Müller, Adam Henrich

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Müller, Adam Henrich



Adam Heinrich Müller (1779–1829), German political economist of the romantic school, was born in Berlin and studied at Berlin and Göttingen. In 1802 he moved to Vienna, where he was an intimate friend of Friedrich von Gentz, a politician and writer associated with Metternich. In 1805 Müller was received into the Roman Catholic church, and as he grew older his ideas were increasingly influenced by Catholic thought.

He served from 1806 to 1809 in Dresden as a tutor to Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. There he was associated with the romantic dramatist Heinrich von Kleist in editing the literary journal Phöbus. His most creative book, Die Elemente der Staatskunst (1809), was based on lectures given at Dresden. He spent the years 1809–1811 in Berlin. Because he opposed the reforms of Stein and Hardenberg, opportunities for public service in Prussia were closed to him, and he returned to Vienna, where in 1813 he entered the Austrian government service. Through Gentz he became acquainted with Metternich, whom he served as an adviser and assistant in various posts.

Müller was a leading member of the German romantic school of political economy, composed of several political writers and literary figures affiliated with the early German romantic movement. Among them, in addition to Müller and Gentz, were Carl Ludwig von Haller, Johann Joseph von Görres, and Franz von Baader. In varying degrees these writers opposed the marked rationality, the individualism, and the emphasis on material values characteristic of the political economy of the Enlightenment. Inspired by the integrated social organization of the Middle Ages, they sought to develop a political economy based on an organic conception of society and, thus, to recapture the “German spirit.” All were influenced by the philosophy of Fichte, and Müller and Gentz in particular were influenced by Edmund Burke.

Müller published copiously in the fields of political economy and social philosophy and served as a kind of intellectual spokesman for the reactionary forces of the post-Napoleonic period.

Müller’s economic and political ideas were founded, then, on an organic conception of society. In such a form of society political, economic, religious, moral, and aesthetic elements would be merged indivisibly in the state, which would represent the “mysterious reciprocity of all the relationships of life.” The state not only would unite all social elements at any given time but also would be the instrument that binds society together through time and fosters the development of national consciousness, or national spirit.

As a result of this conception of society, Müller opposed individual freedom in favor of central authority, he opposed competition in favor of cooperation and reciprocity, and he opposed free trade in favor of a national system of protection. He rejected the classical theory that value is determined by exchange in the market and argued that social as well as private usefulness be considered in determining the value of any good. He rejected also the classical concept of wealth as including only material objects and advanced his own, famous concept of spiritual capital. By this, he meant that the capital of a society includes not only material objects but also intangibles derived from the past, such as the national existence, the traditions of the society, the constitution, the language, the motivations and character of the people, the extant knowledge and technology, and other nonmaterial features of the culture.

Müller regarded money as a creature of the state and the value of money as derived from its role as a link between the individuals of the organic society rather than from its exchange value or its metallic content. Because of his organic theory of society, he was unwilling to isolate the economic aspect of society for study and insisted that society be studied as a comprehensive organic unity. This led him to point out some of the excessive narrowness, materialism, and individualism of classical economics, but it also led to diffuse and muddy analysis and exposition.

Müller’s influence was never great. Despite the economic and political backwardness of the Germany of his time, the prevailing political trend was liberal, and his political position was distinctly counter to the trend. However, as indicated by the appreciative comments of Roscher and Hildebrand, he did have some influence on the older historical school of economists, who developed his more significant economic ideas. List, who knew Müller personally, acknowledged indebtedness to him. Various groups of socialists, especially Christian socialists (both Protestant and Catholic), have used his ideas. In recent times, Othmar Spann built his “universalist” system of economics on the foundation of Müller’s ideas. The German National Socialists found Müller’s ideas congenial and resurrected them from obscurity.

Many of Müller’s ideas today appear quaint, fuzzy, or dangerously reactionary. Yet he stood in the van of a long line of critics whose work has been useful in countering the abstractness, the radical individualism, and the neglect of social values characteristic of the dominant classical economics. Müller’s concept of spiritual capital, of the productive power imbedded in cultural factors as well as in the concrete physical wealth of a society, is being rediscovered in the mid-twentieth century, as economists face the problems of economic growth in the underdeveloped areas of the world.

Howard R. Bowen

[For discussion of the subsequent development of Müller’s ideas, see Economic thought,article on THE HISTORICAL SCHOOL; and the biographies of Hildebrand; List; Roscher.]


(1806) 1920 Vorlesungen über die deutsche Wissenschaft und Literatur. New ed. Edited by Arthur Salz. Munich: Drei Masken.

(1809) 1922 Die Elemente der Staatskunst: Öffentliche Vorlesungen. 2 vols. New ed. Edited by Jakob Baxa. Vienna: Wiener Literarische Anstalt.

(1812a) 1931 Ausgewählte Abhandlungen. New ed. Edited by Jakob Baxa. Jena: Fischer. → First published as Vermischte Schriften über Staat, Philosophie, und Kunst.

1812b Die Theorie der Staatshaushaltung und ihre Fortschritte in Deutschland und England seit Adam Smith. Vienna: Schaumburg.

(1816) 1922 Versuche einer neuen Theorie des Geldes mit besonderer Rücksicht auf Grossbrittannien. Edited by Helene Lieser. Jena: Fischer.

(1817) 1920 Zwölf Reden iiber die Beredsamkeit und deren Verfall in Deutschland. Edited by Arthur Salz. Munich: Drei Masken.

Gesammelte Schriften. Munich: Franz, 1839.


Baxa, Jakob 1923 Einführung in die romantische Staatswissenschaft. Jena: Fischer.

Baxa, Jakob (editor) 1924 Staat und Gesellschaft im Spiegel der deutschen Romantik. Jena: Fischer.

Baxa, Jakob 1930 Adam Müller: Ein Lebensbild aus den Befreiungskriegen und aus der deutschen Restauration. Jena: Fischer. → Contains a bibliography.

Roll, Erich (1938) 1942 A History of Economic Thought. 2d ed., rev. & enl. New York: Prentice-Hall. → See especially pages 154–202 on “Political Economy in Germany.”

Spann, Othmar (1911) 1930 The History of Economics. New York: Norton. → First published as Die Haupttheorien der Volkswirtschaftslehre auf lehrgeschichtlicher Grundlage. See especially pages 212–270 on “Reaction and Revolution.”

Tokary-Tokarzewsky-Karaszewicz, J. VON 1913 Adam H. Müller, Ritter von Nittersdorf als Ökonom, Literat, Philosoph und Kunstkritiker: 1779 bis 1829. Vienna: Gerold.