Politics

Politics

Politics

Politics

Excerpt

No other historian or political publicist represented so significantly and so passionately the nineteenth-century transition in Germany from the liberalism of the pre-1848 period to the self-confident and aggressive nationalism of the Bismarckian era as Heinrich von Treitschke did. Though many of his fellow historians had reservations concerning his assertive and one-sided nationalism, as an indefatigable and brilliant writer and as an inspired lecturer he exercised a tremendous influence on the young academic generation who later as teachers and public officials helped spread Treitschke's ideas and evaluations.

Treitschke was born in 1834 in Dresden, the capital of the German kingdom of Saxony. As a youth he became a passionate devotee of the idea of the unification of all German states into a strong and powerful nation under Prussia's leadership. Germany, it is true, was then not, as Italy was, a purely geographic concept, but consisted of small and mostly dependent states, without any form of political and national unity. The German states formed a Confederation; two of these states, Austria and Prussia, were great powers and weighty in the councils of Europe. The Confederation itself was regarded as a guarantee for European peace. Situated in the center of Europe, Germany as a loose confederation was then strong enough to defend itself against any aggression but too decentralized to become a threat to its neighbors. German scholars, before the rise of German nationalism, had clearly understood the potential danger of a centralized and unified Germany. Johann Stephen Pütter, the leading constitutional jurist of the period, in 1786 warned "the peace-loving world against the pernicious hour of German unity" and ended his admonition by exclaiming: "Woe to the liberty of the [European] continent, when the hundreds of thousands of German bayonets should ever obey one ruler." As Treitschke himself wrote, most Germans at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century were distrustful of, and even hostile to, Prussia, which they regarded as . . .

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