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13 May 2018


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Great stuff as usual. Surely no one would stage manage a plebiscite and trigger a war to distract people from domestic issues? Oh, hang on, perhaps they would.


My first comment here. I'm nervous... become quite a fan of Mike Duncan ever since I listened to his podcast about Rome. (Reflected not least in my appreciation for Camillus, Claudius, Domitian, and old Sword In Hand, too.)

Was looking forward to this one. One tangential, but interesting fact: a big part of the reason Russia was reasonably well disposed toward Prussia was because Prussia gave them use of their railways for crushing the 1863 Polish uprising. The two nations shared a massive common national interest in keeping certain ethnic groups in the area, particularly the Poles, under firm control. In his generally pro-Russian sentiments, Bismarck strikes me as every bit the classic Junker who saw similarly militaristic, religious, and autocratic Tsarist Russia as Prussia's-and later Germany's-natural ally. The Hohenzollerns and Romonovs had intermarried, and in the case of Bismarck's "boss", Wilhelm I, had even developed genuine friendships within the Tsarist line. This was all in stark contrast to German liberals, who viewed Russia as the epitome of everything "Asiatic" and backward-essentially the conservative, authoritarian features Prussia jacked up to ten. They hoped to emulate England, Russia's great rival, in a constitutional monarchy. Wilhelm II, perhaps embodying the new, confused, half-east/half-west Second Reich, would end up being the schizophrenic hybrid of the two-not just in politics, but essential character and outlook-that would end up uniting the two with France against the Reich for WWI.

Also, major factor in Napoleon's blunder with the South German states was thinking that France would, as far as foreign nations went, be perceived at all similarly to Austria in German public opinion and consciousness after the rise of pan-German nationalism. Austria was ruled by a German speaking, Viennese accented Catholic who was, in the minds of many Bavarians, seemed more "German" than those Pope-denying, boorish, somewhat intimidating Prussians who spoke in a strange, hoarse dialect and didn't even know what sauerkraut was. (As for the partially Frenchified Rhinelanders, well, they were already under Prussian rule.) Austria was a former nation in the German confederation-one that might have let personal prestige, Metternichian mechniations, and other factors get in the way of a unified Germany, in the eyes of nationalists, but then again, Prussia was just as guilty here, too. France? Wholly foreign nation: and not just any wholly foreign nation. Thirty Year's War, War of Spanish Succession, Napoleon, and the general post-Richelieu French foreign policy agenda of keeping the German speaking world divided and as politically weak as possible: Bismarck and his cronies made very, very sure that this was what the papers and local rulers reminded the German public of, 24/7, when prepping them for war. And the irony of it all: Napoleon's destruction of the Holy Roman Empire helped to make it all possible.

Looking forward to the Commune and the lessons everybody's favorite razor-tongued Prussian exile, Karl Marx, takes from it. In an interesting parallel, neither Bismarck or Marx, despite being probably the two most influential born Prussians of at least the 19th Century, truly undertook a period of army service. This is quite interesting given how prominent the army was in that culture-it was basically responsible for keeping Prussia together as a state.

(The experience of serving in the mid-1800s Prussian army for middle and upper class socialists who fled for the US after 1848 came in handy for the Union a little while later... but my pseudo-intellectual rambling is getting a little too long, and I'm already worried I'm irritating real historians like Mr. Duncan.)


dunno about Mike, but Ian I found your comment fascinating. What struck me was the chilling description of how Prussia had organized its economy around waging war, hit far too close to home for this American.


One clarification: Not all the German states were subordinated to Prussia after the Austro-Prussian War. The southern German states of Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Baden, and Hesse-Darmstadt remained independent, hence why the new Prussian led federal state was labeled the "North" German Confederation. For this reason it was crucial for Bismarck to goad the French into declaring war, as Bismarck calculated that a successful war against a perceived foreign aggressor would be the only way to convince the southern states to make common cause with Prussia and get them to consent willingly to unification, which is indeed what happened.

This need to gain the support of the other German princes is part of the reason why, in 1871, Bismarck had to spend several months convincing King Wilhelm that his new title would have to be "German Emperor" rather than "Emperor of Germany", the implication being that Wilhelm would rule as first among equals rather than an absolute monarch. The king hadn't been won over to the idea by the time the Empire was proclaimed at Versailles, so to prevent a crisis, Wilhelm was hailed at the ceremony simply as "Emperor Wilhelm". The whole incident illustrates that the Prussians were not in a position of total domination, and the new German Empire would remain a federation of relatively autonomous principalities orbiting the Kingdom of Prussia all the way up to the German Revolution in 1918.

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