Bismarck’s Germany 1871-1890

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‘The Proclamation of the German Reich’, by Anton Werner, 1877
(click to enlarge)

Left, on the podium (in black): Crown Prince Frederick (later Frederick III), his father Emperor Wilhelm I, and Frederick I of Baden, proposing a toast to the new emperor. Centre (in white): Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Prussian Chief of Staff
Left, on the podium (in black): Crown Prince Frederick (later Frederick III), his father Emperor Wilhelm I, and Frederick I of Baden, proposing a toast to the new emperor.
Centre (in white): Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Prussian Chief of Staff

The Constitution of the Empire

Domestic Politics 1871-1890

The Liberal Era 1871-8 and the Conservative Era 1879-90

A key part of writing analytical essays is answering analytical questions. So analyse the question – what, for example, does ‘liberal’ mean? What does the word ‘success’ mean in terms of domestic policy?

Classical liberalism – ‘negative freedoms’

  • Freedom from state interference
  • Free Trade
  • Political choice
  • Free elections
  • Free speech
  • Individual rights

Learning troublespot Be careful not to confuse German Liberalism of the 19th century with modern liberalism. German liberalism of this period is much closer to what is usually called ‘Classical Liberalism’. Both forms of liberalism are rooted in the concern for the freedom and flourishing of the individual. Where modern liberalism looks for government to intervene in order to promote individual freedom, classical liberalism is fundamentally opposed to government intervention of any kind. It is focused on ‘negative freedoms’ which are how humans can flourish if state intervention was kept to a minimum. It takes the view that the individual has everything it needs to flourish, and so the absence of restraint will allow a free competition in which the hard working and the talented will rise to the top from a position of equal opportunity. In this view, state intervention is always bad – even if the intentions are good. In this kind of liberalism the state is small – it has been reduced to the role of a ‘night watchman’, playing as small a role in our lives as is compatible with law and order and the free functioning of the economy. This is the kind of liberalism that we need to think about when dealing with German liberalism of the mid to late 19th century. Modern Liberalism, on the other hand, sees equality of opportunity as impossible to achieve without some forms of ‘positive’ state intervention to improve some individuals’ social and economic situations. Therefore the role of the government is to promote ‘positive freedoms’. This might take the form of welfare, for example, or free education and healthcare. That is the sort of liberalism that came in with the British Liberal Party’s landslide election victory of 1906. This is a very different animal from the liberalism of Bismarck’s Germany and we must be careful not to confuse the two even if they are both rooted in the ideal of individual liberty.

Conservatism

  • Tradition
  • Hierarchy
  • Paternalism
  • Monarchy
  • Religion
  • Bloodline
  • Land/inheritance

To determine how successful Bismarck’s policies were we need to understand what he was trying to achieve.

The obvious answer is that Bismarck was trying to consolidate the Reich. Many of Bismarck’s policies appear at first sight to go against the project of unification: Kulturkampf, Anti-Socialist Law, Germanisation. Such policies appear more divisive than uniting. But the consolidation that Bismarck was engaged in was about protecting the establishment – the monarchy, the State and his own position (perhaps most of all). All of his policies were designed to protect/consolidate a particular version of Germany that suited established interests.

Bismarck’s Foreign Policy after 1871

400px-Berliner_kongress
Anton von Werner, The Congress of Berlin, 1878.  Bismarck is shown shaking hands with Count Shuvalov, with Andrassy to the left.  Disraeli is shown to the right next to the seated figure.

Bismarck’s goals in foreign policy can be summed up briefly as:

  • Consolidation
  • The isolation of France
  • Preventing War with and between Russia and Austria
  • Serving the interests of the Reich.

A key part of writing analytical essays is answering analytical questions. So analyse the question – what, for example, does ‘successful foreign policy’ mean in the context of Bismarck’s Germany?

  • Did Bismarck achieve his goals?
  • Had he consolidated Germany?
  • Did he make it a country that others had need of?
  • Had he raised its prestige?
  • Was it regarded as a satiated power that could be trusted?
  • Had he isolated France? Did he push conflict ‘out to the periphery’?
  • Did he prevent war between Russia and Austria?
  • Did he serve the interests of the Reich or put his own interests first?

Readings:

Historical interpretations of Bismarck

Read:

Listen to:

Radio 4’s In Our Time:

On the 1884 Berlin Congress and the scramble for Africa:
In Our Time, ‘The Berlin Conference of 1884’

American documentary/hilariously cheap production/false beards

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