German nationalism change between 1815 and 1919


Another example, later on in the period would be the radical Pan- German league of the early 1900s who exercised a certain influence in pushing the authorities to implement a more aggressive foreign policy, and demanded German dominance in Europe; situations such as the Moroccan Crisis, exemplify a certain conflict with the government of the time. In the period 1815-1848, the ideas of German nationalism were very much developing.

With the development of their ideas, Metternich’s reactionary policy of repression would have effected the short term aims of the nationalists.

With the declaration of the Carlsbad Decrees, the ‘authorities’ of the German Confederation began a policy of repression which proved successful in the short term, but in the long term did not really tackle the problem. After 1840, when the repressive legislation was LAXED, membership to nationalist organisations were again rapidly increasing.

For example, in the five years after 1842 membership to the Gymnasts movement increased form 300 to 90,000 demonstrating that not only did Metternich’s policy effectively fail, but that nationalism was from decline.

The aims of German nationalism in this period did change as it was essentially an illegal movement, and so its immediate aims would have been to, at the least have its voice heard, and furthermore to expand its support base.

Events such as the Hambach festival demonstrated the extent to which German nationalists were discontent, however the significance of the festival should not be overstated; it should be kept in sight that German nationalism was still essentially a minority movement supported by mainly the middle and the educated classes as well as university students.

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It was popular with these strands of society as, the initial wave of nationalism, in 1815 was based on a feeling of kinship and was more a from of cultural nationalism; it was a very romantic movement based on the arts including poetry, folk stories and art.

This demonstrates that the aims of these nationalists were not necessarily for political unification. However, nationalism in this period was the junior partner of liberalism, and it was under this guise of national liberalism that the nationalists’ ideas began to develop and thus so too the aims began to develop. The demonstrators of the Hambach festival are most certainly likely to have a much better sense of awareness for the benefits of political unification and economic unification.

In fact there may have been many varying groups of nationalists at demonstration, as indeed, there were different variants of nationalist who all had slightly different ideals and thus varying aims. For example, the Polish and Greeks’ desire and devotion for a nation was no less valued or deemed inferior at this time, however by late Wilhelmine Germany, with the development of Darwin’s evolution theory, the ideas of German superiority were firmly embedded n the ideals of the radical German nationalist groups such as the Navy League and the Pan-German League.

Franco-phobia was another prominent element of German nationalism, throughout the time period. This was evident from as early as early as 1813, and in fact many historians, including professor Chris Clarke of the university of Cambridge, believe that it was indeed the author of German nationalism. It is no coincidence that at any time in history, when ever Germany and France’s interest were at conflict, German nationalism was always at its most vigorous. This is demonstrated in 1813, as well as in 1840, during the war scare on the Rhine crisis.

It was in the years after the war scare on the Rhine crisis, that Metternich’s repressive policies were beginning to be reversed and a re-emergence of German nationalism was to slowly occur. However this re-emergence was evidently different from its more romantic forms during the early 19 century. With the success of the Zollverein in the late 1830, the German states were becoming brought closer together than they had ever been before. Although the monarchy’s of the states were not looking for unification, and purely consented to economic unions for financial gains, Germany was nevertheless becoming more ‘unified’ in certain respects.

During the 1840s the established movement for nationals unity grew within the German Confederation. Society reflected, through its journalism, songs, poems, art and ‘national’ societies, a growing sense of national unity that could provide the ideological cement to bind the various pressure to reform together; there was a growing feeling that the German nation was actually a reality and should therefore have an opportunity to realise its unity.

However, after what initially seemed like a success for the national liberal, during the 1848 revolutions, debate seemed to take precedence over action: the revolutionary national liberals were no able to realise the potential of this turning point. Therefore in the years leading up the 1848 revolutions much change did occur. Nationalism grew, it reached a peak, but then did not act, therefore lost credibility in the immediate aftermath of the revolution. The forces of conservatism were again able to assert their superiority and it arguable that much had not changed. Nationalism was still weak.

However nationalism adapted to its failures and again evolved, with the changing times. Y the mid 1850s the aims of German nationalism were to indeed unite Germany, however these were still the aims of the radical German nationalists. Bismarck’s ‘blood and iron’ speech, emphasised a realisation for the nationalists that unification could not be achieved by debate. Sir Lewis Namier described 1848 as “a revolt of the intellectuals”. Bismarck crude and realistic approach to politics emphasised, for the nationalists that unification would not be achieved by mere discussion, and without a strong military backing.

Although, Bismarck was certainly not a nationalist or liberalist, his unscrupulous political work ethic, meant that he would not refrain from exploiting nationalism for Prussia ultimate greatness. Although nationalism was essentially opposed to Prussian conservatism, by 1871, Bismarck was the hero of the nationalists. He was initially opposed by the national liberals (the largest party at the time) in the Prussian Landtag over the Army reform bill, but having overcome them, Bismarck was free to pursue his policy of making Prussia great.

An inadvertent result of this was beneficiary to the nationalists. By successively out manoeuvring Austria over the second Holstein- Schleswig crisis Bismarck had firmly placed Prussia in total dominance. Prussia was superior to Austria economically, politically and militaristically. Winning the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, took only six weeks for Bismarck’s Germany. Essentially the point being that, the nationalist were ever increasingly willing to support as while he aimed to assert Prussian dominance, the path to German unification also seemed ever likely.

Bismarck easily exploited the nationalistic fever against the French during the Franco-Prussian war and was able to unite Germany. Elements of continuity were evident in the speeches made by Bismarck to exploit the nationalistic feelings; the language of nationalism was frequently used and recent research has even suggested that terms such as ‘blood and iron’ were in fact used by the romantic poets of the earlier nationalistic movements. The aims of nationalism in the years leading up to 1871 was for Germany to unify.

However, for some nationalist a kleindeutchland solution was not sufficient as it did not accommodate all German speakers. This again shows an element of continuity as this was similar to what the early romantic German nationalist also wanted, and furthermore it was among Hitler’s aims in the months leading up to World War II. Both Bismarck and Time helped cement the new born nation’s national identity, and by Wilhelm II reign as monarch, nationalism had again adapted to changing times, but was still nevertheless an opposing force to the established government.

After 1890, the ideas of nationalism became more expansionist suggesting that the military was also taking a more dominating role in society. With the growth of industrialisation and economic stability, the “chauvinistic” Wilhelmine German state was able to increase its military and naval strengths while consequently also allowed to pursue a more aggressive and expansionist foreign policy.

These two elements: desire for expansionism ,and an increasingly militarised society, sewed the seeds for the aggressive nationalism which was to grow in strength during the early 20 century. Radical organisations such as the Pan-German league, the Navy league and the Agrarian league represented the new ideals of German nationalism. Eric Hobsburn emphasised that “the basic characteristics of modern nationalism and everything associated with it are its modernity”.

The developing ideas of German nationalism were certainly immensely influenced by the modern factors of its time. For example, the evolution theory or the fact that all the great powers were concerned with colonial were external factors which helped mould the ideas and aims of these radical German nationalist movements. It should again be accentuated that these movements, although were no longer deemed as threats to the state, did still push considerably strongly for the government to pursue far right wing policies.

In the years of the war, German nationalism endured certain changes, however it should be said that during war time the nationalist’s ideals would have been to entirely support the war effort. . Initially nationalistic feeling was widespread during the start of the war, however with the rapid deterioration of Germany’s domestic situation during the second half of the war as well as with the emergence of a German ‘military state’ nationalism could be said that it was submerged with the military and was also felt in the heart’s of the German people.

However with the loss of the war nationalism again evolved into its next mutation: a national socialist movement. This was mainly due to the harshness of the treaty of Versailles, which denied the principle of self determinism to the Germans, much to the resentment of the German nationals. So in conclusion, the aims and ideas of German nationalism in the period 1815 to 11919, endured certain significant developments whilst also retaining particular essential features.

However the conclusion must be that almost by nature ‘modern nationalism’ is subject to change, and so the same rules applied to German nationalism. It adapted with the fast changing times, gradually and naturally increasing in influence at certain key points during the period. For example, the peaks German nationalism reached during the times when German security was threatened by the French exemplifies the extent to which the aims and ideas of German nationalism were subject to change, but that also it was certain forces that usually caused these changes.

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German nationalism change between 1815 and 1919. (2017, Dec 20). Retrieved from

German nationalism change between 1815 and 1919
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