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Bismarck’s appointment of Minister President of Prussia (1862) was the most important turning point in the course of German nationalism in the period 1815-1919?
By 1919 Germany had been united, and the nature of nationalism had changed from a freedom seeking, democratic force into one which demanded popular subservience to the state. German nationalism had clearly changed radically over the period of more than one hundred years and defining the turning point at which it changed is difficult due to the sheer number of factors that impacted upon it as well as the vast number of events and organisations which interfered with its development.
Otto von Bismarck would become viewed in later years as the father of German nationalism. When he came to power 1862 the Kaiser was looking for a man who could oppose the liberals and force through a favourable army bill. However, within just nine years Germany would have become united, not without the help, though not always willing, from Bismarck. Bismarck effected the unification of Germany almost single-handedly. However, many of the opportunities which Bismarck actually attempted to manipulate were neither created by him nor very successful. Bismarck did not always manage nationalism as effectively as it is suggested. The Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71 forced to unite with the southern states in Germany when in reality it would have been unlikely that he desired this.
Prussia was still attempting to absorb the north German states and to add the southern states, especially with their un-Prussian culture, risked diluting Prussia’s culture too far. It is clear that in 1890 Bismarck was managed by nationalism because he was forced to resign due to the outpouring of nationalist feeling that resented him attempting to hold Germany in check. He represented the old Germany, a Prussian dominated one and in an effort to find a “German” chancellor he was removed from office.
Even the Dual Alliance in 1879 demonstrated how German nationalism forced him to take actions against his will. With his Prussian upbringing his loyalties more likely lay with Russian rather than Austria and the decline of Austria was increasingly clear for all too see, to join the young, powerful Germany with this crumbling empire would do nothing to help the country yet nationalistic feeling in Germany forced the Alliance. Bismarck’s appointment in 1882 was an important moment in German nationalism but the theory that one man had such an impact upon the fate of a nation does not stand so well in light of deeper scrutiny.
The Congress of Vienna held in 1815 helped create an environment which would help the growth of German nationalism. Prussia’s gains in the west of Germany were actually intended by the Allies to be a burden. They had given the smallest of the Great Powers the most difficult job as acting as a barricade against France. However, this would backfire on the Allies when it would later become Germany’s massive industrial growth. It also affected the nature of Prussia, whereas she had previously been a predominantly Eastern European power she now had a pan-German outlook, though it appeared to begin with that she had little in common with her western population.
The distance between the two main blocks of land meant that transporting goods between the two would prove difficult and this would spur the creation and development of the Prussian Customs Union in 1818 which would later become the Zollverein in 1834. However, when at the Congress of Vienna the Allies faced the question of “what is Germany” they fell back on historical precedent, the Holy Roman Empire. This can be seen as a retrospective step because it actually excluded areas of both Austria and Prussia, as well as making many of the smaller states much larger. The Congress of Vienna was not a turning point in German nationalism, but without it the nature of Germany could have been very different from that with which we are familiar if it existed at all.
The creation of the Zollverein in 1834 was a critical turning point for German nationalism, formed from the Prussian Customs Union in 1818. Thomas Nipperdy described the creation of the Zollverein as “the outstanding event in all-German history”. Given the basis as a pan-German union it improved the contacts between all of the German states, encouraging them to work together for mutual benefit and broke down barriers between the regions of Germany both officially and culturally. It is often the case that economic unity leads to political as appears to be the case with the EU, formerly the European Economic Community (EEC) and the push for a European constitution. However, German political unity was far from inevitable, many Germans now saw political unity as obsolete because they achieved all the benefits of such a union without the risk of losing any of their own unique regional culture.
The Zollverein was also critical in training a new cadre of diplomats for Prussia and teaching them to administer a “German” organisation, experience which would be invaluable in the post-unification era. Bismarck once declared in a speech to the North German Reichstag in 1869 that “He who has his thumb on the purse has the power” and by taking the economic leadership of the German states Prussia rose importantly and a Kleindeutsch solution to the German problem became much more feasible. It also struck a double blow in this respect. It not only made a Prussian-led Germany more likely but it made an Austrian-led Germany less likely. Because of her exclusion from the customs union the Austrian economy suffered and her already fragile market became on step closer to failing and this would be one of the major reasons for her defeat to Prussia.
The use of the economy mirrored the nature of German nationalism; initially it was a liberal move, the reduction of trade barriers embodied by the introduction of the Zollverein. However, by the time unification was achieved economic policy turned its back on liberalism and the economic protectionism Bismarck employed against Russia helped show how far nationalism had changed. The Zollverein would form the template upon which the German Empire would eventually be founded, a kleindeutsch dominated by Prussia.
Some historians even go so far to view the whole of the unification of Germany as purely an economic transaction, that it was not driven by political ideology but by the cold logic of money and economic expansionism. The Zollverein did represent an important twist in the history of German nationalism but it did not utterly change the face of the ideology but simply made the prospect more likely. In addition to this, the success of the Zollverein would provide the necessary environment for the rapid expansion of industry within German and this would have a critical impact upon nationalism.
1848 can very easily be viewed as the critical turning point in the history of German nationalism. It is often seen as a turning point about which history failed to turn, and it is this very failure which makes it such an important date in the history of German nationalism. 1848 presented revolutionary factions within Germany, and other countries throughout Europe, with a window of opportunity. In Paris the Second Republic is established in a welter of violence; in Sicily the Palermo Uprising takes place; in Hungary revolution boils over; Swedish revolutionaries are gunned down by their government and in Ireland the potato famine sparks the Tipperary Revolt. To the established order it appeared that stability was breaking down and anarchy threatened them. It was in this climate of exceptional change that the German revolutionary effort failed.
The dithering incompetence of the middle classes, coupled with their glaring impotence discredited liberal politics and any idea of a revolution from below. This would prove potentially dangerous for the development of German nationalism. Divorced from its liberal and democratic roots it became a force of the right and of the paternalist government. This resulted in the desire for individual freedoms being sacrificed for the will of state. The government was paranoid about the dangers of the socialist movement within Germany, but they actually shared many common ideals, most markedly the concept of the priority of the state over the individual. It became obvious that power and change could not be achieved without the power of an army to back themselves; Bismarck summarised this problem in his most famous speech “the great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and majority decisions – that was the error of 1848 – but by iron and blood”.
Given our knowledge of how German nationalism developed into a violent, racist, militaristic force it is clear to see that 1848 was a seminal moment in its development, the pre-1848 liberal, French-styled nationalism became a force of the militant right. 1848 also represented a turning point for German nationalism in a European context. It appeared that countries were naturally progressing from being authoritarian monarchies to becoming nationalistic, liberal democracies. Germany’s refusal to follow this trend fundamentally altered the nature of German nationalism. This turning point about which history failed to turn left something rotten at the core of German nationalism. The change from idealism to brutal pragmatism, combined with the machinations of Bismarck and the authoritarian government meant that the German people’s cause was subverted and used as a weapon against those European powers who had abused Germany for such a long time.
On the 18th of January 1871 the German Empire was proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. This can easily be seen as a turning point in German nationalism, it finally created what the nationalists had been striving for over the past half century. Though it is true that the majority of what then became Germany existed in the North German Confederation created 4 years earlier after Prussia’s victory over Austria it represented a subtle but important shift in the history of German nationalism and the process of reaching the announcement played a very important role in defining the new Germany. Even the date upon which the Empire was announced held special significance, 270 years earlier the first Elector of Brandenburg was crowned King in Prussia. This clearly symbolically established Prussian hegemony over the newly created German Reich. Even the fact that the proclamation was made at Versailles was more significant than simple a quick expediency.
Were the proclamation were to be made in Berlin, the capital of the new Empire, it would have most likely been made in Parliament. For Bismarck this would have been intolerable, in his eyes it was the army and their feudal, warlord leaders who had united the new empire rather than the romantic liberals and their “speeches and majority votes”. The Reich was declared in the home of imperial power, Versailles was the benchmark against which all other symbols of imperial might were measured and it clearly showed how the ruling elite of the new Germany planned to rule the country. It would be easy to say that it was a simple political humiliation for the French to have their enemies declare their new country in the French capital but to do this would ignore the deeper significance of both the time and place it was made.
Nationalism within Germany underwent many changes over the period from 1815 to 1919. It suffered from a gradual change from its ideals over the time and it is difficult to differentiate between the impacts that the different potential turning points had on German nationalism. However, the most seminal moment in the history Germany nationalism was when it shifted indelibly from the idealists’ views to the pragmatic views of the industrialists within the country. 1866 can be seen as the turning point in the unification of Germany rather than a turning point in the nature of German nationalism. The failure of democracy in 1848 at a time when many other revolutions had succeeded left many Germans with the view that it would only be through violence and warfare “blood and iron” that their dreams would ever be realised.