The new nation state of Germany

The success of the new nation state was limited, mainly in economic terms, which was still in need of development to maintain its power and prestige in order to tackle political opposition from within the country. Such an ambition to eradicate any hostility harbouring internally would demand the establishment of an effective constitution, which would curb the growing threat of both the Kulterkampf and Socialism. In addition to this, many influential members had growing aspirations for an aggressive foreign policy, which would safeguard the country. However, such a desire could prove too much of a challenge for Bismarck.

The new nation state of Germany was successful in establishing a constitution, which not only provided a democratic system of government, but also guaranteed the freedom of individual states. The federal government was made up of 25 states of which Prussia could appoint up to 17 members. The capital city of the new Germany was Berlin. The Emperor was the Kaiser who was in charge of not only the armed forces, but also of designating a chancellor to whom held a lot of responsibilities. He attained executive power and initiated legislation. Bismarck had succeeded where Liberals had failed as he assembled the Reichstag, which was elected by universal suffrage, but in reality, its 382 members had no control over the chancellor and most power lay with the Emperor. Its deputies never became ministers.

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The Bundesrat was composed by representatives of the various states and was dominated by Prussia, which gave them power to veto constitutional change by 14 votes. Furthermore, Bismarck gave Federal State governments an active role in making decisions about Trade, Banking and Education as this would keep them satisfied. He had to gain support from the various political parties by forging links with them so they would back him. However, even although extensive progress had been achieved in unifying the country, there were Germans living outside in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in Switzerland, which could bring about unnecessary conflict in the future. With the construction of a successful constitution, the country could operate more smoothly as it was generated by a number of members in both the Reichstag and the Bundesrat and engineered by Bismarck. Therefore, any internal or indeed external problems could be treated successfully.

Bismarck was becoming increasingly aware of the threat that the Catholic Church imposed on the new state, hence his actions in trying to eradicate it. Catholic interests were protected due to the formation of the Zentrum, which promoted social reform and Polish nationalism. Bismarck worked with the Liberals in the 1870s partly because he needed their support in his battle with the Catholics (the Kulterkampf). But, he was getting nowhere and feared the alliance of Catholic France and Austria against the German Empire. The result was a series of anti-clerical measures, which restricted the authority of Bishops and dissolved religious orders. This also included discriminating against Catholics who preferred to run their own system and Prussian State supervision of all schools. The aim was to undermine the power of the church and to germanise it, but most Catholics ignored Bismarck as they followed a policy of passive resistance, which was difficult to counteract. The Centre Party increased representation in the Reichstag as they had claimed 100 seats by 1881.

Bismarck couldn’t eradicate them and so negotiated with the new pope and abandoned his campaign partly because anti-clerical measures in France ended any chance of Catholic coalition against Germany. Furthermore, the strength of the Centre Party was increasing so Bismarck had the initiative to seek a compromise, which secured the support of both the Conservatives and the Centre Party for his Tariff proposals. This also concluded Liberal support in 1879, whereby, they became increasingly marginalized. Bismarck wasn’t successful in his battle against the Catholic Church, as they had accumulated so much support through the Centre Party, which he failed to suppress, hence him backing down and seeking a compromise.

The Socialists also became a threat to the new nation state, which alarmed Bismarck; he therefore embarked on a course of action in exterminating them. Due to Universal Suffrage in the German Empire in 1871, it enabled the Socialists to speak out in favour of the urban workers, which increased in support. They had won 12 seats by 1877. Nevertheless, Bismarck used two assassination attempts on the Emperor in 1878 to obtain anti-Socialist legislation, but the National Liberals refused to support it. In 1879, the Reichstag passed a law, taking away the right of Socialist or Communist organisations to hold meetings or publish materials. Those who were found to be supporting Socialist ideals were imprisoned and others emigrated, but Socialism was merely driven underground. Meetings continued to be held, disguised as other organisations or in places, which it was difficult for the Police to find. Printed materials and newspapers were smuggled in from abroad. The Socialist ‘menace’ couldn’t be stopped so Bismarck took it a step further.

He established a program of ‘State Socialism’ to gain the working class support in defence of Socialism. In May 1883, a sickness insurance law was introduced, whereby; employees contributed two-thirds of the cost and employers the other one-third. Following this, in June 1884, an Accident Insurance Law, funded by employers, was passed, which helped nearly all wage earning groups. In addition to this, in May 1889, an Old Age and Invalidity law was passed, which provided state pensions, contributed by workers, employers and the state. This pension was redeemable from the age of 70. However, not even this made any difference as he was driving a wedge between the working class and the other social classes and failed to eliminate the Socialists. Support for Socialist candidates continued to increase as they had won 35 seats in the Reichstag by 1890 and 110 by 1912. Bismarck had made a good attempt in trying to stamp out Socialism, but it was ineffective, only making them stronger and therefore, he did not achieve his aims, which ultimately led to his failure.

There was a strong desire for a more aggressive Foreign Policy to achieve a Great Power status, but such an ambition could involve disastrous consequences. Bismarck wanted to consolidate the gains he’d made up until now and prevent any threat to the new state. He established a number of secret agreements and alliances, which involved the whole of Europe. The Dreikaiserbund of 1872 was set up to isolate France and also to keep the peace, which became a formal agreement from Austria, Russia and Germany, whereby, they wanted to respect it and keep a benevolent neutrality if one of them was at war with a fourth power. However, it lapsed in 1887 due to Austro-Russian antagonism over influence in the Balkans, which Bismarck tried to avoid by setting up the Dual Alliance in 1879, which was later extended to the Triple Alliance. This was composed of Italy, Austria/Hungry and Germany. Italy was angered at the French occupation of Tunis and promised to aid Germany if France attacked her. Bismarck intended to tie Austria to Germany and prevent her allying with France. At the Congress of Berlin, Russia lost some of its gains and Bismarck was forced to choose between Austria/Hungry and Russia and chose Austria/Hungry.

Russia felt resentment and therefore, entered into an alliance with Britain and France, which no longer kept France isolated. This was called the Triple Entente. Bismarck’s Foreign Policy was one of limited aims. He was satisfied with Germanys place in the European Balance of Power and avoided the worldwide aims of William II. However, following such a cautious diplomacy brought about his downfall as William II replaced him after 1890 and wanted a more aggressive form of nationalism, which matched Germany’s political, economic and military power. He also wanted to be involved in international questions. Support for this aggressive nationalism was demonstrated by the appeal of pressure groups such as the Navy League and the Army League, which became more vocal, now that Bismarck had been extinguished from government. William II wanted to make Germany a World Power leader through the development of Weltpolitik and Mittleuropa. He wanted to expand Germanys influence by seizing parts of Togo, Cameroon, Pacific Islands and South and East Africa. Such expansion brought about conflict with Great Britain. Nonetheless, this brought Germany many benefits, as they were able to sell their own goods instead of imported goods. The new state was successful as influential interests were addressed, but due to the increased interest in Foreign Policy from both Bismarck and the Kaiser, alarm bells were ringing out in the ears of the central powers, as they became worried at Germanys actions and remained cautious. Tension was building, which could accumulate to European relations arising into future conflict.

From the years of 1871-1914, Germany came under widespread development under the authority of Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of Nationalism, who engineered its potential to the full. He re-founded the Second Reich by making many decisive changes in the interests of the new nation state, which also included solving many political problems. To his disappointment however, he was unable to vanquish the many threats that arose during his period in government as it became too much of a struggle for him. These threats varied, but due to the establishment of an effective constitution he was able to seek a compromise with the Catholic Church and the Socialists that would provide him with more energy and metabolism to concentrate on foreign Policy. It would therefore seem that Bismarck adopted Political Problems very seriously, but due to the new Emperor, Kaiser William II, Germany’s hopes and desires for European peace, was slowly diminishing.


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