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The German Nationalism

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The popularity of the various forms of German Nationalism changed and developed greatly in the 100-year period. Similarly, there was much change in the classes in which they found support, and the demographics of Germany. Nationalism began as a cause mainly popular among the middle class and students. However, it had undergone many changes over the period; having been adapted into a mainstream reactionary concept by Bismarck, and was thus used by Kaiser Wilhelm II to lead Germany into war.

Nationalism and liberalism were most prevalent at the start of the period among the middle classes. Universities provided the perfect situation in which these new ideals could spread amongst the academics of Germany. In this respect, at the start of the period nationalism was only popular among a fairly small subsection of the middle class, students, and it did not have a wide political appeal. However, in terms of activism, the students were instrumental in publicising their cause, as exemplified at the Wartburg (1817) and Hambach (1832) festivals. Both attracted a heavily negative reaction from the upper class and elites. The Carlsbad decrees of 1819 following Wartburg have been seen as an incredibly overly extreme reaction to a relatively small occurrence. This shows the desire of Austria under Metternich to crush nationalism and liberalism. In this period although nationalism appealed greatly to a few, the overarching system of the ruling elites were incredibly opposed. Over the course of the period this would change almost completely.

The early student movements which demonstrate revolution from below, are in direct contrast to Bismarck’s command of nationalism in the 1860s shows how it was transformed from a minority cause to a revolution bestowed from above. However, it is true that nationalism had gained much momentum from the students of 1817 to Hambach, when 25,000 men met in Bavaria to drink and plan revolution. The resulting Six Articles caused a more profound rejection of Austria by nationalist elements of society because of examples of armed force used to quash the revolutionaries, and also that it reduced the Diet to little more than an Austrian tool. There was still not enough cohesion among those who supported nationalist revolution to carry out the 1848 revolutions successfully. Ultimately, the middle classes sought support from the workers and peasantry, but essentially had more in common with the Elites.

This lack of integrity meant that although nationalist aims were not realised in 1848, or indeed in the Vorparlament, the direction of Germany as a whole were changed. This new state did eventually take on a nationalist form, although at the hands of the upper class establishment. In this sense nationalist was adapted and manipulated into a popular movement, which grew out of the middle classes but developed far away from the original ideal by unification in 1871. The industrial expansion in the 1850s satisfied the middle classes’ financial needs, while expanding into prosperity more popular among the elites. By the outbreak of war in 1914 nationalism had been channelled into patriotism and pride, a result of its development under the rulers subsequent to Bismarck. However, in the war it was commandeered by the militaristic upper classes, and had grown far removed from its roots. Towards the end of the war, support of nationalism among the middle classes waned (despite war propaganda).

Although it can be argued that the elite ruling class could never control nationalism, their methods of manipulating the cause developed and improved over the period, ensuring their own longevity. In the Vormarz period there was an intense need for the upper classes to suppress and quash nationalism, as seen in Metternich’s reaction to the assassination of Kotzebue. Despite the fact that the 1848 revolutions failed, they did change the course of Germany towards a nationalist state. These ideals prevailed in the long term, however not in their original form.

The elite, realising that this power could not be simply crushed, appropriated the cause to meet the elite’s own objectives. In this respect, popularity of nationalism did improve among the upper classes after 1848, due greatly to the success of the industrialisation (helped by the Zollverein) but only because this political ideology had been tailored to their own desires. Prussian militarism determined the aggressive foreign policy in the events leading up to 1914, which further perpetuated the new patriotic slant of nationalism as promoted by the Kaiser as a result of Bismarck’s realpolitik. The abandonment of Germany by individuals from the elite classes such as Ludendorff and Hindenburg after defeat left civilian socialists such as Ebert to pick up the pieces. In this respect it is no wonder that nationalism flourished under the weak provisional ruling of the Weimar republic, they had never been led to believe Germany’s fallibility by the elites and the fact that they were not there to cede defeat left the German populace a feeling of injustice. Therefore, nationalism under the control of the upper classes actually was strengthened by defeat and humiliation at Versailles in 1919.

Urbanization caused another good opportunity for the spread of radical ideals such as nationalism. The migration of many workers to the city created a new urban society in which these ideas could circulate with ease. Not only did social groupings and close working conditions contribute to this spread, but the workers of Germany also had their own newspaper. Not only did this provide the perfect forum in which to criticise the government, it created a mixed state subsection of society; thus the workers became more bonded to their town than their home state, in some cases. Among the effects of this were changes in population density and the nature of administration. While this developed the careers of many as civil servants, it also encouraged a synthesis of people from different states governmentally. However, it is important to recognize that there was no such group before the industrialisation of the 1850s, but they were to become an incredibly powerful and influential social group.

There was very little representation of the lowers classes in the government. The Vorparlament had constituted of 80% degree holders, with only one peasant and 4 craftsmen. Industrialisation created a middle class who supported unification because of the potential commercial benefits it presented; the 1879 Tariff Law was passed placing taxes on imported iron, iron goods, luxury items and grain. The Frankenstein clause was a concession forced on Bismarck by the Centre Party and this gave some of the revenue to the states, rather than giving it all to the central government. Combined with the development of the railway , which “bound Germany together in a forceful and powerful body” according to Friedrich List. In this manner, Germans sought to modernize every aspect of society. The Zollverein was a customs union put in place to abolish inter-state trade tariffs. Easier and better trade between different territories provided new markets for the products of German industry, such as Krupp steel.

In 1834 the Deutscher Zollverein was created, comprising of 18 states and 23 million people. In 1851 even the reluctant Hanover and Oldenburg were forced to join. This movement of goods and services, added to the migration of urban workers, contributed to a feeling of unity. The Union encouraged production. However, the Zollverein has been widely overestimated when described as one of the major causes of the popularity of nationalism. Railways were a very important part of German industrialisation. The first railway, the Prinz-Wilhelm-Eisenbahn, was opened on 20th September 1831. By 1871 much of the infrastructure was in place but it was in 1876 that the system reached its highest peak of investment. Although shipping remained very important, the railways took over as the leading form of industrial transportation; in 1903 4.1million tonnes were registered at German ports and they were important for importing and exporting goods. The railways helped to open up the coal industry in the Ruhr, and brought goods to the market place. The benefits of the railways transcended economics, and spread into social and political grounds.

To conclude, nationalism was a cause that affected many different social groups and classes in different ways at different times. It was transformed throughout the period from a revolutionary ideology from below, to a policy that was appropriated by the mainstream political groups into conservatism. Thus it did enjoy more popularity around the end of the 19th century, but this is, debateably, as a result of the fact that it was forced onto the people by the ruling classes. Nationalism endured the defeat of WW1 due to the Stab in the Back Theory, and prevailed as a popular cause even in 1919, although not in its original form.

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