«schwächliche gesundheit» – «geringe anzahl bürger». Populationist Pastors, Public Health and Criticism of Government in 18th-Century Bern

In the 18th century, the members of the newly founded economic society of Bern (Oekonomische Gesellschaft) asked for a fundamentally new governmentality. In their treaties they presented the population as a government’s most valuable resource. Using five examples, I will exemplify how country pastors outlined a specific populationism in this learned society in the middle of the 18th century. Their populationist’s stance was based on local observations and empirical studies on registers of deaths, marriages and births. They paired the empirical data with proto-statistical calculations and populationist interpretations. In this perspective, a numerous, fertile and healthy population defined the wealth of a state. Hence, population policy and wealth were inextricably entangled through public health. ‘Health care’ appeared as the accurate means to grow the most valuable resource of a state. Thus, it became the key to successful politics per se. However, on the grounds of their local observations and calculations the clergymen assessed a depopulation of Bern’s countryside. Therefore, they massively criticized the Bernese aristocracy’s health care system. This critique, which positioned health at the core of wealth, represented a fundamental attack on the aristocratic government of Bern. The accusations were so strong that a political crisis emerged, which led to censorship and repression of the economic society in the second half of the 18th century.