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Modern Germany. Lecture 3: Politics, Culture, and Society in Bismarckian Germany (1871-1890). Burschenshaften and the Wartburg Festival (1817). “Let me impress upon the attention of the House the character of this war between France and Germany. It is no common war…. This war

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modern germany

Modern Germany

Lecture 3: Politics, Culture, and Society in Bismarckian Germany (1871-1890)


“Let me impress upon the attention of the

House the character of this war between France

and Germany. It is no common war…. This war

represents the German revolution, a greater

political event than the French revolution…. You

have a new world, new influences at work, new and

unknown objects and dangers with which to cope….

The balance of power has been entirely destroyed.”

- Benjamin Disraeli, 1871


“The Germans are bored with the spirit now, the

Germans mistrust the spirit now, politics swallows

up all seriousness about really spiritual things –

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles: I’m afraid that

was the end of German philosophy… ‘Are there

German philosophers? Are there German poets?

Are there any good German books?’ I’m asked

when I go abroad. I blush, but with bravery that’s

typical of me even in hopeless cases, I answer: ‘Yes,

Bismarck!’ – Could I even admit what books are

read today?... Damned instinct of mediocrity!”

- Friedrich Nietzsche, 1888

bismarck and political realism
Bismarck and Political Realism

Ludwig II of Bavaria, his castles (1871), and Bismarck’s 1866 “Reptile Fund”

an age of political realism realpolitik
An age of Political Realism (Realpolitik)
  • Cultural and political movement by 1850
  • Realpolitik and 1848 revolutions
  • A “new toughness of mind”
  • Positivism (Auguste Comte, 1798-1857)
  • Charles Darwin (1809-1882), Origin of the Species (1859), and Social Darwinism
  • Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Marxism
  • Literary and artistic realism
bismarck and foreign policy
Bismarck and Foreign Policy
  • Key objectives
  • “Primacy of Foreign Policy” (Primat der Aussenpolitik)
  • France and the “Clash of Civilizations” (Kulturkampf)
  • The Three Emperors’ League (1873) and conservatism
  • The Great Depression (1873-1896) and protective tarriffs (1879)
limits to bismarck s foreign policy
Limits to Bismarck’s Foreign Policy
  • “War in Sight” Crisis (1875)
  • Balkan wars and the Congress of Berlin (1878)
  • Dual Alliance (1879) and Triple Alliance (1882)
  • Reinsurance Treaty with Russia (1887)
main weaknesses of bismarck s foreign policy
Main Weaknesses of Bismarck’s Foreign Policy
  • His system was locking people into place
  • It took (too) much energy and tact keeping the Austrians (Austria-Hungary) and Russians in place
  • Domestic pressures affecting foreign policy (German Colonial Society 1882, Congress of Berlin 1885)
german empire reich 1871
German Empire (Reich) 1871

German Emperor – King of Prussia


Federal Council (Bundesrat)

Imperial Assembly (Reichstag)




War Ministry

Administrative Secretaries







Army Commands

german military
German Military
  • Albrecht von Roon (Minister of War until 1873)
  • Hulmuth von Moltke (on General Staff 1857-88)
  • Bismarck versus von Moltke (1870s-1880s)
  • Military largely under nobility’s influence
german government
German government
  • A federal state (kingdoms within empire) – Württemburg, Bavaria, Saxony, Prussia
  • Imperial (Reich) administrators
  • Federal Council (Bundesrat)
  • Imperial Assembly (Reichstag)
  • “Parliament without a government”
  • Bismarck at the center of it
  • Yet not so harmonious (Kulturkampf, Anti-Socialist Laws)
german political parties
German Political Parties




(later German










bismarck versus the reichstag
Bismarck versus the Reichstag
  • Bismarck and the “Clash of Civilizations” (Kulturkampf) (1871-78)
  • Bismarck and the Liberals (tariffs, 1879)
  • Bismarck and the Anti-Socialist Laws (1878-79)
  • Bismarck and Social Legislation
socioeconomic change under bismarck
Socioeconomic change under Bismarck
  • Second Industrial Revolution (1860s-1950s)
  • Population growth and urbanization
  • Occupation shifts
  • Germany becoming economic giant (coal, steel, chemicals, electricity, banks, merchant marine)
bugs bunny and wagner
Bugs Bunny and Wagner:
historical monuments
Historical Monuments
  • Victory Column (1875)
  • Hermannsdenkmal (1875) (Teutoburger Forest, Hermann (Arminius), Varus)
  • Bismarck monuments
  • Public donations
  • Creating sense of continuity amid rapid change
an age of aggressive nationalism
An Age of Aggressive Nationalism
  • Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
  • Wagner and anti-Semitism
  • Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-1896) and German smugness
nietzsche and cultural pessimism
Nietzsche and Cultural Pessimism
  • Responding to a world become too rational and materialistic
  • Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair
  • Are against liberalism
  • Are against industrialized civilization
  • Saw the Germans at a European plateau (Zivilisation versus Kultur)
  • Opposed anything materialistic, representing mechanical reality
  • Urban society alien to the spirit of the German people
  • (Nearly all of them) anti-Semitic
examples of cultural pessimists
Examples of Cultural Pessimists
  • Paul (Bötticher) de Lagarde (1827-1891)
  • Julius Langbehn (1851-1907)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)