Analysis Of The Process Of German Nation Building

Following the fall of the Napoleonic Empire in 1814, her conquered territories were liberated from their shackles and given the opportunity to spread their wings. The liberated German states sought after a new identity; a national identity. A plethora of historians have attempted to explain the process of German nation-building in the nineteenth century. Within this essay, I shall analyse the range of historiography surrounding the process of German nation-building, exploring the interpretations of nationalist historians such as Stefan Berger, Alon Confino, Sebastian Conrad, Abigail Green and a variety of others. The main discussions argue between the instrumentalist interpretation that the nation-state was developed from above by intellectuals, and the primordialist argument that the nation-state was built out of pre-existing ethnies. To evaluate and assess the process of German nation-building, I aim to explore the key concepts identified in historical discussion in correspondence with how the German nation developed. Such as the aftermath of the Napoleonic Empire, the 1848 revolutions and Frankfurt Assembly, the treatment of ethnic minorities and national 'others', imperialism, effects of conflict and the role of Bismarck within Imperial Germany.

According to the OED, the nation-state is defined as 'an independent political state formed from a people who share a common national identity.' This is exactly what the thirty nine German states were trying to, and achieved after the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. The events of 1806-1815 had a profound effect on the future of the German nation-building. Ruth Dewhurst discusses how Napoleon carved up the former 'Holy Roman Empire' and redrew the map of central Europe, including Germany. As a result Napoleon eliminated loyalties and strengths to individual state princes and forged a Germanic identity surrounding various factors. Such as, an accumulation of resentment towards foreign taxes, conscription, ravaging of German farmland and resources and the destruction of particular German identities. The result was resentment towards French and the Napoleonic regime and a growing unified Germanic national-identity.

Robert Berdhal in his 'New Thoughts on German Nationalism' argues that after the 'wars of liberation' in 1815, radical nationalists began to demand political unity and began to promote patriotism and loyalty directed towards the individual German states. The radicals would use this movement to develop a broader national identity and unity between the German states. Subsequently, a language of nationality grew not just amongst the elites, but the working classes to create a unified national identity against French domination. The end of the Napoleonic era unveiled the weakness in the German states and led to numerous internal reforms to strengthen the state and the people's spirits. Humiliating defeats of 1806-7 resulted in a reorganisation of their armies and bureaucracy. However, Michael John explores how despite the Napoleonic period advocating state-building, it helped to 'generate a barrier to nation-state.' To settle tensions German governments needed to create a parliament, leading to the creation of the notorious 1848 Frankfurt Assembly.

A catalyst to German nationalist ideology evolved from the 1848 revolutions. These revolutions occurred across Europe speaking out against European monarchies and rulers. German revolutions were led by nationalist radicals spreading ideas of pan-Germanism, and demonstrating discontent with the political structure of the thirty nine German states. To answer growing demands, the states of the German Confederation formed the 1848 Frankfurt Assembly, its first ever freely elected parliament.

Berger argues the significance of the Frankfurt Assembly in the process of German nation-building, since it allowed for the creation of state political organisations and forced monarchies to change and listen to the demands of their people. Berger argues that this resulted in monarchism becoming a national ideology to placate the nationalist movement and provided an anti-democratic legitimisation of the nation. This was the beginning of the unification of Germany. After the National Assembly gathered to discuss a unified nation-state, the question of its future boundaries were prominent in the debates. Unfortunately, the liberal attempt at nation-building was suppressed by aristocratic elites and the monarchy of Prussia, leaving Prussia with the opportunity to take charge. King Wilhelm II of Prussia was elected in 1849 as the emperor of the Imperial Germany. Despite this, the 1848 Frankfurt Assembly provided the building blocks for the future of a unified German nation-state.

German nationalism was 'rooted in factors such as blood, common traditions, language and religion' as opposed to politics. It is evident that the idea of a German identity was prevalent before the unification of Germany and the German Confederation through a shared culture. This concept was promoted by German intellectuals, known as the Romantics, through the idea of pan-Germanism. Berger explores nationalists such as Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Fichte and how they relied heavily on culture to promote the creation of a nation-state between the Germanic peoples. A great example of the methodology to create a nation is Ficthe's 'Addresses to the German Nation' whereby he calls upon the people to relate to their 'Fatherland' and 'fight to the last drop' for it, calling for a unification of the German people against the 'other'. The creation of Fichte's work alone is significant in displaying a calling for a liberated German-nation amongst its people. Correspondingly, Dewhurst discuses how the German-nation was born out of 'the myths and memories handed down by generations and brought to life by the efforts of the early Romantics.' In particular, she focuses on the importance of Luther, and how Romantics utilised ideas of Luther's Protestant Reformation since it was not only a memory the Germans had in common, but Luther's teachings and the Protestant religion were still strong and prominent within nineteenth century Germany. In turn, the Romantics drew on the notion of the 'Volk' to bring about a strong national-identity amongst the Germans and a calling for a unified state. This was hugely significant because the creation of a prominent national-identity allowed the Germans to differentiate themselves from other Europeans, such as the French, and create a sense of ethnic tensions. This in turn would create a demand for a unified nation state to secure the German people in the wake of their enemies.

The creation of the German nation-state was aided by the creation of external and internal enemies and an understanding of the nation against 'others'. The ethnic discourse reached politics, but instead of replacing civic and liberal nationalism, it was debated on the contents of national identity in Imperial Germany. Therefore illustrating the wide acceptance of the Imperial German nation-state amongst the German population. Berger goes on to discuss how German society was deeply divided, and how this was exacerbated by Otto von Bismarck's policy of creating 'internal enemies' of the nation. For instance, Catholics and Socialists faced repression and persecution, alienating them from the official nationalism produced by the state. The creation of enemies distinguished to the Germans that they were unique in comparison to any other race, promoting the idea of a German-identity, and a Volk to fight for under a unified state. Additionally, at the time, the impact of Social Darwinist ideas under conditions of accelerated industrial and economic growth within Imperial Germany brought about ethnicization of historical-cultural definitions of Germany and her superiority in comparison to other nations.

Ethnic minorities within Germany also felt the brunt of the prejudice, they did not regard themselves as 'German' and they weren't regarded by the nation as 'German'. They formed instead what Berger calls the 'second periphery'. Polish formed the majority of the ethnic minorities. In 1863, a Polish uprising occurred provoking a sense of danger for the German-state in reaction to Polish national sentiment. The German states sought to overcome this through a policy of 'Germanization' on Germany's eastern borders. This consisted of ethnic minorities unable to use any language bar German in schools, public life, inability to own land or migration into Prussia and West Germany. In turn this was significant in creating a sense of either hatred and alienation towards ethnic minorities, or simply absorbing them into their own culture and making them part of a German nation-state.

Berger highlights a third periphery, German speaking people's outside of Germany, such as the Sudeten Germans. German people felt a loyalty towards helping these Germans and to bring them under the nation-state. And these people felt a loyalty to German national identity and a longing to become part of the nation-state. As a result specific associations were founded in Germany to represent their interests, such as the 'Allegience of Deutsche Schulverein.' Eastern Europe was regarded by Germans as German 'cultural soil', to which they had a claim and it was their imperial duty to bring these territories into the nation-state. The ideology of the second periphery enabled German states to work together to unify under one national-identity, German, and develop their nation-state. This was to be known as the Kulturnation, infused with Volkish ideologies alongside nationalist sentiments in Imperial Germany.

A prominent component discussed by historians as integral to the German-nation building process is conflict and the German military. Abigail Green discusses how the hatred towards French after the Napoleonic war created grave tensions between Imperial Germany and France, boosting a sense of a German national-identity against her enemies and promoted feelings of a national-community against a common foe. This largely outweighed the fears of states such as Bavaria and Hanover of Prussian dominance.

With the acceptance of Prussian dominance the German nation came together unified under one banner. The military clearly played a dominant role in state politics, and unity occurred after three great military campaigns against Denmark in 1864, the Habsburg Empire 1866 and France 1870-1. All of these military campaigns significantly took place under the Emperor's flag and all over Germany, celebrations took place to celebrate the victory of how all the unified states defeated the enemy under a unified cause. Some historians have argued that before this moment in 1871 Germany did not exist. Alon Confino asserts that it was not a single history, but instead a 'fixed entity of many different histories.' And that the unification of Germany in 1871 redefined the spatial and historical dimensions of the nation and their shared memories.

The analysis of German state-building cannot be complete without the consideration of Prussia's chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Many historians such as Berger, Confino and Green applaud Bismarck for his policies in building the German nation-state. For instance, Berger comments on Bismarck's policy of 'creating internal enemies' of the nation to promote national sentiment through Kulturkampf. It was Bismarck who led the German states into war against Denmark, the Habsburgs and France, under his policy of 'blood and iron', unifying the German Confederation together under one nation state. Otto Pflanze exclaims that 'Bismarck founded the German Reich not by opposing the idea of nationalism, but by skilfully exploiting it.' Bismarck utilised nationalism to provide a moral issue to justify a war against Austria after disasters of 1848. The key to rousing national sentiment for a national war under Prussian leadership was the threat of foreign intervention. As a result the German people, as suspected, were in uproar and supported the Prussian troops and Kaiser Wilhelm in a battle against their common enemies.

After analysing the various arguments of historians surrounding the process of German nation-building, it becomes evident that the German nation was built on a mix of instrumentalist and primordialist factors. Though state-building from a political stance is essential through the use of diplomatic policies such as the 1848 Frankfurt Assembly. It is my opinion that the state would not have been unified and these events would not have been successful if it wasn't for the collective and shared memories leading back to 1st Century BC that the German people shared. The main processes according to historians that led to the German nation-state include the effects of the Napoleonic Empire, the events and creation of the 1848 Frankfurt Assembly, the creation of national 'enemies' and 'others', internal imperialism, conflict and the leadership of Otto von Bismarck. However, the most prominent factor towards German nation-building lays in the culture and national-identity of the Germanic peoples.

16 December 2021
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