Danish Exceptionalism in 1848: The Importance of Geopolitics

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 253 (University of Glasgow)
Jørgen Møller , Department of Political Science, Aarhus University
The February revolution in France in 1848 set Europe ablaze. Within little more than a month, revolution had spread to most of Continental Europe, including the larger German states, The Habsburg Empire, a series of Italian states, and finally Denmark. By late August, counterrevolution had triumphed in all these instances, with the sole exception of Denmark where the 1848 concessions were consolidated in the form of the 1849 constitution. This article proposes that recent theory about power-sharing institutions in autocracies can shed light on the Danish exception. This literature has shown that the onset of external threats increases the plausibility of internal rebellion. To appease the internal opposition, the autocrat is likely to give political concessions. In the Danish case, the February revolution in France in 1848 sparked a threat from Northern German states that only abated with the decisive Danish defeat in the second Second Schleswig War. This defeat was followed by reactionary political reforms in 1866 and by a prolonged constitutional struggle in the 1880s and 1890s. As such, the German threat sheds light both on the surprising vitality of the 1848 revolution and the later setbacks of the liberal movement.