In 1914 Germany started the Great War by violating Belgian neutrality in an attempt to conquer France quickly before the Russians could mobilise; this was part of the infamous Von Schlieffen plan. However it would be hard to say whether the peoples who declared war were united – this group could have declared war in an attempt to clarify their presence as a nation. One way to judge if Germany could have been called a nation was to decide whether it acted like other countries of the time.
After looking at the abuse of the Reichstag (seemingly the only democratic body in the system) via censure by King William II one would find it hard to say that it was united. William’s dominant personality had been one of the reasons why he decided that the Reichstag could be overlooked (for example his discussions over the building of the navy would not be halted by the Reichstag’s concerns over the bill), he had also built up a dislike for any non Prussians shown in his comments declaring that his 18 army corps would make short work of the south German trouble makers.
In a democratic nation, the people (who hated the Kaiser) would have been able to alter the system possibly by limiting his power however under the German constitution the Kaiser had power of appointment and so surrounded himself by ‘friends and flunkies rather than men of talent’. If the King, a man who was supposed to represent his nation (a nation which had been declared at Versailles in 1871) treated the people’s representatives with such contempt and openly admitted to despising a large section of his subjects, in a show of quite incredible prejudice, then Germany could not be said to be a nation or at least it was not behaving like one.
Within this ‘nation’ there was both a class war and an agrarian divide which were very divisive factors to nation building. The eastern workers despised the fact that they were having to work as many as 18 or 19 hours a day (enough to kill a man if done on a regular basis), the divide could be made even clearer still – female servants were being asked to complete unnecessary duties in the middle of the night while male servants would be asked no such task.
While this abuse was taking place upper middle class parties regularly consisted of stunning displays of the finest foods and wines imaginable, they had been able to afford this due to the booming economy which I will mention later. An cause for dispute and unrest would have been that the business men of the nation were very prosperous at the time, a term which could not be used for the lower classes who’s income’s did not rise at the same rate as their masters and who’s living standards did not change significantly either.
The government did nothing to stop the upper classes exploiting the rights of the proletariat; this period saw the growth of cartels, price fixing organisations which could control large parts of the economy and by monitoring supply could fix high prices. There are even sources which show possible tactics to make the SPD as unpopular as possible by creating strikes, this deliberate sabotage on a fellow political party would have been considered horrendous and shows that neither the government nor the King acted in a responsible way or in a decent manner.
The King tried in 1899 to pass legislation which Posadowsky said would have ‘throttled the Social Democracy’ but failed because he did not have public support; the fact that the public were strongly opposed to their King’s main political objective (and had cause to be anti any of his decisions or beliefs due to his appalling behaviour) shows that this was still not a untied nation. Germans could only identify themselves by hostility towards another, a policy which caused many atrocities against minorities; ending up with the Jews.
These extreme nationalists were often members of the Pan Germanic league which called for a more vigorous foreign policy and other such aggressive policies. Nationalism by 1914 was no longer a tool of the government to rally support; it became a weapon for challenging the legitimacy of the state. Many historians would suggest that the reason that Germany used such an aggressive foreign policy was because it united the public which was necessary due to all the domestic frailties.
The Moroccan Crisis was an issue which the German people could unite under because tit had one clear objective which was in all their interests; to split Anglo French alliance. Germany could despite all its faults be considered a nation, after all this collective group of people had waged war in 1914. There was a constitution which incorporated a Kaiser and two national institutions (the Bundesrat and the Reichstag). One of these was a democratically elected body who seemingly had the power to bloke legislation (the anti socialist laws of 1899).
These are some classic characteristics of a nation irrespective of the fact that they were not particularly efficient. The country was prosperous; in fact the economy was thriving. No other country in the world had seen increases in sectors like gas, water and electricity (the essential sectors for industrialisation) like the Germans had. Despite the Kaiser’s desire for autocratic control, he was controlled by the constitution – at one point he is quoted as saying ‘the Emperor hardly has any rights’.
Despite the Kaiser’s wishes the SPD continued to grow which in itself is a sign of liberalism. This nation (which was declared in 1871) was colonialising, after all like every empire it had a destiny and a place in the sun. The economic boom had meant that the population was rising to such an extent that war was the only option. It would mean more land. Victory was of course considered inevitable, the Germans as a race felt superior (social Darwinism).
After looking at both sides I would say that Germany was a nation in 1914. It was clearly not entirely united and was not efficient in the least but realistically has any country ever been able to claim to have been. It was a thriving economy which realised the need for war, a war would provide the needed territory, add to trade and would unite the country not by hostility towards minorities with Germany which would be unsettling but by fighting against a separate kind of enemy.