To what extent did German nationalism contribute to the unification of Germany in 1871
German nationalism contributed to the unification of Germany in 1871 by showing the strength of a united Germany economically, politically and militarily. Nationalism has often served as a motivating factor for a hopeful revolution; across Europe it had unseated ruling monarchs since the French Revolution. The ideas of the Enlightenment stressed that a nation ruled by its natural people and united by its common culture and experiences could stand as a strong nation; the Germans had seen this through the Napoleonic conquest of Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. From the time of the Congress of Vienna, where the nationalist aspirations of the German volk were quashed, right until 1871; Germans were motivated by the idea of being a patriotic German.
German nationalism fuelled the growth for the desire of a national economy where goods could be traded with ease, once the Germans experienced the good that economic nationalism could bring they were increasingly convinced of the good that unification brought. Between 1830-1835, unprecedented economic growth swept through the German states powered by the newly dominant Prussia. Prior to the construction of the first railroad in 1835, Germany had been an agrarian society that emphasised a class divided between the peasants ( lower class) and nobles ( upper class). This divide had prevented a common thread of nationalism developing between these two vastly different, and enfranchised, sub cultures. However, with the rise of an economic middle class in the 18th and 19th centuries; there was a new pressure on rulers to meet the demands of this new class of citizen. Prussian leaders devised the concept of a Zollverien, or customs union, to fuel trade and growth within not only Prussia but also the broader German states. This signalled to Germans that there was a concept of being able to self-determine their economic future, and as time went on more German states joined this Prussia union. The economic success of Zollverein resulted in a boom in the economic output of all the German states, providing the industrial might for Germany to become a leading power in Europe,. This drew the German states to the increasingly nationalistic Prussian nation, led by the master statesman Otto von Bismarck, rather than the generational dependence on Austria. The significance of Zollverein is evident simply from a cartographical basis whereby the borders of the Zollverein states corresponded to the borders of the eventual unfired German state. Therefore, economic nationalism contributed to the unification of Germany by showing the industrial and economic strength of a unified german state and degrading the Austrian, anti unification influence over Germany.
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Otto Von Bismarck was a political giant of his time and supported political nationalism as a way for Germany to become, and remain, the foremost political power in Europe. Bismarck was a statesman who was considered not only opportunist but also a staunch supporter of the Prussian dynasty. He saw the future for Prussia as closely aligned with a future Germany who followed the traditions, and commands, of Prussia. He achieved German unification, and preserving Prussian control, by using a campaign of political nationalism to win over supporters and crush detractors. For example, in 1864 he went to war with Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein, a small territory, but one that Bismarck knew would afford him a political upper hand with the Austrians. He was able to show the German people that through his aggressive, but calculated, nationalist political agenda he would deliver them a united and strong nation. His most stunning political move to achieve unification was the war with Austria in 1866 which resulted in the establishment of the north German confederation in 1866. This gave Bismarck the legitimacy, authority and strength to establish the Bundesrat and Reichstag. This defeated any Austrian claim to the political leadership of the German Confederation and cemented the prestige of Prussian leadership amongst the Germanic states. Bismarckian policy was underpinned by his firm belief in the “balance of power” which he used to deliver German unification by weakening Austria to the point where it lacked control over Germany but not to the point it imploded and derailed his carefully orchestrated campaign toward a Prussian dominated unification. Therefore, through Bismarck’s cunning use of realpolitik and political pragmatism he was able to chart a course of political nationalism and achieve German unification.
Militarism is a strong part of the German national identity, arguably this developed from the experiences of the 18th and 19th century where Germany was faced with many threats which required a unified and national response. The influence of the military contributed to nationalist sentiment by showing the strength of Germany and her armies this achieved German unification by presenting a reliable framework for a powerful Germany. At the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Europe there was no German state. However, after banding together for their common defence, the German states began to see the attraction of supporting a unified state. The most significant contribution of nationalism to the unification of Germany, however, was seen in the final step of Bismarck’s plan – a second war with France. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 allowed Bismarck to prove to the southern Germanic states, which still wavered over their loyalty to Austria or Prussia, his intent to unify the nation under the strong rule of Prussia. This common enemy of France, due to the Napoleonic invasions earlier in the century, provided a nationalistic rallying cry that paved the way for unification. The defeat of this common Franco enemy would help strengthen the bonds between the southern Germanic states such as Baden and Bavaria and Prussia. Bismarck’s ‘unorthodox’ tactic of editing a telegram between the German and French leaders prompted the French to perceive the Prussians as eager for a war to protect their succession in Spain. However, since the French declared the war, Bismarck preserved the image of a nationalist Germany protecting itself from interfering foreign powers. This war of national unification proved to be the final card needed for German unification and thus resulting in Bismarck achieving his militarily goal of defeating Austria, France and Denmark in addition to also ruling over a unified Germany.
In closing, German unification was achieved through economic, political and militaristic nationalism, which, through the driving force of Otto von Bismarck, led to the creation of one of the world’s most powerful nations from a small and divided consortium of autocratic princely states.