The Divided Path: The German Influence on Social Reform in France after 1870

By Allan Mitchell | Go to book overview
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Conclusion
Republic and Reich, 1870-1914

To recount the interaction between two great nations necessarily requires a history that is long and complex. But in the end it may be useful to summarize as succinctly as possible the principal themes of such a broad subject, even at the risk of undue simplification. The synopsis that follows is an attempt to trace the main contours of the relationship between republican France and imperial Germany from 1870 to the First World War. Throughout that time the Kaiserreich exerted a powerful influence over the French nation. The significance of that phenomenon, essential to a full understanding of the Third Republic, is not to be grasped solely in terms of formal treaties, diplomatic contacts, and international affairs. The German factor became part of the internal composition of France, affecting in one fashion or another every major aspect of public life.

This is to suggest that the German influence was not of a single kind. Over the course of the half century in question, after allowances are made for the simultaneity and ambiguity of historical occurrence, one may observe three fairly distinctive phases of reform. Accordingly, this analysis can be clarified by dividing the notion of influence into three components--manipulation, competition, and imitation--and by applying them in turn to those successive phases. The utility of this procedure is enhanced by accounting thereby for various degrees of directness, starting with the most immediate and deliberate forms of influence and then moving down the scale to those that were indirect and often involuntary.

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