HISTORY: ENLIGHTENED ABSOLUTISM
According to aparentingblog.com, Germany in the century XVIII was now presented as a grouping of independent states with a vigorous conscience and autonomous structure. Thus the history of Germany became a story of territories and principles with its own policy linked to that of Europe. Austria, humiliated in the German space, made up for it in Italy (Lombardy, Naples, Tuscany) and in the Balkans, trying unsuccessfully to enter colonial trade with its own privileged company in Antwerp (1722), succeeding instead with the port of Trieste. And also Charles VI the renewed attempt to reinstate the imperial prestige on the princes failed. Bavaria allying itself with France tried in vain to rise to a kingdom. Saxony increased its prestige with the Polish crown, the Hanoverians with that of England. Prussia also had more and more a European history, as well as a German one, in the game of alliances, in the strengthening of the army, in the bureaucratic organization of the state, in the territorial enlargement both in the German space (Silesia) and in Poland (war of succession Austrian, 1740-48; Seven Years’ War, 1756-63; partition of Poland, 1773, 1793-95). The smaller German states, unable to pursue an independent policy, allied themselves on several occasions with external powers (France, England, Russia). With the house of Austria were the ecclesiastical territories and the cities of the West and South-West, balancing between the rivalries of Austria and Bavaria and under French influence. Only in these areas divided by many small territories were the conscience and pride of belonging to the Reich alive, seeing in this a protection, indeed not always efficient, towards the more powerful neighbors in expansion. At the attempt of Emperor Joseph II to strengthen the position of the imperial dignity and with it that of the House of Habsburg with the absorption of Bavaria a league of princes (1785) between Prussia, Saxony, Hanover was opposed, which confirmed the constitution of the Empire and the existing dynasties, including Bavaria with the Wittelsbachs. These smaller states had a very varied internal life: absolutism predominated on a religious basis, developing the magnificence of the courts following the example of Versailles, inspiring the government with a paternalistic spirit. A good number of them, both lay and ecclesiastical, in the second half of the century. XVIII opened to the ideas of enlightened absolutism, on the Austrian or Prussian model. This German Enlightenment was of a minority, but active, in which there were scholars, members of the upper bourgeoisie and the high clergy, individual princes, notables of certain imperial cities (Hamburg, Frankfurt) and of new cultural centers such as Berlin, Königsberg, Leipzig. Here the political and economic ideas of the Enlightenment were established, including the physiocracy against mercantilism. With its appeal to reason then, the German Enlightenment challenged the State Church, in this meeting with the pietism that instead appealed to the personal experience of the encounter with Christ to take away the value of the ecclesiastical institution, of which the prince was tutor. Furthermore, enlightenment and pietism joined forces in Germany in projects and initiatives aimed at overcoming religious division, in a universalistic view of religions. However, enlightened absolutism acted as an innovative force even in the smallest territories, making the prince in principle the “servant of the state”, who had to take care of the well-being of his subjects. In the states of Germany the nobility always prevailed, holding key posts in the bureaucracy and in the army. The bourgeoisie, favored by mercantilist politics, had ascended the social and financial ladder, while always finding obstacles to the highest functions. The rural classes, reduced to very sad conditions at the beginning of the century. XVIII, achieved social improvements under the enlightened principles. The French Revolution soon hit Germany, with its political forces and armies, with territorial repercussions that saw (1792-95) the annexation to France of the territories on the left of the Rhine.
HISTORY: FROM 1849 TO THE PROCLAMATION OF THE II REICH
The uprisings in Saxony and South West Germany of May 1849, promoted by democrats, republicans and the first socialists, reawakening the memory of those in Berlin and Vienna in 1848, pushed the bourgeoisie to ally with the old conservative forces; the latter, having regained power in Prussia and Austria, soon undermined the Frankfurt Parliament and its Constitution; the government it had formed was losing recognition by most of the foreign powers. Thus three Germanys re-emerged in the restored Germanic Confederation: the southwestern, fragmented but aware of a common European culture; Austria, a pluri-national state on its own; Prussia with a tradition of military discipline and efficiency. Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie disappointed by politics turned its major energies to economic activity. In fact, the industrial revolution was making rapid progress also in Germany, albeit with the contribution of British and Belgian capital. The industries, especially the textile and metallurgical ones of Rhineland, Saxony, Silesia, made up for the English competition, helped in this by the customs union initiated by Prussia and gradually extended to all the other States (excluding Austria), by politics protectionist as well as the rapidly expanding railway network. Precisely in the years between 1850 and 1873 the German industry made its take-off in the service of the power plans pursued by Bismarck. Industrialization, with all its social consequences, also favored the rise of a workers’ organization in Germany which, on the political level, around 1860 broke away from the petty bourgeoisie. Thus he was born with the General Association of the German workers, the workers’ party that later merged with the current more openly tied to the Communist Manifesto of Marx. The dualism between Prussia and Austria was accentuated in the Reich reform projects, in the rivalries and distrust of domestic and foreign politics, in the difficult common administration of the Danish Duchies, until it exploded into open war in 1866. The Chancellor of Prussia, Otto of Bismarck, achieved the intent of full equality with Austria by militarily humiliating the house of Austria and its German allies (including Bavaria), excluding it (Peace of Prague, August 1866) from political Germany, creating a new Germanic Confederation to which they joined the German states north of the Main under the presidency of Prussia. Some states of the South remained outside it, but they started to organize themselves in a similar way by connecting with the Confederation of the North. Bismarck, using the ideologies of the century (constitutionalism, liberalism, nationality, social progress) in function of the Prussian raison d’état, brought to completion together the German unity under Prussia and the affirmation of the Reich, reorganized with the war on France, the defeat of the Second Empire and the peace imposed on the Third Republic (1870-71). Taking advantage of the national exaltation for the victory and the pressure of public opinion on the reluctant dynasties of the Southern States, he obtained, with the granting of large autonomies, their adhesion to the Northern Confederation which thus assumed a unitary character. It was the King of Bavaria who proposed the title of Emperor of Germany for the King of Prussia.
HISTORY: THE FIRST POSTWAR PERIOD
After Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Germany too was forced to ask for an armistice (November 1918). He asked for it on the basis of Wilson’s 14 points and managed to get it with the army still in order and in occupied territory, but with the country already in turmoil. The conditions of this armistice, confirmed in the Treaty of Versailles (June 28, 1919) imposed on Germany territorial renunciations (Alsace-Lorraine, Posnania, the “Polish corridor”, the colonies), a quantitative limitation of the army (100,000 men on voluntary recruitment) and qualitative (neither aviation nor heavy artillery nor fleet war), transfer of German assets abroad, delivery of equipment, production and livestock quotas by way of war reparations, for an amount to be defined; plus the explicit recognition of German responsibility in provoking war, the surrender of “war criminals”, including the Kaiser (which, however, was repaired in Holland), and the renunciation of the Brest-Litovsk agreements. As a pledge of the execution of the treaty, Germany had to accept the occupation of the Rhineland. The republican government that had signed the treaty, consisting of Left Socialists, Social Democrats and the Catholic Center, had had to put down the communist revolt of the Spartacists in Berlin (Rosa Luxemburg, January 1919) and repress the Bolshevik republic of Munich (April 1919) and other similarly inspired uprisings in the Ruhr and Westphalia. The Constitution that the new Republic gave itself in Weimar (July 1919), with reference to that of 1849, was based on the autonomy of the States (Länder), those of the former Reich themselves, on universal suffrage, including women, even in the individual Länder, on advanced social legislation, including the eight-hour working day. The Republic of Weimar however, he had a difficult life: his democratic structures had been accepted by the old ruling class reluctantly only with the hope of obtaining a milder treatment from the victors. The harsh territorial and economic clauses, on the other hand, had spread irritation, soon attributing to the “Weimar system” the failure in the face of the victors and the multiple consequences of the war, including the devaluation that in 1923 canceled the economic position of the middle class. Thus an aversion to this system and to the parties that represented it took root in the bureaucracy and in the army. The Republic nevertheless managed to face the right-wing insurrection attempts (Kapp’s Putsch in Berlin in 1920, Hitler’s in Munich in 1923) and left. The stabilization of the mark at the end of 1923 represented both a consolidation of the regime and the economy. The elections up to 1928 secured the majority for the democratic parties. Foreign policy was one of conciliation: under the leadership of Stresemann, relations of trust were re-established with France which led to the Treaty of Locarno (1925), following which Germany was admitted to the League of Nations (1926); political, economic and military relations with the Soviet Union were resumed following the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo; it was the same with the United States, as with the Dawes plan and with their capital injections they helped reduce repairs and together developed the German economy. This allowed Germany to expand social initiatives in construction, insurance, education: in this atmosphere the old and new arts, sciences, philosophical and theological thought were revived, restoring even international prestige to Germany. This revival was soon overwhelmed by the very serious international crisis of 1929 which, starting from the United States, spread to Europe and particularly to Germany. Here, due to the withdrawal of foreign capital, unemployment made itself felt at an increasing rate, which hit six million individuals and had its repercussions in all classes.