Karl Ludwig von Haller (1 August 1768 in Bern – 20 May 1854 in Solothurn) was a Swiss jurist. He was the author of Restauration der Staatswissenschaften (Restoration of the Science of the State, 1816–1834), a book which Hegel strongly criticized in Elements of the Philosophy of Right. This work, which was burnt during the Wartburg festival, opposed nationalism and the bureaucracy of extensive government (including democratic governments).

Early life

He was a grandson of the famous poet Albrecht von Haller, and son of the statesman and historian Gottlieb Emmanuel von Haller. He did not, however, receive an extensive education, but only some private lessons and a few classes at the Gymnasium, he was compelled at the age of fifteen to enter the chancery of the Republic of Berne. He studied by himself and so filled out the gaps in his education. At the age of nineteen he was appointed to the important office of Kommissionsschreiber, or clerk of a public commission. In this capacity he obtained an insight into methods of government, practical politics, and criminal procedure. As secretary of the Swiss diet held in Baden and Frauenfeld, he became familiar with the conditions of things in the Swiss Confederation.

A journey to Paris in 1790 made him acquainted with new revolutionary ideas. As secretary of legation he served several important embassies, for instance, one to Geneva in 1792, about the Swiss troops stationed there; to Ulm in 1795, regarding the import of grain from southern Germany; to Lugano, Milan, and Paris in 1797, regarding the neutral attitude of Switzerland towards the warring powers. These journeys acquainted him with leading personalities of the day including Napoleon, Talleyrand, and others. When the old Swiss Confederation was threatened he was dispatched to Rastatt to allay the storm. It was too late, however, and when he returned in February, 1798, the French army was already on Bernese territory. Even his pamphlet, "Projekt einer Constitution für die schweizerische Republik Bern", was unable to stay the dissolution of the old Swiss Republic.

But he soon renounced the principles expressed in this pamphlet, and became uncompromising opponent of the Revolution. Thereupon he resigned the government office he had held under the revolutionary authorities and established a paper, the Helvetische Annalen, in which he attacked their excesses and legislative schemes with such bitter sarcasm that the sheet was suppressed, and he himself had to flee to escape imprisonment. Henceforth, von Haller was a reactionary and a divisive figure.

After many wanderings, he came to Vienna, where he was court secretary of the council of war, from 1801 till 1806. Public opinion at home resulted in his being recalled by the Bernese Government in 1806, and appointed professor of political law at the newly founded higher school of the academy. When the old aristocratic regime was reinstated, he became a member of the sovereign Great Council, and soon after also of the privy council of the Bernese Republic. But in 1821, when his return to Catholicism became known, he was dismissed. This change of religion caused great controversy, and the letter he wrote to his family from Paris, explaining his reasons for the step he had taken, went through about fifty editions in a short time, was translated into nearly every modern language, and called forth numerous rejoinders and apologies.

In this document he made known his long-felt inclination to join the Catholic Church and his growing conviction that he must bring his political opinions in harmony with his religious views. His family soon followed him; with them he left Berne for ever and took up his residence in Paris. There the Foreign Office invited him to assume the instruction of candidates for the diplomatic service in constitutional and international law. After the July Revolution of 1830, he went to Solothurn and, from that time until the day of his death, was a contributor to political journals, including the Neue preussische zeitung and the Historisch-Politische Blätter. In 1833 he was again elected to the Grand Council of Switzerland and exercised an important influence in ecclesiastical affairs which constituted the burning question of the hour. In connection with his other work, Haller had propounded and defended his political opinions as early as 1808 in his Handbuch der allgemeinen Staatenkunde, des darauf begründeten allgemeinen Rechts und der allgemeinen Straatsklugheit nach den Gesetzen der Natur. This, considered by some his most important work, impelled Johannes von Müller to offer Haller the chair of constitutional law at the University of Göttingen. In spite of the great honour involved in this offer, he declined it.


Haller's magnum opus, however, was the Restauration der Staats-Wissenschaft oder Theorie des natürlich-geselligen Zustandes, der Chimäre des künstlich-bürgerlichen entgegengesetzt. It was published in Winterthur in six volumes from 1816 to 1834. In this he uncompromisingly rejects the revolutionary conception of the State, and constructs a natural and juridical system of government, arguing at the same time that a commonwealth can endure and prosper without being founded on the omnipotence of the state and official bureaucracy. The first volume, which appeared in 1816, contains his history and his rejection of the older political theories, and also sets forth the general principles of his system of government. In the succeeding volumes he shows how these principles apply to different forms of government: in the second to monarchies; in the third (1888) to military powers; in the fourth (1820) and fifth (1834) to ecclesiastical states; and in the sixth (1825) to republics. It was written primarily to counteract Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract. The book in its entirety was translated into Italian, part of it into French, and an abridged version into English, Latin and Spanish. All his later writings are influenced by the ideas here set forth, and oppose vigorously the revolutionary tendencies of the times and the champions of liberalism in Church and State.

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