Germany and the Causes of the First World War

By Mark Hewitson | Go to book overview
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The Economics of War:
Industrialists, Financiers and

Fritz Fischer devoted about a third of War of Illusions, his main work on the causes of the First World War, to an examination of the relationship between economic interest groups and policy-makers. Although eschewing a Marxist interpretation of the conflict, the Hamburg and Bielefeld schools have subsequently tended to place economics, together with its social and political ramifications, close to the centre of their explanation of the outbreak of war. Foreign policy was largely determined, the general argument runs, by an explosive mixture of rapid industrial growth, resultant social and economic transformations, authoritarian traditions, late unification from above', a malfunctioning system of government, and the continuing political power and social status of the nobility, all of which supposedly underpinned the primacy of domestic policy (Primat der Innenpolitik). The role of industrialists and landowners is held to have been of critical importance, shoring up the conservative or reactionary policies of the government. Accordingly, Fischer begins War of Illusions, in a section investigating the foundations of Wilhelmine Germany, with chapters on the transition 'From the Agrarian to the Industrial State' and on 'The Supremacy of the Junkers and Industry'.

Fischer's case, and that of followers such as Hans-Jürgen Puhle and Dirk Stegmann, turns on the decision of ruling, industrial and agrarian elites to create a defensive domestic alliance (Sammlung) against 'the socialist threat'.1 'The development of a policy designed to rally big business and large-scale agriculture behind it', writes Hans-Ulrich Wehler, 'was to form the basis of government policy right up until 1918.'2 The most significant component of the policy was arguably the manipulation of foreign affairs in order to rally working


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