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Karl Ludwig von Haller

Professor of constitutional law; b. August 1, 1768, at Berne; d. May 21, 1854, at Solothurn, Switzerland

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Haller, KARL LUDWIG VON, professor of constitutional law; b. August 1, 1768, at Berne; d. May 21, 1854, at Solothurn, Switzerland. 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 education worthy of his station, but after some private lessons, and having passed through a few classes of the gymnasium, he was forced at the age of fifteen to enter the chancery of the Republic of Berne. Being extremely talented, however, he studied by himself and so filled out the gaps in his education. He even considered himself fortunate in this respect, as circumstances compelled him to investigate, think, and prove things for himself. 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 at 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 the great ideas that were agitating the world at that time. 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 were very instructive and made him acquainted with the leading personalities of the day, including Bonaparte, Talleyrand, and others. When the old Swiss confederation was menaced 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 fur 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. Close acquaintance with the new freedom made him an 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 was more and more exalted by one party as the savior of an almost forlorn hope, and hated and reviled by the other as a traitor to the rights and dignity of man. Nevertheless, both parties alike acknowledged the independence and forcefulness of his opinions, the fearless logic of his conclusions, and the wealth of his erudition.

After many wanderings, he came to Vienna, where he was court secretary of the council of war, from 1801 till 1806. A revulsion of 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 the Catholic Church became known, he was unjustly dismissed. This change of religion caused the greatest sensation, 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 and was translated into nearly every modern language. Of course it called forth numerous rejoinders and apologies. In this document he made known his long-felt inclination to join the Catholic Church, exhibiting a keen analysis of his feelings 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 revolution of July he went to Solothurn and, from that time until the day of his death, was an industrious contributor to political journals, including the “Neue preussische Zeitung” and the “Historisch-Politische Blatter”. 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 begrundeten allgemeinen Rechts and der allgemeinen Staatsklugheit nach den Gesetzen der Natur”. This was his most important work. It was this, moreover, that impelled Johann von Muller to offer Haller the chair of constitutional law at the University of Gottingen. In spite of the great honor involved in this offer, he declined it.

Haller’s magnum opus, however, was the “Restauration der Staatswissenschaft oder Theorie des naturlich-geselligen Zustandes, der Chimare des kunstlichburgerlichen entgegengesetzt”. It was published at 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, showing at the same time how 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 the history and the refutation 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 (1818) to military powers; in the fourth (1820) and fifth (1834) to ecclesiastical states; and in the sixth (1825) to republics. This work, written primarily to counteract Rousseau’s “Contrat Social”, has been thus commented on: “It was not merely a book, but a great political achievement. As such it found not only innumerable fanatical friends but even more numerous enemies.” There is no doubt that his weakness consists in the fact that he does not make sufficient distinction between the State and other natural social relations. 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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