Online Encyclopedia

DIET

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V08, Page 212 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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DIET, a term used in two senses, (1) food or the regulation of feeding (see DIETARY and DIETETICS), (2) an assembly or council (Fr. date; It. dieta; Low Lat. diaeta; Ger. Tag). We are here concerned only with this second sense. In modern usage, though in Scotland the term is still sometimes applied to any assembly or session, it is practically confined to the sense of an assembly of estates or of national or federal representatives. The origin of the word in this connotation is somewhat complicated. It is undoubtedly ultimately derived from the Greek Siaura (Lat. diaeta), which meant " mode of life " and thence " prescribed mode of life," the English " diet " or " regimen." This was connected with the verb &aarav, in the sense of " to rule," " to regulate " ; compare the office of &aLrriris at Athens, and dieteta, " umpire," in Late Latin. In both Greek and Latin, too, the word meant " a room," from which the transition to " a place of assembly " and so to " an assembly " would be easy. In the latter sense the word, however, actually occurs only in Low Latin, Du Cange (Glossarium,s.v.) deriving it from the late sense of "meal" or "feast," the Germans being accustomed to combine their political assemblies with feasting. It is clear, too, that the word diaeta early became confused with Lat. dies, " day " (Ger. Tag), " especially a set day, a day appointed for public business; whence, by extension, meeting for business, an assembly " (Skeat). Instances of this confusion are given by Du Cange, e.g. diaeta for dieta, " a day's journey " (also an obsolete sense of " diet " in English), and dieta for " the ordinary course of the church," i.e. " the daily office," which suggests the original sense of diaeta as " a pre-scribed mode of life." The word " diet " is now used in English for the Reichstag; " imperial diet " of the old Holy Roman Empire; for the Bundestag," federal diet," of the former Germanic confederation; sometimes for the Reichstag of the modern German empire; for the Landtage, " territorial diets " of the constituent states of the German and Austrian empires; as well as for the former or existing federal or national assemblies of Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, &c. Although, however, the word is still sometimes used of all the above, the tendency is to confine it, so far as con-temporary assemblies are concerned, to those of subordinate importance. Thus " parliament " is often used of the German Reichstag or of the Russian Landtag, while the Landtag, e.g. of Styria, would always be rendered " diet." In what follows we confine ourselves to, the diet of the Holy Roman Empire and its relation to its successors in modern Germany. The origin of the diet, or deliberative assembly, of the Holy Roman Empire must be sought in the placitum of the Frankish empire. This represented the tribal assembly of the Franks, meeting (originally in March, but after 755 in May, whence it is called the Campus Maii) partly for a military review on the eve of the summer campaign, partly for deliberation on important matters of politics and justice. By the side of this larger assembly, however, which contained in theory, if not in practice, the whole body of Franks available for war, there had developed, even before Carolingian times, a smaller body composed of the magnates of the Empire, both lay and ecclesiastical. The germ of this smaller body is to be found in the episcopal synods, which, afforced by the attendance of lay magnates, came to be used by the king for the settlement of national affairs. Under the Carolingians it was usual to combine the assembly of magnates with the generalis conventus of the " field of May," and it was in this inner assembly, rather than in the general body (whose approval was merely formal, and confined to matters momentous enough to be referred to a general vote), that the centre of power really lay. It is from the assembly of magnates that the diet of medieval Germany springs. The general assembly became meaningless and unnecessary, as the feudal array gradually superseded the old levy en masse, in which each freeman had been liable to service; and after the close of the loth century it no longer existed. The imperial diet (Reichstag) of the middle ages might some-times contain representatives of Italy, the regnum Italicum; but it was practically always confined to the magnates of Germany, the regnum Teutonicum. Upon occasion a summons to the diet might be sent even to the knights, but the regular members were the princes ( Fiirsten), both lay and ecclesiastical. In the 13th century the seven electors began to disengage themselves from The emperor was represented by two commissarii; the electors, the prince as a separate element, and the Golden Bull (1356) princes and towns were similarly represented by their accredited made their separation complete; from. the 14th century onwards agents. Some legislation was occasionally done by this body; a the nobles (both counts and other lords) are regarded as regular conclusum imperii (so called in distinction from the old recessus imperii of the period before 1663) might slowly (very slowly—for the agents, imperfectly instructed, had constantly to refer matters back to their principals) be achieved; but it rested with the various princes to promulgate and enforce the conclusum in their territories, and they were sufficiently occupied in issuing and enforcing their own decrees. In practice the diet had nothing to do; and its members occupied themselves in " wrangling about chairs "—that is to say, in unending disputes about degrees and precedences. In the Germanic Confederation, which occupies the interval between the death of the Holy Roman Empire and the formation of the North German Confederation (1815–1866), a diet (Bundestag) existed, which was modelled on the old diet of the 18th century. It was a standing congress of envoys at Frankfort-on-Main. Austria presided in the diet, which, in the earlier years of its history, served, under the influence of Metternich, as an organ for the suppression of Liberal opinion. In the North German Confederation (1867–1870) a new departure was made, which has been followed in the constitution of the present German empire. Two bodies were instituted—a Bundesrat, which resembles the old diet in being a congress of envoys sent by the sovereigns of the different states of the confederation, and a Reichstag, which bears the name of the old diet, but differs entirely in composition. The new Reichstag is a popular representative assembly, based on wide suffrage and elected by ballot; and, above all, it is an assembly representing, not the several states, but the whole Empire, which is divided for this purpose into electoral districts. Both as a popular assembly, and as an assembly which represents the whole of a united Germany, the new Reichstag goes back, one may almost say, beyond the diet even of the middle ages, to the days of the old Teutonic folk-moot. See R. Schroder, Lehrbuch der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (1902), pP. 149, 508, 820, 880. Schroder gives a bibliography of monographs bearing on the history of the medieval diet. (E. BR.)
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FRIEDRICH ADOLF WILHELM DIESTERWEG (179o-1866)
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