Court society

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The Courtly Society is a work by the sociologist Norbert Elias published in 1969 . In it he describes court society , that is, the social relationships at a court .

In The Courtly Society, Elias examines the sociology of royalty and the courtly aristocracy. It provides a sociological analysis of court society at the time of Louis XIV in the Ancien Régime . It describes the living situation and the relationships between the people in Versailles. A broad understanding of the behavior of the people of that time is imparted. Elias often draws parallels to current society. The compulsions that people at court experienced at that time are shown.


Elias 'work Die Höfische Gesellschaft is based on his habilitation thesis Der Höfische Mensch from 1933. Under the National Socialist rule, however, the Frankfurt Institute for Sociology was closed after submission and Elias' habilitation process was also canceled. The text did not appear until 1969 in a modified form under the title Die Höfische Gesellschaft .

Main theses and criticism

In the course of the expansion of central government authority and the modernization of warfare, the old sword nobility , whose discontent had repeatedly erupted in uprisings ( Fronde ), had been marginalized. The king has drawn the high nobility to court and ceremonially privileged them, but used this ceremony for his constant control and discipline. The court aristocracy was also so heavily burdened by the representation obligations of the court offices that they often became impoverished, while political power was increasingly exercised by bourgeois ministers and civil servants. Under the successors of Louis XIV, however, the imprisonment of the king in his own golden trap of court life led to progressive political paralysis.

Leonhard Horowski criticizes that Elias also viewed the judicial nobility ( noblesse de robe , usually translated as official nobility ) , which are decisive in political issues, as representatives of the bourgeoisie, while this only applies to the merchant's son Jean-Baptiste Colbert , who was later also ennobled. Elias did not correctly assess the structurally different position of the two groups of nobility; both would have mostly cooperated. The influence of the high nobility in politics was by no means eliminated; many aristocrats would have moved back and forth between battlefield and court service. The court aristocracy was not "trapped" at the court, but with the help of their benefices and privileges plundered the state, often over several generations. The model designed by Elias of an increasingly rational-bureaucratic rule is not applicable.


  • Court society . (1969), Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-518-58329-8 (Collected Writings Vol. 2).


  • Ronald G. Asch : Nobility and Monarchy: Norbert Elias' Court Society in the Light of Recent Research . well, 2005.
  • Claudia Opitz (ed.): Court society and civilization process: Norbert Elias' work from a cultural studies perspective . Böhlau Verlag, Cologne-Weimar 2005.
  • Jeroen Duindam: Norbert Elias and the early modern court. Historical Anthropology 6.3 (1998): 370-387.
  • Roger Chartier : Social Figuration and Habitus. Norbert Elias and 'The Courtly Society'. Roger Chartier (ed.): The unfinished past. History and the power of world interpretation. Berlin: Wagenbach 1989. pp. 37-57.

Individual evidence

  1. Leonhard Horowski: Court and Absolutism: What Remains of Norbert Elias' Theory? In: Lothar Schilling (Ed.): Absolutism, an irreplaceable research concept? L'absolutisme, un concept irremplaçable? A Franco-German balance sheet. Une mise au point franco-allemande. Paris Historical Studies Volume 70. Berlin 2014, pp. 143–172.