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Joseph Maria von Radowitz

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Born at Blankenburg, 6 February, 1797; died at Berlin, 25 December, 1853. Radowitz was of Hungarian descent, though his family had lived in Germany since 1745. In his youth he fought with the French in the War of Liberation, but had no feeling against the German cause. While an army officer in the service of the Elector of Hesse (1815-23) he gained an extensive knowledge of modern languages and history, and laid the foundation of his religious and political convictions. As the child of a mixed marriage he had lived in purely Protestant surroundings, but in time he grasped the historic fact of the Incarnation of God, the founding of the Church by Christ, and the superiority of the truth of Christian dogma and the Catholic view of life over all philosophy, thus becoming a strong Catholic. Repelled in politics by Liberalism, which he considered superficial, he studied Burke and Haller, adopted the theories of the latter, and became an opponent of Absolutism in every form. His preference was for constitutional government by the Estates, but he considered a representative constitution unavoidable at that time, In 1823 Radowitz entered the Prussian army, and from this time served Prussia with enthusiasm. The king took a kindly interest in him, the crown prince was his friend, and by his marriage with Countess Voss, a Protestant, he came into connexion with the higher aristocracy. His efforts to improve Prussian military training and artillery were rewarded by repeated promotion, but on account of his birth and faith he met with opposition among the bureaucracy and army officers. In 1831 he combined with the "Christian-German" followers of Haller in issuing at Berlin the "Politisches Wochenblatt" (see JARCKE) and wrote largely for the publication. For this transgression of military traditions the king removed him from Berlin in 1835. Until 1848 he was Prussian military attaché at the German Diet at Frankfort, and from 1842 also Prussian ambassador at the Courts of Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, and Darmstadt. He had nothing to do with the dispute between the government and Prussian Catholics in 1837.

After Frederick William IV ascended the throne in 1840 Radowitz was frequently called to Berlin to give advice and was also sent on missions to other countries. Notwithstanding the secret opposition of Austria and the open opposition of the States of central Germany, his duties as military attaché led him to examine the constitution of the German confederation, the immediate reform of which he declared to be a necessity if Germany were to be preserved from a revolution. He soon felt himself called to become the reformer of the Confederation, and, in view of the difficulties in the way, advocated the stimulation of the German people by a war whenever the opportunity offered itself (e.g. in 1840, during the strained relations between France and Germany, and in 1846, when the Schleswig-Holstein question became acute); victory was to be utilized to strengthen the German position among the European Powers and to develop Germany internally. He desired to make Germany, including Austria, a unit and to enlarge it by the addition of Switzerland and the Netherlands. He wished Prussia to take the lead in the reorganization of internal affairs, as he had discovered at Frankfort that Austria's interests lay in eastern and southern Europe, and could not be depended on for German interests. To attain these internal reforms by peaceful means, he considered it necessary to place military matters and legislation under the control of the Confederation; a strong central power could then be formed as need required. To accomplish his desires he advised the king to attain the unity which the "public opinion" of the German people demanded by introducing a constitutional form of government, in which the parliament should be less powerful than the crown and independent of the bourgeoisie and capitalists.

He proposed social legislation to win the workmen for the government, but on account of the weak character of Frederick William IV, these plans were not carried out. While in Baden Radowitz watched the approach of the revolution. In 1846 he wrote the "Gespräche über Staat und Kirche", setting forth in the form of a dialogue all the antitheses in the German life of his time and pointing out in a clear, simple manner what he would have done to improve conditions. In a memorial presented in November, 1847, he urged the king to take up at last the reform of the Confederation, as Germany had been carried into the revolutionary movement. He was sent on this business to Vienna and Paris, but before he was able to accomplish anything Metternich was overthrown in March, 1848, and Frederick William IV, after granting a parliamentary constitution, called a Liberal ministry. Radowitz withdrew from public affairs, but without any effort on his own part was elected member of the preliminary Parliament of Frankfort, where he brilliantly represented more as orator than as leader the Christian and conservative principles. Though the majority of Catholics were adherents of the Liberal party and opposed to forming a confederation under the leadership of Prussia, Radowitz worked both to attain this end, and to prevent the whole national movement from failing. He was willing that Austria should merely be connected with the German states in a "new confederation", thus he was among those who elected Frederick William IV as German Emperor, March, 1849, though the king had declined the election.

In April Radowitz was called to Berlin and by his advice the king invited all the German governments except Austria to carry out the principles of the constitution agreed upon at Frankfort in a freer confederation called the "Union", all revolutionary elements being suppressed. To Austria he offered to exchange guarantees of their possessions. Fear of Prussia led most of the German governments to accept this proposition, to which the moderate Liberals also agreed. Radowitz, however, was not made minister, and the Conservative party was rapidly growing in strength in Prussia. They opposed him because he was willing in the plan of the Confederation to concede an assembly that would represent the people. At too late an hour (26 September, 1850) the king appointed Radowitz minister of foreign affairs. Austria had gained time to plan its measures, and Radowitz wished to settle the matter by war. Austria and Prussia mobilized their armies, but Frederick William gave up the idea of war. Radowitz retired from his post on 2 November, and went to London as extraordinary ambassador but could gain no diplomatic success on account of the weakness Prussia had shown. In the spring of 1851 he retired into private life. In 1852 the king prevailed upon him to come again to Berlin, where, however, he performed only military duties. He was an active author all his life. At the close of his twentieth year he had written an "Ikonographie", and later he published numerous pamphlets. The pamphlet issued, April, 1848, on "Deutschland und Friedrich Wilhelm IV" attracted much attention. The "Gespräche" was followed during the fifties by five volumes of collected writings. The first volume of his comprehensive biography, published by Hassel in 1905, gives the remainder of his literary works up to May, 1848. The second volume, which is being prepared by Meinecke, is expected to give a detailed explanation of much that is not clear in the Prussian-German policy of 1848-50. His son has had a brilliant diplomatic career. He came especially into notice in 1885 when threatenings of war disturbed European diplomacy, and lately when he was the representative of Germany at the conference at Algeciras.


FRENSDORFF, Joseph von Radowitz (Leipzig, 1850); Chilianeum, VII (Würzburg, 1865), 463 sqq.; Allgem. deutsche Biog., XXVII, 141 sqq.

About this page

APA citation. Spahn, M. (1911). Joseph Maria von Radowitz. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Spahn, Martin. "Joseph Maria von Radowitz." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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