How much enlightenment can man tolerate in the twenty-first century? Haven't everyone long since left for other shores, towards other suns and sunsets? It has long been clear how ambivalent the Enlightenment was, how racially universality, how misogynistic the throne of reason was. Even the right of veto of the sources has become tricky. In short, the world is too complex for such a clear gesture as that of the Enlightenment.

The historian Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann sees it differently. He enlightens: as a scientist, on Twitter, in newspaper articles, on the radio, as a local politician. "Where is the Enlightenment?" he asked in an essay in 2004, after the magic of the Holy Rock had once again broken out in Trier. Stamm-Kuhlmann quoted his Prussian colleague Heinrich von Sybel. In 1844 he argued against Catholic superstition and the first mass pilgrimage to the Holy Rock in Trier and wrote of "immoral impartiality between truth and untruth", which he could no longer stand idly by, which is why he now had to speak "a public word".

Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann's downright enlightening attitude has saved him from two calamities that are as much a part of science as plastic is of the ocean: vanity and zeitgeist. So he worked for Prussia when it was no longer well liked. His studies of Hardenberg and his Hardenberg editions significantly advanced Prussian research and showed, for example, how close this state had been to a constitution in 1819. Stamm-Kuhlmann habilitated in Kiel on the Hohenzollern Friedrich Wilhelm III, known as the husband of Luise.

Prussia between Reform and Restoration

The habilitation thesis was published in 1992 at a time when the genre of biography was still scientifically disreputable. Always evidence-based, rich in detail and close to the sources, the biographer approaches the relevant questions: How was government in the first half of the nineteenth century? Was the monarch a citizen king? How did modern governance come into being, how did modern administration come about? His factual judgment is bound to the value judgment, whereby Stamm-Kuhlmann's scientific ethos includes the effort to separate the two. During the Kulturkampf after 1870, he showed sympathy for the state: Hadn't he also held up the flag of the Enlightenment against the Catholic claim to power?

In 1997, Stamm-Kuhlmann was appointed to the Chair of Modern History at the University of Greifswald. It was also thanks to his efforts that the university parted with the name of the poisonous nationalist Arndt. He regularly took up the suggestions of the students in his teaching and worked on new topics: Europe, constitutional history, anti-Semitism, GDR. Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann was on the right side, i.e. on the side of the mid-level staff. As Dean from 2014 to 2018, he set new standards at the fractious Faculty of Arts and Humanities for peace and with inclusive language.

Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann's non-zeitgeist includes his involvement in social democracy. He was one of the few students who supported Helmut Schmidt in NATO's double-track decision. Since he has been in northern Germany, he has been campaigning against neo-Nazis. As early as the nineties, he warned of the dangers of right-wing extremism, a warning with which he remained alone for a long time. If a citizen of Pomerania writes to him about the non-existence of the Federal Republic, Stamm-Kuhlmann sits down in his library for a day, researches and sends the anti-democrat a well-formulated answer consisting of facts, sources and democratic values.

Where is the enlightenment?, asks Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann, when the Corona deniers move across the country, the FDP boys agitate against climate policy or Putin supporters offer their propaganda for sale. After his retirement in 2019, he went into local politics, where he chairs committees, promotes knowledge and science. He is so free and also leads the fight for the good cause on Twitter.

The Social Democratic Prussian researcher, Enlightenment philosopher and Donaldist Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann turns seventy today, Wednesday.