From 1850 to 1860 he was attached to the editorial staff of the Schwäbische Merkur in Stuttgart, and in the latter year accepted a call to the chair of political economy at Tübingen. From 1862 to 1864 Schäffle was a member of the Württemberg diet, and in 1868 he received a mandate to the German Zollparlament. During this year he was appointed professor of political science at the University of Vienna, and in 1871 he entered the cabinet of Karl Sigmund, Graf von Hohenwart as minister of commerce for Austria.
But the government fell in the same year, and Schäffle withdrew to Stuttgart, where he took up his residence, devoting himself entirely to literary work. He died at Stuttgart.
Among his numerous writings must be mentioned:
From 1892 to 1901 Schäffle was the sole editor of the Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissenschaft.
See Biermann, Schäffle und der Agrarismus (Bonn, 1902) and his autobiography, Aus meinem Leben (Berlin, 1905).