Germany in the Twentieth Century: A Political and Cultural History of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich

Germany in the Twentieth Century: A Political and Cultural History of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich

Germany in the Twentieth Century: A Political and Cultural History of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich

Germany in the Twentieth Century: A Political and Cultural History of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich

Excerpt

On March 20, 1890, when Count Herbert von Bismarck learned that his father, the Chancellor of the German Reich, had been dismissed, he foretold the impending break-up of the Régime. The defeat of 1918 was to justify his prophecy. It revealed the vulnerability of a nation which was destitute of a great political conception, and which, since its origins, had been dominated solely by anxiety concerning constant threats to its internal cohesion. This was why it could not respond to the demands of an imperialism that was boundless in its ambitions.

When World War I broke out the Bismarckian Empire had been in existence only a century. Its history had been written between 1815 and 1914, and had run its course in three phases--the Germanic Confederation, twenty years of Bismarck's iron discipline, and the reign of the Kaiser, William II.

The Italian historian Ferrero invented the term 'demo-monarchy' to define the system typified by the new Germany. It is hardly an elegant term, but it is nevertheless exact. There was no question of democracy in the Western sense. Some Germans compare the system with a Republic of Planned Labour in which elementary liberties and collective restraints balanced each other. However, because of Prussian hegemony the new Empire was governed by the old methods of territorial absolutism. Its Parliaments were no more than 'State colleges' stripped of effective power and of all control over foreign policy. Everything was carried out 'at the top.' Indeed, Bismarck's Lesser Germany could not be anything but an authoritarian State.

At home the Chancellor had not been able to save Germany from economic instability, social crisis, and the latent deterioration of her political structure. In foreign affairs, which he always treated as his exclusive province, he had devoted himself to the building of the Triple Alliance and to its consolidation. During this period Germany entrusted her destinies to this one man alone. Yet the Chancellor possessed too many social prejudices and too great an appetite for power to make the ideal diplomat. Moreover, his method was wholly Machiavellian, and based upon the approval of a large section of the ruling class, so that it was hardly of the kind fitted for the construction of an enduring work. While the world changed under his very eyes, Bismarck . . .

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