In the years 1770-1772 the Danish state was governed in an unusual manner. A virtual coup d'etat had made the royal physician J. F. Struensee the most powerful man at court, personally signing cabinet orders which effectively made him the sovereign ruler. The general aim of these more than 1800 orders was to reform the central administration thus creating a truly enlightened regime. Reforms inspired by a quite unsystematic combination of French materialism and Prussian cameralism were initiated to promote regularity and swiftness within and between the different departments of the administration. As part of the attempt to legitimize such an enterprise, the metaphor of the machine was invoked - if not frequently then at least regularly - in order to indicate the general direction of the sometimes impossibly different reforms. Based on theoretical premises first presented by Hans Blumenberg this paper will investigate two issues: first, how the sometimes explicit and other times implicit metaphor of the mechanical and machinelike was used by Struensee to indicate the ideal architecture of the Danish absolutist state in the 1770s, and second, how his opponents made use of the same metaphors to describe what they saw as Struensee's illegitimate reach for power.
Contributions To the History of Concepts, 2009, Vol 5, Issue 1