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The Disordered Police State

German Cameralism as Science and Practice

Probing the relationship between German political economy and everyday fiscal administration, The Disordered Police State focuses on the cameral sciences—a peculiarly German body of knowledge designed to train state officials—and in so doing offers a new vision of science and practice during the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries. Andre Wakefield shows that the cameral sciences were at once natural, technological, and economic disciplines, but, more important, they also were strategic sciences, designed to procure patronage for their authors and good publicity for the German principalities in which they lived and worked. Cameralism, then, was the public face of the prince’s most secret affairs; as such, it was an essentially dishonest enterprise.

In an entertaining series of case studies on mining, textiles, forestry, and universities, Wakefield portrays cameralists in their own gritty terms. The result is a revolutionary new understanding about how the sciences created and maintained an image of the well-ordered police state in early modern Germany. In raising doubts about the status of these German sciences of the state, Wakefield ultimately questions many of our accepted narratives about science, culture, and society in early modern Europe.

240 pages | 3 halftones, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Biological Sciences: Natural History

Earth Sciences: History of Earth Sciences

Economics and Business: Economics--History

History: European History, General History, History of Ideas, History of Technology

History of Science

Physical Sciences: History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences

Political Science: Political and Social Theory

Sociology: Social History


“Andre Wakefield has produced a brilliant, skeptical study of the German political economists of the eighteenth century. His Cameralists are flesh-and-blood figures in hot pursuit of personal gain and preferment. Consequently, their treatises and programs take on new meaning in Wakefield’s hands. His book is as pathbreaking as Robert Darnton’s work on Mesmerism and the world of Enlightened science.”

Leonard N. Rosenband, Utah State University

“In a persuasive and highly original argument that turns much of the historiography on its head, Wakefield reveals that cameralism as an economic and scientific experiment was primarily a matter of self-promotion. By situating the cameral sciences within their historical context he breaks the shackles of two centuries of Whigish disciplinary boundaries, which have literally sought to mould cameralism to fit a politicised Western intellectual genealogy. Thanks to Wakefield’s close archival-based scrutiny, we see that the traditional picture of well-ordered German states was in fact quite the reverse.”

William J. Ashworth, University of Liverpool | William J. Ashworth

“German cameralism seems the most protean and promethean of the new, early modern sciences, cross-cutting social, natural, and technical disciplines, to fashion a sort of deus ex machina of the modern bureaucratic state. Pursuing the elusive ‘Kammer,’ the very heart of cameralism, Wakefield’s The Disordered Police State shows us that the elusive entity was no Wunder-Kammer, but rather a ghost in the machinery of early modern science and society. And Wakefield teaches us not to trust old stories about ghosts.”

William Clark, University of California, Los Angeles

“Wakefield writes history with a vengeance, drumming out the echoes of the present from our understanding of the past. Gone from his analysis of cameralism and the early modern state are the distorting specters of progress and theory-driven history. In their place stands a beautifully entertaining anatomy of German administrators and academics who variously contributed to and papered over the mundane disorder and corruption that plagued the states they served.  This book is a must-read for anyone who likes history that makes them think twice.”

Lissa Roberts, University of Twente

“This masterly study probes deeply into eighteenth-century German Cameralism, defined as the ‘science of fiscal propaganda.’ For all its efforts to engineer the state, Cameralism fostered inscrutability, dishonesty, and hollow rhetoric. The upshot is to show how deeply rooted is the German propensity for autarky and the procurement of wealth and power by subterfuge.”

Margaret Schabas, The University of British Columbia

“In this provocative book, Wakefield revises the history of cameralism, he challenges the Enlightenment link between science and material progress, and he indicates the limits of the written record for historical enquiry. His conclusions have important implications for economic history, for the history of science and technology, and for the writing of history in general.”

Pamela Smith, Columbia University

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Bad Cameralists and Disordered Police States

Chapter 2: Science and Silver for the Kammer

Chapter 3: The Knowledge Factory

Chapter 4: The Cameralist and the Ironworks

Chapter 5: Useless Sciences, Fashionable Sciences

Chapter 6: Conclusion: Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Appendix 1: Average Annual Silver Production in Central Europe, 1545–1800

Appendix 2: Acquisition History of Selected Mining Books in Göttingen

Appendix 3: Friedrich Casimir Medicus’s Unpublished Proposal for a Faculty of State Administration at the University of Ingolstadt




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