What is meant by the term responsive national state ?

Why did it come to serve as a new unifying principle? Give examples of how this concept of state worked. How did this state differ from earlier ones in terms of its objectives and its appeal? Which nation best exemplifies this development?

The Responsive national state can be considered the answer to two primary questions. The first of these is how nationalism might evolve so it would appeal not only to middle-class liberals but also to to broad masses of society. The second pertains to how governments worked toward the prevention of Marx’s radical revolution. In this essay, I will explore how the responsive national state provided an answer to these questions, how it came to serve as a unifying principle how the system was exemplified in various empires.

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For central and western Europe, the unification of Italy and Germany by “blood and iron” marked the end of an eventful period of nation building. After 1871, the heartland of Europe was organized into strong national states- only on the borders of Europe did the subject people strive for independence. Despite national differences, European domestic politics after 1871 had a common framework- the establishment of national states, self-governing states that derived their political legitimacy from a nation. The common themes within that framework were the emergence of mass politics and growing mass loyalty toward the national state.

One of the most prominent features of the period of the responsive national state was that the right to vote became a common thing. Universal male suffrage became a rule rather than an exception by 1914, with men not denied the right to vote due to economic condition or a lack of education. To this effect, the ability to influence the government became more or less universal as well- in an industrial society, this was an important aspect of living as the government’s jurisdiction highly impacted the ways of production and labor, among other things. The universality of the ability to vote also undeniably had a great psychological effect on the people in allowing them to take a small part in decisions that directly affected their often financial living. As the right to vote spread, politicians and parties in national parliaments began to represent the people more responsively. This meant the prevailing of the multiparty system in many countries, which, in turn, meant that parliamentary majorities were built on shifting alliances between various parties- this gave individual parties leverage to obtain benefits for their supporters. The government also began to alleviate problems pertaining more to the people’s general comfort, thereby acquiring a greater legitimacy in the eyes of the people and appearing more worthy of public support.

Women, in addition, began to demand the right to vote. The women’s suffrage movement began in the United States, but moved quickly to Norway, where, by 1914, women had the right to vote. Some women in radical England were extremely militant in their demands for suffrage- they held public protests, and though their efforts did not pay off prior to 1914, they certainly paved the way for the women’s suffrage movement to immediately come after the first world war.

A more negative side to the newly responsive strong nation states followed after 1871. Governments, too often led by conservative opinion(inspired perhaps by the likes of Bismarck and Cavour) found that they could manipulate the national feeling to create a sense of unity and to divert attention from conflicts pertaining to social class. For instance, conservative and ‘modern’ leaders- who usually did not support socialistic ideals- found that that industrialists and workers voting for a socialist party would rally around the flag in a diplomatic crisis. Governing elites hence frequently channeled this vein of national sentiment in an anti-liberal and military-oriented direction , helping manage domestic problems but creating international tensions along the way- tensions that erupted in 1914.

The general developments of the responsive national state is best represented by the politics of the German empire at the time. The new German empire was a federal union of Prussia and twenty-four other smaller nation-states. Much of government was conducted individually by each state, but there nevertheless existed a strong national government with a chancellor- in the time period concerned with the responsive national state, this was Bismarck. Bismarck was well known for refusing to be bound by a rule of political majority, but nevertheless attempted to maintain one. This gave the various political parties in the German system many opportunities. Bismarck had, for a long time, supported the National Liberals, who deemed legislation useful for the further economic unification of the country. However, the Liberals also backed Bismarck’s ‘policy war’ upon the Catholic church.

This attack was eventually resolved in an economically advantageous alliance. The instance of Bismarck siding with a particular political party was typical of the responsive national state in that the government itself became deeply involved with the multiparty system that it had spurned through attempting to win over the people as a whole. In addition, the national state and nation almost became themselves represented by the multiparty system. The prevalence of political parties can perhaps in itself define the responsive national state as the sudden universality of voting rights, which dominates the beginnings and ends of the era, also propelled the importance of voting and the voting system. Bismarck’s fight against socialism also highly characterized the responsive national state in a similar manner- in this case however, Bismarck’s deep involvement with the specifics of the multiparty system eventually forced him to resign.

The prevalence of political parties was evident in the difficulties of Europe’s agricultural system shortly after 1871. The resulting competitive pressures caused he Protestant Junkers, who owned large estates in eastern Germany, to embrace the cause of higher tariffs. These noble landowners were joined by some of the iron and steel magnates of the Prussian Rhineland and Westphalia who had previously favored free trade. With three such influential groups lobbying energetically, Bismarck was happy to go along with a new protective tariff in 1879. In doing so, he won new supporters in the Reichstag-the Center party of the Catholics and the Conservative party of the Prussian landowners- and he held on to most of the National Liberals. Bismarck had been looking for a way to increase taxes and raise more money for the government.

The solution he chose was higher tariffs. Many other governments acted similarly. The 1880s and 1890s saw a widespread return to protectionism. France, in particular, established very high tariffs to protect agriculture and industry, peasants and manufacturers, from foreign competition. Thus the German government and other governments responded effectively to a major economic problem and won greater loyalty. The general rise of protectionism in the late nineteenth century was also an outstanding example of the dangers of self-centered nationalism and perhaps the results of the establishment of nation-states as a whole: high tariffs led to international conflict.

While Germany was riddled with a parliament manipulated by the multiparty system and France with a parliament made quarrelsome by it, Britain’s multiparty system and era of responsive national state bloomed into an effective two party parliament that shifted easily, in comparison, from classical liberalism to democracy. The right to vote was granted to the male middle class in 1832, and following this, many issues emerged. Mill pondered protecting the rights of the minority is the emerging era of electoral participation; the conservative party soon extended suffrage to the most well paid of workers. As electoral campaigns and political parties grew to appeal to more than the earning public, the Third Reform Bill gave the right to vote to all adult males. Though the state integrated urban masses politically and socially, the conflicting nationalisms espoused by the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland proved to break the prosperity and power that the new political system and suffrage had given the people of Britain. Britain’s responsive national state, by granting suffrage and appealing to the people with relative ease, was bound to solely itself and its people and trapped in a backdrop of fierce nationalism. The Irish served only as proof that governments could not elicit greater loyalty unless they could capture and control that elemental current of national feeling.

The era of the responsive national state spurred the modern political divisions we have today- our political world would be entirely different without it. While it certainly had its downfalls, they were perhaps impossible to entirely avoid, and encountering varieties of the negative effects of the multiparty system has, perhaps, taught us in some ways how to work toward a greater unification and satisfaction of the people in today’s world.


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