Religion and public reason

During the seventeenth century, religious wars devastated the lands of Central Europe. In their aftermath, the population of German cities was decimated by one third. The consequences were even worse in the countryside, where two fifths of the inhabitants were lost. All told, among the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire, the population declined from 20 million to 16 million inhabitants. The 1631 siege of Magdeburg, even judging by the standards of the day, was an event unprecedented in its brutality. The civilian population was brutally massacred by marauding Catholic troops. When the smoke cleared, a mere 5,000 of the original 30,000 inhabitants had survived. The effects of the terrible conflagration were felt for years to come. As one Swabian family, writing a year before the Peace of Westphalia, observed: “They say the terrible war is now over. But there is still no sign of peace. Everywhere there is envy, hatred and greed...

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