The New Reich
"Now that we have achieved the most cherished dream of our lives, what is there left to live for?" Heinrich von Sybel exclaimed after the unification.1 Most of his contemporaries, liberals and nationalists alike, expressed similar sentiments. Those who had doubted after the Revolution of 1848 that their country would ever be unified now rejoiced. It had all come true, because of the genius of Bismarck, and praise of his accomplishments echoed across the land. The future looked brilliant, and the first years after unification fulfilled the highest expectations. Then, suddenly, a severe economic and financial crisis led to bitter disillusionment. In the midst of this crisis, Bismarck began his fight with the Catholic church -- the Kulturkampf -- and then, in the late 1870s, his anti-Socialist crusade. These two domestic struggles caused widespread dissatisfaction among Catholics and workers who, through their political parties -- the Center party and the Social Democratic party -- formed the core of the government's opposition. These dissidents were joined by the French from Alsace-Lorraine, the Guelphs from Hanover, the Danes from Schleswig-Holstein, and the Poles from East and West Prussia. Taken together they made a formidable group whose diversity and size are an index of Bismarck's failure in domestic affairs.
It seems ironic that a man who was able, despite three wars, to convince the European powers of his peaceful intentions was unable to achieve a similar success at home. Bismarck apparently never fully understood the forces that transformed central Europe from an agrarian to an industrial economy and from a rural to an urban society, nor did he appreciate the consequences of these changes for German political life. His aim was to preserve the monarchy and the established social order, based on the nobility, the bureaucracy, and the army. While he was willing to make concessions in economic matters, he refused to do so in political affairs. With foreign wars no longer a neces