The Course of German History: A Survey of the Development of German History since 1815

By A. J. P. Taylor | Go to book overview

8

THE GERMANY OF WILLIAM II: THE CONQUEST OF PRUSSIA BY GERMANY, 1890-1906

Bismarck had been a Napoleon in the German political structure. In true Bonapartist fashion he played off against each other conflicting social forces and maintained himself above them at the point of rest. He could not be overthrown either by the Prussian parliament or by the Reichstag, by the militarists or by the liberals, still less by the discontent of the industrial workers. His impregnable position had a single weak spot: he must be regarded by the Emperor as indispensable. In 1890 this weak spot brought him down. The old Emperor, William I, remained unshakeably faithful until his death in 1888: often dizzy at Bismarck's manœuvres and reluctant to accept Bismarck's expedients, he lived always in the memory of the liberal menace which had sent him into exile in 1848 and almost driven him to abdication in 1862, and clung to Bismarck as the saviour of the Prussian monarchy. Frederick, his son and successor, was bound to Bismarck by the memory of the achievements of 1870. Liberal in phrases, he was at best 'national liberal', prototype of all the worthy Germans for whom unification cloaked a multitude of sins; and if he had lived, the Bismarckian system, with a slightly more liberal colouring, might have run on a little

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