Unity and the Second Reich
The conflict with Austria for supremacy over Germany entered a new phase when the management of internal and foreign affairs of Prussia was entrusted (1862) to O. von Bismarck, who worked with skill, within the framework of the forces in the international field, to stem and then reduce the presence of Austria (fig. 3). At the end of June 1866, Prussia attacked and defeated Austria; the victory allowed it to extend its territories, dissolve the Germanic Confederation and place itself at the head of a Confederation of the North, with the exclusion of the southern states and Austria, the first stage of unification; the second was reached following the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.
On January 18, 1871, thanks to the consensus also of the southern states, William I of Prussia was proclaimed emperor of Germany: the Second Reich was born, on the initiative of Prussia, which in addition to acquiring an absolute territorial and demographic hegemony the other German states possessed in the Bundesrat (the representation of States) of 17 seats out of 58. the command of the armed forces belonged to Kaiser, at the same time king of Prussia; the Reich chancellor identified himself, by personal union, with the Prussian one. The political system of the Empire, made up of 25 states and Alsace-Lorraine as the territory of the Reich, provided for the existence of a Parliament (Reichstag) elected by universal suffrage (but with the exclusion of women), with limited powers: the government responded to the Kaiser.
The Bismarckian management (1871-90) aimed to consolidate the dominance of landowners (Junker) and military caste, with attention to the interests of the rising big bourgeoisie, and to guarantee the Reich the support of Russia and Austria-Hungary in parallel with the isolation of France. Bismarck fought the forces which were opposed to Prussian centralism (the Catholic Zentrumpartei) or which, like Social Democracy, placed themselves in antagonism to the sociopolitical order. On the first side, the Kulturkampf(➔ # 10132;) confronted him with the clergy Catholic and directly with the Church of Rome. The political and trade union organizations of the workers’ movement were banned in 1878, but the repressive legislation did not stop their growth linked to the industrial development of the Reich. More successful was the early development of a precursor to the modern welfare state in containing the social democratic rise. Bismarck was also the protagonist of the belated entry of the Germanic Empire into the colonial race.
In 1890 he was taken over by GL Caprivi who, more attentive to the interests of the bourgeoisie aimed at easing customs protection, was opposed by the ultra-conservatives and in 1894 dismissed from his post. From this time on, the policy of the Reich was determined by the conservative and militarist bloc, but above all by the personal regime of William II, protagonist of spectacular initiatives in foreign policy. This strengthened the image of a Germany reaching out towards Weltpolitik (world politics), to which the intensification of colonial efforts and above all the race for naval armaments gave substance, a policy destined to bring Germany on a collision course with the Grand Brittany.
Kaiser himself led Germany in the First World War, fueling annexationist aims and the desire for domination and subjecting German society to an unprecedented process of militarization. The difficulties on the home front resulted in a growing desire for peace at the end of 1918 and the aspiration to democratize the country.
The Weimar Republic
The abdication of the Kaiser (November 1918), bent by military defeat, gave the green light to the proclamation of the republic. The uprising in which the minorities of the socialist and communist left were protagonists was unable to give the republic the face of a radical transformation and, in fact, would have been severely repressed by the social democratic government. In 1919, elections were held for the National Constituent Assembly, which met in Weimar . Territorially, economically and militarily scaled down by the Treaty of Versailles, the Germany had with the Constitution of 1919 a political order on paper among the most advanced of the time. For the first time in the history of the United Kingdom, the principle of popular sovereignty and the primacy of the parliamentary system were affirmed, tempered by the powers conferred on the President of the Republic. The Constitution legitimized the existence and function of trade unions.
The Reich acquired the structure of a federal state, with 17 Länder endowed with equal powers and autonomy. The political base of the republic was constituted by the democratic parties of the so-called Weimar coalition, the social democracy, the Catholic center, the democratic party (expression of the left liberals); the effort to broaden the consensus on the right, towards the conservative wing of German liberalism, provided Germany Stresemann with the chancellor (1923) and the foreign minister (1923-29) of greatest stature of the Republic.
From the international point of view, the Republic was exhausted by the struggle for the revision of the Treaty of Versailles, by the imposition of reparations on the victors, by the overcoming of the military controls imposed by the peace treaty. Stresemann’s compliance policy pointed the way to an honorable reintegration of Germany into the powers, but was violently opposed by the nationalist right and National Socialist agitation, which fueled the legend of the “stab in the back” to identify democracy as the protagonist of the military defeat of 1918.
According to topschoolsoflaw, the expectations of a great political and social transformation were disappointed: in 1925 the election to the presidency of Marshal PL von Hindenburg, on the death of the Social Democrat F. Ebert, marked a reversal of the trend. Starting from the end of the 1920s, the world crisis had one of its epicenters in Germany Struck by the depression, the political system was put in crisis by the extra-parliamentary management of Chancellor H. Brüning as well as by the national and social demagogy of the National Socialist Party (NSDAP, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) of A. Hitler, which from 1930 to 1932 worked systematically for the destruction of the democratic republic, promising an exit from the crisis through the restoration of a strong state, in the name of a national unity based on racism and anti-Semitism.