The Right to Associate and the Rights of Associations: Civil-Society Organizations in Prussia, 1794-1908

Richard Brooks, Timothy W. Guinnane

Chapter in NBER book Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development (2017), Naomi R. Lamoreaux and John Joseph Wallis, editors (p. 291 - 329)
Conference held October 24-25, 2014
Published in November 2017 by University of Chicago Press
© 2017 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

Civil society plays a central role in democratic regimes. Its absence is telling too. One mark of a repressive government is its effort to suppress or limit civil society. Suppression of civil society has a long history, and has existed even in relatively democratic societies. Historically, this suppression has taken two principal forms: limits on the rights of individuals to assemble or associate and limits on the rights of their organizations or associations. We begin with a simple framework for thinking about the right to associate and the rights of associations, illustrated with examples from U.S. history. We then turn to our principal historical example, tracing the history of limitations on association and civil-society organizations in Prussia from the late eighteenth century to the outbreak of World War I. Prussian governments restricted the right to associate, but, just as importantly, they denied to most civil-society organizations corporative legal rights such as the ability to contract in their own right. We argue that the latter rights are crucial to effective civil-society organizations, and trace the process by which Prussia (later Germany) liberalized its treatment of such groups. In a brief overview we show that similar limitations operated in France in the nineteenth century, even though France after the Revolution had a very different constitutional order. Restrictions on association can be found in quite diverse political environments, even those, such as the United States or Revolutionary France, based self-consciously on the idea of liberty.

download in pdf format
   (240 K)

email paper

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Users who downloaded this chapter also downloaded* these:
Lamoreaux and Wallis Introduction to "Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development"
Bloch and Lamoreaux Voluntary Associations, Corporate Rights, and the State: Legal Constraints on the Development of American Civil Society, 1750–1900
Hilt Corporation Law and the Shift toward Open Access in the Antebellum United States
Weingast Adam Smith’s Theory of Violence and the Political Economics of Development
Levi, Melo, Weingast, and Zlotnick Opening Access, Ending the Violence Trap: Labor, Business, Government, and the National Labor Relations Act
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us