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Wilhelminism and Its Legacies

Wilhelminism and Its Legacies: German Modernities, Imperialism, and the Meanings of Reform, 1890-1930

Geoff Eley
James Retallack
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Wilhelminism and Its Legacies
    Book Description:

    What was distinctive-and distinctively "modern"-about German society and politics in the age of Kaiser Wilhelm II? In addressing this question, these essays assemble cutting-edge research by fourteen international scholars. Based on evidence of an explicit and self-confidently "bourgeois" formation in German public culture, the contributors suggest new ways of interpreting its reformist potential and advance alternative readings of German political history before 1914. While proposing a more measured understanding of Wilhelmine Germany's extraordinarily dynamic society, they also grapple with the ambivalent, cross-cutting nature of German "modernities" and reassess their impact on long-term developments running through the Wilhelmine age.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-711-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-ix)
    Volker R. Berghahn

    When Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann took up his studies at Hamburg University in 1958 and became a student of Fritz Fischer, he could perhaps conceive of himself as a professional historian; but it is unlikely that he could have imagined himself as topping his academic career with a professorship at Oxford University and becoming one of the best-known experts on Wilhelmine Germany in England. He reached this influential position in recognition of his achievements as a scholar and teacher.

    That he would be an excellent teacher, who for the past thirty-five years has shaped the analytical skills and devotion to...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)
    Geoff Eley and James Retallack

    More than three decades have now elapsed since the “Fischer Controversy” dramatically opened theKaiserreichfor serious historical research.¹ The interpretations that quickly established their ascendancy during the initial rush of publication will be familiar enough. They amounted to a powerful claim about German exceptionalism—Germany’s differentness from “the West.” That claim was rooted in arguments about political backwardness and Germany’s persisting authoritarianism, which allegedly stacked the decks (or set the points) in favor of the eventual triumph of the Nazis. From the upsurge of scholarship produced between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s came a series of lasting and almost axiomatic...

  6. 1 Making a Place in the Nation: Meanings of “Citizenship” in Wilhelmine Germany
    (pp. 16-33)
    Geoff Eley

    The inchoateness of national affiliations in the nineteenth century made the boundaries of national categories in Europe anything but stable and mature.¹ Indeed, for current writing on nationalism, that nonfixity has become almost axiomatic, emphasizing the indeterminacy, constructedness, and contingency with which national identity came to be formed. Within that general “constructionist” idiom, however, national affiliations can easily appear far too malleable and free-floating, reflecting an unresolved tension between the insights of the new theorizing and the analysis needed for national identity in particular places and times. After 1918, for example, national identifications certainly became hardened along juridical, institutional, and...

  7. 2 Membership, Organization, and Wilhelmine Modernism: Constructing Economic Democracy through Cooperation
    (pp. 34-50)
    Brett Fairbairn

    When, in the 1890s, British colonial officials began to consider how best to promote economic and social development in India, it was not to the British homeland that they turned for inspiration. Rather, their model for rural economic and social progress was Germany. Sir Frederick Nicholson, sent from India to Europe to study ways of relieving the peasantry of debt, returned with the advice: “Find Raiffeisen.” The rural cooperative system initiated by Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, which in the 1890s was spreading rapidly throughout Germany, became the initial model for British-Indian development.¹ It was therefore logical, more than a generation later,...

  8. 3 “Few better farmers in Europe”? Productivity, Change, and Modernization in East-Elbian Agriculture 1870-1913
    (pp. 51-72)
    Oliver Grant

    The test of economic rationality, the test of whether a system of production maximizes output or minimizes costs for a given set of input prices and a particular set of technological possibilities, is not the only test by which to assess the modernity of a system of economic and social relationships, but it is one that can help to elucidate certain aspects of these relationships. Economic rationality is generally included in lists of the characteristics of modernization. Its absence, particularly in the context of a society that rejects other aspects of the modernization agenda, provides prima facie evidence that this...

  9. 4 The Wilhelmine Regime and the Problem of Reform: German Debates about Modern Nation-States
    (pp. 73-90)
    Mark Hewitson

    The Wilhelmine “system” was commonly believed to differ from its predecessors. Friedrich Naumann, one of the main critics of the system by 1907/08 and an important intermediary between politics, the press, and the universities, was an acute, representative interpreter of such “Wilhelminism.” In his treatiseDemokratie und Kaisertum, which first appeared in 1900 and went on to become a best-selling work of its kind, Naumann explained how the industrialization and democratization of Germany had created the conditions for a new type of political regime. Gradually, as a consequence of these changes, the “modern” idea of an emperor and empire were...

  10. 5 Lebensreform: A Middle-Class Antidote to Wilhelminism?
    (pp. 91-106)
    Matthew Jefferies

    As a scholarly term “Wilhelminism” leaves much to be desired. Its meaning is vague; its usage, inconsistent. Nevertheless, its regular appearance in recent works of political and cultural history would seem to indicate that many find it indispensable. Two principal uses stand out. It is often employed to denote the apparent congruence between Wilhelm II as an individual and the age to which he gave his name. In this reading, which is usually to be found in works of cultural history, Wilhelminism stands for operatic gesture and sentimental yearning, for pomp and pathos, for “romantic modernity” and “nervous idealism.”¹ However,...

  11. 6 Imperialist Socialism of the Chair: Gustav Schmoller and German Weltpolitik, 1897-1905
    (pp. 107-122)
    Erik Grimmer-Solem

    The intense involvement of Wilhelmine academics on behalf of the German navy has always been both fascinating and troubling—fascinating because of the sophisticated organization and broad influence of this activity, and troubling given these policies’ undoubted contribution to the rising tide of international tensions before July 1914. The involvement of university teachers as “agitators” for the German high seas fleet has been perceptively investigated.¹ Yet the specific motivations and activities of a leading “Navy professor” and colonial enthusiast, the economist and social reformer Gustav Schmoller, have not been explored, and the dense and fascinating web of domestic and international...

  12. 7 “Our natural ally”: Anglo-German Relations and the Contradictory Agendas of Wilhelmine Socialism, 1897-1900
    (pp. 123-137)
    Paul Probert

    Without the growth of hostility between Great Britain and Germany, the crisis of late July and early August 1914 would have remained a Continental conflict rather than developing into a world war. One might even contend that, but for the presence of the British Expeditionary Force, the “knockout blow” called for by the Schlieffen Plan might have been successfully delivered, thus allowing the German High Command to turn its full attention to the campaign in Russia. In recent years, it has been argued that without British interference, Germany could have achieved the continental hegemony it desired, Britain’s finances and Great...

  13. 8 The “Malet Incident,” October 1895: A Prelude to the Kaiser’s “Krüger Telegram” in the Context of the Anglo-German Imperialist Rivalry
    (pp. 138-153)
    Willem-Alexander van’t Padje

    The last German emperor’s impetuosity has been frequently described.¹ His impulsive comments, actions, and orders created misunderstandings, diplomatic crises, and personal insults, which in turn led to estrangement and suspicion in the relations between Germany and the Great Powers. The “Malet Incident” of October 1895—which revolved around the British ambassador’s threat that German action in the Transvaal might have “serious complications”—forms a significant example with regard to the growing Anglo-German imperialist rivalry. As such it might be described as one of the most deplorable legacies of the Wilhelmine age.³ Only two and a half months later, the Kaiser...

  14. 9 Colonial Agitation and the Bismarckian State: The Case of Carl Peters
    (pp. 154-170)
    Arne Perras

    Carl Peters (1856-1918) ranked among Germany’s most prominent colonial agitators in the Bismarckian and Wilhelmine periods.² He became widely known as the founder of Deutsch-Ostafrika, a place that many Germans at the time saw as the pearl of their colonial possessions. In late 1884 Peters traveled to the Swahili coast, collecting a number of so-called treaties in which local leaders had allegedly transferred their sovereignty to the young German traveler. Only a few weeks later, in February 1885, Kaiser Wilhelm I issued an Imperial charter placing a territory estimated at 140,000 square kilometers under German protection.

    No other figure could...

  15. 10 The Law and the Colonial State: Legal Codification versus Practice in a German Colony
    (pp. 171-184)
    Nils Ole Oermann

    Colonial law has recently become a focus of extensive scholarly attention. Several authors have been concerned with the development of law in German colonies from a jurisdictional as well as a historical perspective.¹ A common methodological element of such studies is that they try to identify the significance of colonial law for German or international legal history by analyzing legal files and treaties from the perspective of what was happening at home in the Reich, even though they claim to describe how Germany’s administration and legal systems functioned in the colonies.² This chapter has a different emphasis and a broader...

  16. 11 Max Warburg and German Politics: The Limits of Financial Power in Wilhelmine Germany
    (pp. 185-201)
    Niall Ferguson

    The role of businessmen in the politics of Wilhelmine Germany has long been the subject of intense investigation. However, until relatively recently it tended to be industrialists who attracted most scholarly attention. Even before Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann’s edition of Walther Rathenau’s diaries,¹ several major studies on the power of industrial interest groups and “organized capitalism” in politics had appeared in the 1970s.² There was at one time vehement disagreement about the extent to which businessmen wielded effective political power, with approaches ranging from the pure Marxism-Leninism favored by historians in the German Democratic Republic,³ to the skepticism of Volker...

  17. 12 Continuity and Change in Post-Wilhelmine Germany: From the 1918 Revolution to the Ruhr Crisis
    (pp. 202-218)
    Conan Fischer

    The 1918 revolution marked the irrevocable demise of monarchical government in Germany, but the interwar Republic preserved intact much of the institutional and ideological substance of the Wilhelmine era. The grandees of the civil service and of the economy remained uncannily familiar by name, all of which helped to nourish fear and suspicion among Germany’s former wartime adversaries. The French establishment in particular protested that beyond the Rhine democratic conviction ran only skin deep, with the institutions and the people who in 1914 had unleashed an unprovoked war on France still very much in control. Deprived of any meaningful security...

  18. 13 A Wilhelmine Legacy? Coudenhove-Kalergi’s Pan-Europe and the Crisis of European Modernity, 1922-1932
    (pp. 219-234)
    Katiana Orluc

    Can Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi (1894-1972)—an Austro-Hungarian noble who was only in his late twenties when he founded the Pan-European movement in 1923-24—be considered an heir of Wilhelminism? Did the retrospectively picturesque German Empire not vanish into historicity the moment it became politically extinct? Did this putatively backward regime in fact produce any intellectual or ideological phenomena strong enough to endure? Indeed, if anything remained from the prewar period, was it not the bitter memory of a failed project of modernity, in which social conditions had deteriorated and in which capitalism had finally shown its ugly face with the...

  19. 14 Ideas into Politics Meanings of “Stasis” in Wilhelmine Germany
    (pp. 235-252)
    James Retallack

    Whole books could be filled citing Germans who felt that every dimension of their personal, communal, and political existence was in flux between 1890 and 1914. There is hardly another period in which German society, culture, and politics were allegedly more “turbulent,” “tumultuous,” or “disorienting.” Historians concur that Germany in these years was also undergoing its definitive “transition to modernity.” Nevertheless, debates about the nature of these changes continue to exercise scholars, as do disagreements about their magnitude and trajectory.² Hence there exists an opportunity to take stock of competing viewpoints and to consider whether the Kaiserreich was fundamentally transformed...

  20. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 253-256)
  21. List of Publications by Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann
    (pp. 257-260)
  22. Index
    (pp. 261-270)