Bismarck as Minister President and German Nationalism

Bismarck’s appointment as Minister President of Prussia” was the most important turning point in the course of German Nationalism. How far do you agree

Indeed, Bismarck had a significant influence over the change of Nationalism since many of his polices (state socialism) espoused Nationalist aims of a greater Germany. It was mainly due to the diplomatic preparations co-ordinated by him that paved the way for Prussian dominance in Germany by 1886. Before this, despite the fact that Germany was politically divided, there was a growing sense of nationalism; a German identity with nationalistic ideas dispersing through study groups with philosophers like Herder and Hegel coupled with Liberal study groups, which altogether, stimulated the growth of Nationalism.

Nevertheless, it could be seen that without the assistance of Bismarck, Nationalism would probably not have been prevalent as it was, (or even radical), certainly not before 1834.

Evidence of Nationalism (early 19th century):

  • 1815 German Confederation
  • Burschenschaften societies and growing ‘gymnasium’ movement stimulate national spirit
  • 1817 Wartburg Festival
  • 1819 Carlsbad Decrees (repressive measure)
  • 1832 Hambach Festival – 6 articles yet another repressive measure
  • 1834 Zollverein and influence of Industrialisation- trade and railways linking culture and ideas closer together.

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    But a device employed to increase Prussian dominance rather than uniting nationalist hopes.

  • 1846 Schleswig and Holstein- strength of Nationalist feelings forced the Danish king to abandon his plans.
  • 1848 revolutions- the failure of it was a serious blow to German nationalism, yet the idea of a unified state persisted amongst the liberal-nationalists- evident in the 1859 establishment of the National Association.

Despite growing support, Nationalists achieved very little by 1848.

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Many steps taken before 1848 could been seen to hinder Nationalist movement. As long as Metternich remained in power and Prussia remained Austria’s ally, there was little chance of changing the situation, unquestionably limiting the movement of nationalism. German nationalism was a mass phenomenon, yet tended to be reactive, erupting in response to perceived threats -especially from France, but then subsiding again. Moreover, loyalty to individual states and dynasties still remained strong, in comparison to support for German nationalism

1862- the appointment of Bismarck was a defining moment of German unification and German Nationalism. Having previously regarded them as the ‘nationality swindle’ he soon realised that the German national movement could be manipulated in the interests of enhancing Prussian power.

Having used nationalism as a force of masking his desire for Prussia to dominate Germany- realizing the potential stored in the nationalism movement, he harnessed national sentiment, which had eventually won him support for his own cause, as well as the emergence of Prussia as the dominant state. What had triumphed, however, was not German nationalism, let alone liberalism, but the Prussian military monarchy and with it Bismarck himself.

Wars of Unification 1871 built up German Nationalism. With the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck was able to ignite Nationalist fervor by promising the annexation of Lorraine and Alsace. Having used them to create a Prussian dominated German state by harnessing their support for his wars, and fulfilling the aims of German Nationalists, Bismarck later ignored and caused frustration amongst Nationalists who wanted to follow expansionist oversea policies. He wanted to maintain the status quo in Europe, whereas Nationalists wanted to see Germany as a great power to rival other countries in Europe. The clash in objectives led to Bismarck’s downfall by the Kaiser who displayed Nationalistic appeal. It was the Kaiser’s policy of Weltpolitik with its implications of colonialism, which found favor with the Nationalists, unquestionably further rousing German Nationalism to the extent that by the 1900s, it became a mass, even radical movement that was breaking through the barriers of defined political policy.

Political forces within the Wihelmine Germany such as the elites who were self-interest groups, paved the way for Nationalism, influencing government policy. Both the Pan- German and Navy Leagues helped bolster Nationalist sentiments, creating a public atmosphere of unity. Nationalism became a huge secular religion. It could be seen that the accession of Bismarck facilitated the growth and ascendancy of Nationalism. A range of fortunate circumstances after, also powered German Nationalism.

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Bismarck as Minister President and German Nationalism. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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