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Weimar Germany

Essay by review  •  November 6, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  4,369 Words (18 Pages)  •  1,766 Views

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In examining great social and cultural changes in the modern West, many specific events come to mind: the Renaissance and the Reformation, the "discovery" of the Americas, industrialization, and World War Two. One such event, often overlooked, is the "Great War", 1914-1918. Like every people affected by the expanse of this war, Germans were deeply affected and forever changed. As a social, cultural, and psychological reaction to World War I, the German people created the Weimar Republic, leading to a drastic change in German society and culture. To best understand these changes, a comprehensive analysis of World War I, before, during, and after, is necessary.

What was Germany before World War I? Before World War I, Germany was a Great Power on the cusp of social revolution, like many other European nations. The relatively new empire was struggling with the new working class and the increasing movement for labor rights (Gilbert and Large, 15-19). Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany when World War I began, was moving his empire toward expansive imperialism and militarism. The political, social, and cultural structure of Germany before World War I was relatively new, but almost instantly powerful and potent.

The political structure of Germany, bred of Germany's attempt at solid unification, was rapidly becoming outdated in the face of labor and the precarious balance of power in Europe, and would soon be put under by World War I. The Bundesrat, like the contemporary House of Lords in the British parliament, was manipulated by the landowning class. The Reichstag, created to balance the weight of the Bundesrat, was extremely limited: it could in no way interfere with individual states' armies, being limited to legislation in the areas of foreign and naval affairs, as well as other relative trivialities like customs and mail (Gilbert and Large, 71).

In spite of Germany's authoritarian governmental system, some indicators of social progressiveness were apparent. Members of the Reichstag were voted in, and eligible voters included all men over the age of 25. Germany was also ahead of her time in terms of workers' rights (albeit no nation was timely enough to satisfy the rapidly-growing working class.)

For the most part, however, Germany was the symbol of authoritarianism. The Kaiser himself was an important symbol of this governmental style. To best understand this politic, one must examine the conditions in which the new German Empire was created: the Germany Wilhelm II was doomed to dominate.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of a relatively new Germany and the ninth King of Prussia, was born in 1859. His education, like many European monarchs at the time, was strict, militaristic, and enforced concepts like authoritarianism and imperialism. He spent time with his grandmother, Queen Victoria of England, and grew to admire his grandmother's dominating navy (which allowed Britain to expand her colonial interests with relative ease.) He grew up immersed in Prussian ideas, and was espousing them freely by the time he came to the throne (Clark).

His lust for power was apparent two years after he took the throne in 1888, when he dismissed his chancellor, Otto von BismarckÐ'--a man who, by all accounts, helped to shape the European world Wilhelm wished to dominate. Von Bismarck, after serving several years as an ambassador between 1851 and 1862, returned to Prussia as prime minister, and devoted his energies to uniting Germany. The War of 1866, during which von Bismarck successfully prevented Austria from mingling with Germany, and the Prussian success during the Franco-Prussian (1870-1871), furthered von Bismarck's ambitions and esteem in new German Empire, the Deutsches Reich, created in 1870 (Clark, 82). Naturally, the power Prussia exerted over Germania led to King Wilhelm I of Prussia's title as Emperor of the Reich.

This signaled great change for Germans. For one, Germany took on a Prussian political system, because of Prussia's hand in creating the Reich. The positions in which Prussians were appointed were in the upper echelons of government. This was a significant change from the numerous German states which, for centuries, maintained their own autonomy. Also, the alliance of the German states led credence to the concept that Germany could become a dominating European power. Disconcerting to those Germans far removed from Prussia culturally and socially, the power of the new and potent Reich was in the hands of very few people. Von Bismarck, who became Imperial Chancellor, was answerable to no one but the Emperor himself. Von Bismarck himself decided who stayed and who left, and who was present in the first place, among the states secretaries who administered the Reichstag.

Von Bismarck controlled and accomplished much for his new Reich. "Non-binding opinions" were the greatest . The system was described at the time as a "chancellor dictatorship". Von Bismarck decided upon policy outlines, and made the most important decisions for the Reich in conjunction with the Emperor. Under von Bismarck, however, came positive changes such as administrative reforms, developing a common currency, a central bank, and a single code of commercial and civil law for Germany. Satisfying the working class and vying with the socialists, Germany offered workers insurance against accident, sickness and old age. It was Bismarck, too, who embraced the "game" of creating alliances with the other European powers. It was he who laid the groundwork for the Austria-Hungary Alliance of 1879 (Clark, 79.)

In spite of (or perhaps because of) von Bismarck's success in stabilizing and advancing Germany politically, Wilhelm II embraced the Emperor's ability to control the Reich. He rarely listened to von Bismarck during the first two years of his rule. He luxuriated in his control over the army, and took pleasure in being strict. Because Germany was only recently accelerating as a great power, Wilhelm II felt the need to make up for lost time, and see Germany flower into modern, Prussian-esque glory.

At the time Germany entered World War I, politics weren't the only recent change Germans had experienced. Economically, Germany was booming. While the Kaiser was expanding her navy, her merchant marine rivaled that of Great Britain. Between 1887 and 1912, German exports were at 185% if their value pre-1887 (Gilbert and Large, 72). Armament factories, along with coal and iron mining, were among Germany's leading industries. Because the recent industrial revolutions had created a place for a working class, and because Germany was relatively generous to its workers, factory work was an extremely positive influence on the German economy, as exemplified by its then-recent successes.

Culturally and socially,

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