German nationalism change between 1815 and 1919

It was in the years after the war scare on the Rhine crisis, that Metternich’s repressive policies were beginning to be reversed and a re-emergence of German nationalism was to slowly occur. However this re-emergence was evidently different from its more romantic forms during the early 19 century. With the success of the Zollverein in the late 1830, the German states were becoming brought closer together than they had ever been before. Although the monarchy’s of the states were not looking for unification, and purely consented to economic unions for financial gains, Germany was nevertheless becoming more ‘unified’ in certain respects.

During the 1840s the established movement for nationals unity grew within the German Confederation. Society reflected, through its journalism, songs, poems, art and ‘national’ societies, a growing sense of national unity that could provide the ideological cement to bind the various pressure to reform together; there was a growing feeling that the German nation was actually a reality and should therefore have an opportunity to realise its unity.

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However, after what initially seemed like a success for the national liberal, during the 1848 revolutions, debate seemed to take precedence over action: the revolutionary national liberals were no able to realise the potential of this turning point. Therefore in the years leading up the 1848 revolutions much change did occur. Nationalism grew, it reached a peak, but then did not act, therefore lost credibility in the immediate aftermath of the revolution. The forces of conservatism were again able to assert their superiority and it arguable that much had not changed.

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Nationalism was still weak.

However nationalism adapted to its failures and again evolved, with the changing times. Y the mid 1850s the aims of German nationalism were to indeed unite Germany, however these were still the aims of the radical German nationalists. Bismarck’s ‘blood and iron’ speech, emphasised a realisation for the nationalists that unification could not be achieved by debate. Sir Lewis Namier described 1848 as “a revolt of the intellectuals”. Bismarck crude and realistic approach to politics emphasised, for the nationalists that unification would not be achieved by mere discussion, and without a strong military backing.

Although, Bismarck was certainly not a nationalist or liberalist, his unscrupulous political work ethic, meant that he would not refrain from exploiting nationalism for Prussia ultimate greatness. Although nationalism was essentially opposed to Prussian conservatism, by 1871, Bismarck was the hero of the nationalists. He was initially opposed by the national liberals (the largest party at the time) in the Prussian Landtag over the Army reform bill, but having overcome them, Bismarck was free to pursue his policy of making Prussia great.

An inadvertent result of this was beneficiary to the nationalists. By successively out manoeuvring Austria over the second Holstein- Schleswig crisis Bismarck had firmly placed Prussia in total dominance. Prussia was superior to Austria economically, politically and militaristically. Winning the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, took only six weeks for Bismarck’s Germany. Essentially the point being that, the nationalist were ever increasingly willing to support as while he aimed to assert Prussian dominance, the path to German unification also seemed ever likely.

Bismarck easily exploited the nationalistic fever against the French during the Franco-Prussian war and was able to unite Germany. Elements of continuity were evident in the speeches made by Bismarck to exploit the nationalistic feelings; the language of nationalism was frequently used and recent research has even suggested that terms such as ‘blood and iron’ were in fact used by the romantic poets of the earlier nationalistic movements. The aims of nationalism in the years leading up to 1871 was for Germany to unify.

However, for some nationalist a kleindeutchland solution was not sufficient as it did not accommodate all German speakers. This again shows an element of continuity as this was similar to what the early romantic German nationalist also wanted, and furthermore it was among Hitler’s aims in the months leading up to World War II. Both Bismarck and Time helped cement the new born nation’s national identity, and by Wilhelm II reign as monarch, nationalism had again adapted to changing times, but was still nevertheless an opposing force to the established government.

After 1890, the ideas of nationalism became more expansionist suggesting that the military was also taking a more dominating role in society. With the growth of industrialisation and economic stability, the “chauvinistic” Wilhelmine German state was able to increase its military and naval strengths while consequently also allowed to pursue a more aggressive and expansionist foreign policy.

These two elements: desire for expansionism ,and an increasingly militarised society, sewed the seeds for the aggressive nationalism which was to grow in strength during the early 20 century. Radical organisations such as the Pan-German league, the Navy league and the Agrarian league represented the new ideals of German nationalism. Eric Hobsburn emphasised that “the basic characteristics of modern nationalism and everything associated with it are its modernity”.

The developing ideas of German nationalism were certainly immensely influenced by the modern factors of its time. For example, the evolution theory or the fact that all the great powers were concerned with colonial were external factors which helped mould the ideas and aims of these radical German nationalist movements. It should again be accentuated that these movements, although were no longer deemed as threats to the state, did still push considerably strongly for the government to pursue far right wing policies.

In the years of the war, German nationalism endured certain changes, however it should be said that during war time the nationalist’s ideals would have been to entirely support the war effort. . Initially nationalistic feeling was widespread during the start of the war, however with the rapid deterioration of Germany’s domestic situation during the second half of the war as well as with the emergence of a German ‘military state’ nationalism could be said that it was submerged with the military and was also felt in the heart’s of the German people.

However with the loss of the war nationalism again evolved into its next mutation: a national socialist movement. This was mainly due to the harshness of the treaty of Versailles, which denied the principle of self determinism to the Germans, much to the resentment of the German nationals. So in conclusion, the aims and ideas of German nationalism in the period 1815 to 11919, endured certain significant developments whilst also retaining particular essential features.

However the conclusion must be that almost by nature ‘modern nationalism’ is subject to change, and so the same rules applied to German nationalism. It adapted with the fast changing times, gradually and naturally increasing in influence at certain key points during the period. For example, the peaks German nationalism reached during the times when German security was threatened by the French exemplifies the extent to which the aims and ideas of German nationalism were subject to change, but that also it was certain forces that usually caused these changes.

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German nationalism change between 1815 and 1919. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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