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Cameralism (German: Kameralwissenschaft) was a German science of administration. According to Lindenfeld, it was divided into three: public finance, Oeconomie and Polizei.[1] Here Oeconomie did not mean exactly 'economics', nor Polizei 'public policy' in the modern senses. Cameralism was the German counterpart of the French mercantilism of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and developed also in the 18th century.[citation needed]

In its origins, it was an educational path for the civil servants of the royal chamber, hence its name. The administrator of the royal finances was called camerarius. Cameralism is a predecessor of the modern science of public administration.

The case of Prussia

The first academic chairs in the cameral sciences were established at the Prussian universities of Halle and Frankfurt an der Oder in 1727. Cameralism has often been viewed as the science of government, dedicated to reforming society and promoting economic development in the lands of 18th-century Germany (Holy Roman Empire). According to the published teachings of cameralist academics, the state should not focus on maintaining the law and promoting collective prosperity. Its stated objective was to mobilize the resources of land and population in service of the common good. There is, however, considerable debate about whether cameralist policy reflected the stated goals of academic cameralism.

Academic status

In the 18th century the need for administrative expertise grew. King Frederick William I of Prussia established professoriates in cameralism at the universities of Frankfurt an der Oder and Halle. The best known professor of cameralism was Johann Heinrich Gottlob Justi (1717-1771), who linked cameralism and the idea of natural law with each other. The University of Utrecht also established a professorate in cameralism.

There are, today, differing opinions about the meaning and legacy of cameralism. Some, like Keith Tribe, have defined it as a university science. Others, like David Lindenfeld, have focused on its practical dimensions. More recently, Andre Wakefield has suggested that cameralism functioned as publicity, or even propaganda, for the early modern fiscal state.


  1. Lindenfeld, pp. 14–18


  • Albion Small (1909), The Cameralists. The Pioneers of German Social Policy, Chicago: The University of Chicago
  • Marc Raeff, “The Well-Ordered Police State and the Development of Modernity in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Europe: An Attempt at a Comparative Approach.” The American Historical Review 80, no. 5 (December 1975): 1221–43.
  • Keith Tribe (1988), Governing Economy: The Reformation of German Academic Discourse
  • David F. Lindenfeld (1997), The Practical Imagination: The German Sciences of State in the Nineteenth Century
  • Andre Wakefield (2009), The Disordered Police State: German Cameralism as Science and Practice

External links

The dictionary definition of cameralism at Wiktionary