Hintze, Otto

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Hintze, Otto



Otto Hintze (1861–1940) spent the first twenty years of his life in his native Prussian province of Pomerania. After studying for two years at the University of Greifswald, he transferred in 1880 to the University of Berlin, where as a student of J. G. Droysen he became deeply imbued with the ethical implications and political principles of the Prussian tradition. He early impressed his teachers at the university with his capacity for relating minutiae to generalizations as well as with his in dependent, critical judgment (Hartung [1941] 1961, pp. 500-501). At a later point in his studies Hintze became associated with Gustav Schmoller, and this association greatly influenced his development as a professional historian, an influence reflected in his publications during the next decades.

Hintze’s first major work was a study of the Prussian silk industry in the eighteenth century. It consisted of two volumes of documents and a third volume that analyzed the effects on the industry of the mercantilist policies of Frederick ii. At the completion of this work Hintze, at the age of 34, was given an appointment at the University of Berlin, and thereafter he was rapidly promoted. His position entailed lecturing on constitutional, administrative, and economic history as well as on politics, a rather unusual combination at the time.

As a collaborator of Schmoller’s in the publication of the Acta borussica, Hintze next turned to the study of Prussian administration from 1740 to 1756. The six volumes of documents published as a result of this work carried an introduction by Hintze (1901) that was a penetrating analysis of this administrative system and of the major political decisions it embodied. Subsequently, Hintze continued to be associated with the Acta borussica in a leading capacity, while also becoming editor-in-chief of the Forschungen zur brandenburgischen und preussischen Geschichte.

Hintze’s writings on Prussian history—a series of essays published at various times between 1896 and 1931 and collected as Geist und Epochen der opreussischen Geschichte (1896–1931) and his summary volume Die Hohenzollern und ihr Werk (1915)—show a high order of critical, scholarly judgment. Although he was an avowed admirer of the Prussian monarchy and an avowed conservative, his approach to Prussian political institutions was objective and comparative. He came to see the Prussian case as a “paradigm for the formations and transformations of the modern state generally” (Hartung [1941] 1961, p. 506). The case of Prussia, as Hintze saw it, illustrates J. R. Seeley’s dictum that the degree of internal freedom in a country is inversely proportional to the political and military pressures on its frontiers. More generally, this means that the internal social structure of a country—its class conflicts and constitutional framework—and its international position must be analyzed together. Such an approach shows that Prussia’s militarism and monarchical constitution were by-products of her central European location; no attempt to form a nation-state in this area could succeed without the discipline and centralized authority of Prussian institutions (1915, pp. vi-vii). Applying this analysis to other times and places Hintze showed that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the great struggle between France and the Hapsburg empire, together with the impotence of Germany, left countries like Poland in a power vacuum, which greatly facilitated such internal conflicts as those between powerful families and thus militated against the formation of a strong political structure ([1902-1932] 1962, pp. 515-521). Again, in England, early political centralization, together with relative military security, strongly militated against absolutism, bureaucracy, and militarism of the Continental type, so that the modern English state of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries depended on the ruling agrarian and industrial classes rather than on the crown ([1902-1932] 1962, pp. 362-368).

Hintze’s nationalist and monarchist persuasion was severely shaken by Germany’s defeat in 1918. That experience brought greater acceptance on his part of democratic tendencies nationally and federative tendencies internationally, although so great a change of view was naturally difficult for a convinced conservative (Oestreich 1964, pp. 21-22). Impaired health forced him to discontinue university teaching, and during the years of the Weimar Republic he was a private scholar and publicist. Hitler’s rise to power completely destroyed the world in which he had grown to maturity, and in 1938 Hintze, whose wife was Jewish, resigned from the Prussian Academy of Science. When his collected essays were published shortly after his death in 1940, all his discussions of the work of Jewish authors were excised.

Despite disillusionment and personal adversity, after World War I Hintze turned to a fuller elaboration of his projected comparative, constitutional history. There are indications that he completed a major work in this field but that it was lost during World War ii. What remains is a series of essays on administrative history, feudalism, the estate-constitutions of Europe, the world-historical conditions of representative institutions in Western European societies, and Polish constitutional history, as well as brief synopses of his views concerning the major phases of European political history. Taken together, these writings do for the study of political institutions what Max Weber’s sociology of religion did for the study of religious beliefs. By comparative analysis they reveal the institutional preconditions that shaped the Western system of constitutional states and the major types of constitutions that emerged within this system.

Hintze’s work, which is informed with his wide knowledge of history, has a developmental emphasis that is not evolutionist and a conceptual approach that, like Weber’s, brings out the singularity of a historical sequence or configuration by means of strategic contrasts with other civilizations. He had no use for biological analogies in social analysis, since he was much concerned with the role of ideas and political decisions in social change. For him as for Weber, functional relations are the end products of human actions that may produce innovations that are no less genuine because they are conditioned. Although it remained fragmentary, Hintze’s work is a major contribution to the comparative analysis of social and political institutions.

Reinhard Bendix

[For the historical context of Hintze’s work, see the biographies ofSchmoller; Weber, Max.]


(1896–1931) 1943 Geist und Epochen der preussischen Geschichte: Gesammelte Abhandlungen. Leipzig: Koehler & Amelang.

(1897–1930) 1964 Soziologie und Geschichte: Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur Soziologie, Politik und Theorie der Geschichte. 2d ed., enl. Göttingen (Germany): Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. → A collection of essays first published in book form in 1942 as Zur Theorie der Geschichte.

1901 Einleitende Darstellung der Behördenorganisation und allgemeinen Verwaltung in Preussen beim Regierungsantritt Friedrichs ii. Volume 6, Part 1 in Acta horussica: Denkmäler der preussischen Staatsverwaltung im 18. Jahrhundert. Berlin: Parey.

(1902–1932) 1962 Staat und Verfassung: Gesammelte Ab handlungen zur allgemeinen Verfassungsgeschichte. 2d ed., enl. Göttingen (Germany): Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. → Contains a bibliography of Hintze’s writings.

1915 Die Hohenzollern und ihr Werk: Fünfhundert Jahre vaterländischer Geschichte. Berlin: Parey.


Hartung, Fritz (1941) 1961 Otto Hintze. Pages 497-520 in Fritz Hartung, Staatsbildende Kräfte der Neuzeit: Gesammelte Aufsätze.Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.

Oestreich, Gerhard 1964 Otto Hintzes Stellung zur Politikwissenschaft und Soziologie. Pages 7-67 in Otto Hintze, Soziologie und Geschichte: Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur Soziologie, Politik und Theorie der Geschichte. Göttingen (Germany): Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.