‘A strong sense of patriotism and nationalism firmly kept power in the hands of
the Kaiser during the period 1900-1914’
How far do you agree with this judgement?
During the years 1900-1914 the Kaiser faced many potential threats to the extent of his power. These ranged from demands for social reform, from the SPD, to the demands for constitutional change, from the liberals, to demands for more power, from the Centre Party and finally to demands for a more aggressive foreign policy. Despite these threats ultimate power remained in the hands of the Kaiser in 1914. This retention of power was primarily due to the sense of patriotism and nationalism that existed in Germany and can most clearly be seen in the support that was apparent for nationalist foreign policies. The exact workings of the political structure of Germany also allowed the Kaiser to retain control but this structure could only remain because of the patriotism and nationalism that the Kaiser both exploited and enjoyed. It cannot be denied that a small amount of moderate reform also played a small role but its limited scope together with the failure to introduce some of the intended reform show once again that it was really the sense of nationalism and patriotism that kept the power where it was. It cannot be denied, however, that the lack of unity of the political parties meant that a real threat to power was never even attempted. In this sense the Kaiser was fortunate but because the threat did not materialise it was primarily the sense of nationalism and patriotism that allowed him to maintain his power.
The support for nationalist foreign policies followed throughout this period highlight the strong sense of nationalism and patriotism that existed and ultimately explain the most important reason why power remained in the hands of the Kaiser. The policy of Sammlungspolitik under the chancellorship of Bulow clearly shows this in action. This policy aimed to ally the Conservatives, Liberals, Junkers and Industrialists against socialism and towards the current political system, with the Kaiser at the helm. Both protectionism and a strong colonial policy, called Weltpolitik, were used to enforce support for the political system and show the strength that an appeal to nationalism could have. The attempt that was made to further the size of the navy, via a second navy law which would build 38 battleships in twenty years, further proves this and shows how nationalism and patriotism were used to soak up any tensions that existed. The Herero uprising can be seen as evidence to contradict the power that nationalism had. This is because the use of the policy of genocide, which was used as revenge against an uprising of the people against their colonial oppressor, tore apart the coalition as the Centre party were horrified by events and demanded more parliamentary control over the financing of all current affairs. However what this evidence actually shows is that ultimate power actually always remained in the hands of the Kaiser as not only were these demands ignored but the Reichstag was dissolved after the parties with the balance of power voted against the building of a new railway in the region. The use of patriotism and nationalism to keep power in the hands of the Kaiser was then ultimately shown by Bulow managing to gain a victory for his ‘Bulow-Bloc’ in the next election by portraying the socialists and Catholics as unpatriotic. Even the SPD voted for an army bill in 1913 because they did not want to be seen as unpatriotic. In short nationalism and patriotism were inherent throughout
Germany and their existence is clearly shown in the support for the foreign policy. They proved to be a very useful tool to keeping power in the hands of the Kaiser
A study of the political structure of the federal state during the second Reich both provides us with another important reason why power remained in the hands of the Kaiser but also once again emphasise the important role that patriotism and nationalism had in achieving this. The political system was such that the chancellor, who had control of the Bundesrat, was chosen and responsible to the Kaiser. Furthermore the ministers for this Bundesrat were voted in using a three tier voting system that favoured the Conservatives and the Prussians, who were the Kaiser’s allies. Finally the Kaiser could, and did, dissolve the Reichstag, if it threatened the status quo. In short power rested with the Kaiser. In such a system it would be easy to explain the existence of opposition. However the reason that this opposition did not grow into a real threat to the Kaiser’s power is because the Kaiser was seen as a pillar of strength and the figurehead in the midst of squabbling and failed coalitions between political parties. The importance of nationalism and patriotism cannot be overemphasised here as they provided the Kaiser with a respectability that was crucial in allowing him to keep his power. It must be remembered of course that the exact technicalities of the structure of the system provide another smaller reason why the Kaiser maintained power. For example the political structure meant that the Kaiser was able to remove Bulow after the Daily Telegraph affair when he was blamed for failing to censor the interview between the Kaiser and the British. Also the Kaiser forbid the chancellor from informing the Reichstag that he sent a military officer to investigate the Zabern affair and ignored the Reichstag when they passed a vote of no confidence against Hollweg for his actions. This evidence clearly show that the political structure aided the Kaiser in keeping his power but it must be remembered that the reason he was able to maintain this political structure in the first place was because of the patriotism and nationalism that he both exploited and enjoyed.
Moderate reform played a small part in keeping power in the hands of the Kaiser but its limited scope together with the lack of any real success show once again that it was patriotism and nationalism that played a more pivotal role. This is clearly shown in the lack of substance inherent in Bulow’s and Hollweg’s reforms to placate the socialists together with the failure of Hollweg’s reforms to reform the constitution. On the surface it seems that Bulow’s reforms to solve the socialist threat show that it was actually reform that maintained power in the hands of the Kaiser, these include the laws to extend accident insurance, to give longer and more generous hours to workers in poor health and those to reduce the amount of factory work. However the introduction of a tariff law in 1902, which put higher duties on imported grain and thus raised food prices, turned worker support away from the Kaiser’s system and to the SPD and thus proves that moderate reform was never intended to be the mechanism to keep power in the hands of the old elites. This is clearly shown once again in the chancellorship of Hollweg when his attempts to reform the Prussian voting system were defeated by the Conservatives and thus the proposals had to be dropped. It cannot have been reform that maintained the Kaiser’s power as the lack of reform to a clearly biased and unpopular voting system was not carried out but yet the Kaiser’s power was maintained. The small reforms of Hollweg, including the Imperial insurance code, are not significant enough to counter this evidence. Thus the lack of any real depth to any reform together with the lack of success in some of its
implementation clearly show that moderate reform only played a small role and one that is not as significant as the sense of patriotism and nationalism.
The strong sense of nationalism and patriotism were largely important but not solely so because the disunity of the Reichstag parties also played a minor part. In short the political parties could have dented the power that the Kaiser had but their disunity prevented this from happening. The main example of this was in the 1912 election when the SPD won the most votes but an effective coalition was not formed because other parties would not work with them; their views were too different. The political parties were keener to protect their own interests than they were to work with each other and this would ultimately play into the hands of the Kaiser and allow him to keep his power. Other examples include the emergence of new middle class groups, including the Mittesland Association and Mittesland League together with the emergence of groups on the other side of the political spectrum, including the Association of Commercial Assistants. All these groups were interested in their own interests and survival and thus would not collaborate. This meant that an effective front was not provided against the Kaiser’s power and it meant that the Kaiser had further opportunities to exploit the heavily nationalistic and patriotic nature of the country.
The lack of unity of the political parties in the Reichstag clearly meant that a realistic threat to the Kaiser’s power never materialised. In this sense the Kaiser was fortunate, it meant that the Kaiser could enjoy and exploit the great sense of patriotism and nationalism that existed in Germany in order to maintain his power. This is clearly shown in a range of foreign policies that had nationalism as their underlying aim. Furthermore it allowed the Kaiser to be a pillar of strength and a figure head in the midst of these quarrelling parties which again shows the role of nationalism in maintaining power. It might have been the exact working and technicalities of the political system that allowed the Kaiser to dissolve the Reichstag and remove chancellors but this system only existed because of the nationalistic and patriotic support that he enjoyed. It could be argued that moderate reform played a more important role but a real examination of this evidence clearly shows that the reform was too limited and in many cases without success to be a real reason why power was maintained. The sense of nationalism and patriotism was at the heart of the Kaiser’s retention of power.
‘The power of the Fuhrer was comprehensive and total’
How far do you agree with this opinion?
Use the evidence of sources 1, 2 and 3 and your own knowledge of the issues relating to this controversy
This question concerns the extent and strength of Hitler’s power and refers to the controversy concerning the efficiency of the Nazi regime; the debate between intentionalist and structuralist viewpoints. Evans in source 1 argues that the Nazis publicised terror in order to enforce control; thus largely supporting the viewpoint that the Fuhrer’s power was comprehensive. On the other hand Stewart in source 3 presents the evidence of Hitler’s bohemian lifestyle which would seem to disagree with the view that the power of the Fuhrer was total. Kershaw adopts a middle way and whilst he accepts that the structure of government was a shambles with competing factions, he argues that they did so in order to interpret Hitler’s world view; thus showing a different and interpretation of total and comprehensive power.
Evans clearly demonstrates the extent of the terror system and this can be used to support the opinion of the total and comprehensive power of the Fuhrer. Furthermore Evans explains how this system was greatly publicised as a method of control so that everyone became fearful of ‘arrest, prosecution and imprisonment in increasingly brutal and violent conditions’. Indeed the terror system was efficiently run by Himmler and from his desk Himmler did control a whole network of spies, torturers, policeman and informers which spread into every town, factory, school and house. This was a result of his overall control of the SS and police. Further evidence to support this view of the totality of Hitler’s power were the key decisions he made, most notably Operation Hummingbird, and his foreign policy decisions, most notable to reoccupy the Rhineland, to form an Anschluss with Austria and to seize Czechoslovakia. To an extent Kershaw agrees with the totality of Hitler’s power, and thus with Evans, as he argues that the autonomy of the Fuhrer grew over time and that it ‘detached and isolated itself from any corporate government’; thus showing that Hitler had such power that he need not concern himself with the mundane government business. This is supported by Stewart who demonstrates this isolated, but yet total, power by referring to the declining number of cabinet meetings. Kershaw may go on to mention the ‘competing and non-coordinated agencies’ but intentionalists would explain this as Hitler’s policy of divide and rule; a key component that was intended to maintain total power. This can clearly be seen in the sphere of the economy when Goring was allowed to undermine Schacht when he took control of the Four Year Plan; leaving Schacht with no choice to resign. Thus there is no denying the strength of Hitler’s power but Evans is mistaken in his explanation of its nature. The terror system did not enforce this total power as it was actually directed at certain sections of society, most notable political opponents such as communists and socialists, and furthermore the terror did not ‘loom over people’ but was actually popular amongst them; many, for example, were appreciative of the removal of the communist threat. Furthermore even the SS warred amongst themselves. Thus the power of the Fuhrer was comprehensive but not in the way that Evans’ evidence seems to suggest; instead it was a mystical and isolated power and this cult of the Fuhrer was enforced by the Goebbels’ propaganda machine.
Stewart’s evidence presents the opposite viewpoint as his evidence would seem to present the case that the Fuhrer’s power was limited; the very opposite of comprehensive and total. Stewart refers to Hitler’s bohemian lifestyle which was not the lifestyle of a ‘hands-on dictator’. Furthermore Stewart mentions that Hitler had ‘limited knowledge of the political system’ and that he did not have any ‘training or experience to fit him for the job of governing’. Thus Stewart is in direct contrast to Evans. To further these opinions structuralist historians would refer to Hitler’s reliance on the power of the Gauleiter, as shown when he could not support Frick in trying to subordinate them, the setting up of rival agencies to that of the traditional state which created political chaos and the use of Fuhrer
orders which were often contradictory. The latter was notably the case when in 1935 both Hess and an official from the Ministry of the Interior were given contradictory orders with regards to whether it would be best for the Jews to be allowed to stay in Germany. To an extent Kershaw agrees with this structuralist view as he refers to the reducing of the structure of government to a ‘shambles of constantly shifting power bases’ and ‘warring factions’. To accept the evidence of Stewart in supporting the viewpoint of a lack of power would be to show a misunderstanding of Hitler’s role and significance. His absorption of the powers of Chancellor and President combined with the army’s oath, both in 1934, gave unassailable power. This then allowed Hitler to be presented as a demigod who was worshipped by the German people, most notably in the Triumph of the Will which portrayed the Nuremburg Rally. In short Hitler’s dictatorship was so powerful that he could distance himself from the detail of government and furthermore this helped maintain power as blame for any unpopular measures would be directed to subordinates and not as an attack against the Fuhrer himself. Thus the bohemian lifestyle and competing agencies that were left behind do not show weakness in power but completely the opposite.
It has been shown that the Fuhrer’s power was total but in a mystical and isolated sense and that the competing ministries and agencies left behind did not impact upon this. It is this context that Kershaw provides the most acceptable account of the Fuhrer’s total and comprehensive power. Kershaw accepts that the vacuum left by Hitler’s distancing created a ‘dissolution of the government into a multiplicity of competing and non-coordinated ministries’. However this chaos does not show a lack of comprehensive power as within this vacuum the agencies were competing to ‘interpret the Fuhrer’s will’. In fact a situation where all were trying to find the right method to achieve an element of the world view at the right time shows a much higher level of power. This competition to deduce the most appropriate method was constantly motivated by the reward of influence in being allowed to make the proposal a reality. This viewpoint can clearly be supported by analysing how the policy towards the Jews was formulated. Frick’s ‘Aryan Clause’, Wagner’s speech leading to the Nuremburg laws, the street violence following Anschluss, the 1938 legislation to isolate the Jews and Goebbels’ green light for Kristallnacht were all methods and legislation formed by those ‘working towards the Fuhrer’; trying to come up with the right method at the right time. Kershaw would further support this by disagreeing with Evans by saying that in 1933 even the SS, a fundamental part of the terror system that Evans’ mentioned, even had to work towards the Fuhrer and their success was shown by the ensuing Night of the Long Knives. This theory on the totality of the Fuhrer’s power explains the strength of the dictatorship mentioned by Evans and the apparent lack of leadership mentioned by Stewart.
The power of the Fuhrer was comprehensive and total. Evans is right in implying this but incorrect in saying it was a result of terror mechanisms that were put in place. Stewart is right in presenting Hitler’s bohemian lifestyle but it would be wrong to use this evidence to argue a lack of power. Instead it was Hitler’s hand off approach that allowed a much higher level of power to develop. By distancing himself from government Hitler left a vacuum that was filled by competing agencies and ministries all trying to form a method that fully interpreted his world view. Kershaw is correct to adopt this viewpoint as this style of government did create chaos but it was this competing chaos to please and gain influence from Hitler, supported by the representation of Hitler as a mystical religion in propaganda, that show the true totality and comprehensiveness of the Fuhrer’s powe
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