Analyse the successes and failures of Bismarcks domestic policies after 1871

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October 20th, 2012

Analyse the successes and failures of Bismarck’s domestic policies after 1871

Otto von Bismarck (1815-98) served as Imperial Chancellor after the German Unification and influenced European diplomacy until his resignation in 1890. His concentration on foreign affairs limited his ‘rule at home’. The extent to which his domestic policies were successful or not is debatable by historians as by the end of his career ‘he found himself out of sympathy with the Pan-German enthusiasm of the younger generation and was forced to resign’ as A.Palmer wrote.

The first decade of domestic policies under Bismarck’s chancellorship was dominated by a conflict between the Catholic Church and the state. That clash initiated an alliance with Bismarck’s former opponents, the Liberals, against the Centre Party, which signaled the beginning of Bismarck’s ‘liberal era’ (1871-1878).  A liberal deputy, Virchow, gave the campaign against Catholicism ‘the character of a great struggle for civilization (Kulturkampf)’.

         In 1873, after the cutting of diplomatic relations with the Vatican (1872), the newly introduced series of legislation known as the ‘May Laws’ aimed to bring the Church under state control by forcing clericals to attend a university, giving control of all clerical matters to the state and making civil marriage compulsory.

The opinion that the ‘iron chancellor’ manipulated this clash as a means of uniting the Reich against a ‘common enemy’ is no longer defensible. Bismarck’s motives extend to another level. More specifically, as a sincere Protestant, Bismarck saw the Catholics with suspicion, he referred to them as ‘Reichfeinde’ (enemies of the Reich) and distrusted the influence of Catholicism upon the already questionable loyalty of the German Catholics to the newly formed Reich. Thus, as presented by Bismarck ‘It is not […] a matter of struggle between belief and unbelief, it is a matter of a conflict […], between monarchy and priesthood […]’. Moreover, political advantages offered by the Kulturkampf such as the improvement of his relations with the National Liberal Party and the anti-clerical Italian and Russian governments also served greatly the chancellor’s interests.

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The desired results, though, were not achieved. The Kulturkampf instead of weakening, it strengthened the influence of the Church and the Centre Party which doubled his representation in the Reichstag (1874). In addition, the chancellor’s anti- Catholic stance imperiled the relations with Austria and caused the disapproval of the conservatives due to his liberal views. Therefore, the conflict did much to vitiate Bismarck’s previous accomplishments. As the historian C. Grant Robertson stated ‘Bismarck deliberately sacrificed victory in the Kulturkampf to victory in other issues’.

After the Kulturkampf failure, Bismarck’s new challenge was to combat what he found as a ...

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