By the opening decades of the
16th century, Germany was a nation of great wealth, of high
culture, assertively self-confident, standard-bearer of the
Renaissance. High watermark of its great age was a rational
and reformed religion, the religion of Martin Luther. The 17th
century, however, was witness to massive French and Swedish
interventions to humble the Emperor, an exercise which at the
same time was to ensure the liberties of the German princes.
For the peace of Westphalia (1648) was to regulate the
political life of Germany for the ensuing century and a half.
Revolution (1789) altered Germany only less profoundly than it
altered France: the old political order, and in some parts of
Germany the old social order, was changed beyond recognition.
Later the "myth" of the national uprising against
Napoleon was fostered by German intellectuals who had been
present at Leipzig (1814). And yet the originator of the myth
was none other than Napoleon himself, alarmed to admit that he
owed his defeat to his own blunders and to the strength of the
three eastern powers (Russia, Austria and Prussia) whom he had
despised and humiliated. To be defeated by an elemental
upheaval of the peoples of Europe, Napoleon argued was less
disgraceful; indeed almost noble!
Confederation which was to witness a 30-year Austro-Prussian
partnership ended in 1848, the year of revolutions. Oddly, the
explosion of 1848 occurred in the name of unity and yet the
rulers, the reformers and the revolutionaries alike, were
divided from each other and among themselves.
significance of the revolution in Germany, however, was not so
much its failure at the time, as the effect of this failure on
the future. After 1850, there began in Germany a period of
industrial development; after 1871, an industrial revolution.
And within a generation economic power passed into the hands
of industrial capitalists, who, in sharp contrast to their
Anglo-Saxon counterparts, sought state leadership and not a
democratic set-up. And later, however grudgingly, accepted
dictatorship. This was the fateful legacy of 1848.
ascendancy of Austria (1849-60) posed a challenge to the king
of Prussia who in order to preserve his own — and junker
supremacy — sought out Bismarck. Clearly the issue which
brought the latter to power was not the survival of Prussia in
Germany but the survival in Prussia of the military monarch
and the military caste. For Bismarck’s ascendancy meant the
conquest of Germany by Prussia; a conquest of planning, of
foresight and of conscious direction. As always, "war was
the national industry of Prussia" and the Prussian staff
officers brought to war, accuracy, precision and system.
victory over France (1871) was qualitatively different from
Napoleon’s victory over Germany (1805). For Napoleon’s
armies marched under the banner of an idea; the German armies
under none. If monarchist France stood for aristocratic
civilisation and Napoleonic France for equality and civil
liberty, Germany stood for nothing, except German power. The
highest faculties of the mind, and these the Germans
possessed, were put to the service of a mindless cause.
and his legacy, there was little to commend. He had taught the
Germans that conquest was the only cure for danger and he had
whipped up the dangers to maintain his order. In the long run,
the Germans would break the bounds which he had imposed and
would seek to conquer all Europe. In the event, Bismarck, the
greatest of political German, was to prove for Germany the
greatest of disasters.
II, if "the future of Germany lay on the water",
this was not the water of the Danube. Under him, as under the
Iron Chancellor, while Germany restrained Austria-Hungary in
the Balkans and preached cooperation with Russia, it refused
to assist the German cause in Bohemia. Intoxicated by their
power, the Germans did not feel the need for any allies and
made no concessions to anyone. This was all there was to the
"encirclement" of Germany.
Bulow-Tirpitz system rested on the assumption that England,
France and Russia could never unite; the reverse of its
assumption at home that conflicting class interests could be
indefinitely reconciled. Hence the collapse in 1906-07 of
Bulow’s jugglery, and far more serious, the final ruin of
the system of Bismarck.
By 1916 when
Germany faced certain defeat in the east, the government of
the Reich had become as shadowy and meaningless as the
movement of constitutional liberalism which it had ordered out
of existence 50 years earlier. The dismissal of Falkenhayn and
the appointment of Hindenberg (August, 1916,) established the
supremacy of the military leaders which Bismarck, and even his
successors, had resisted. In the event, the Chancellor or, for
that matter, the Emperor, ceased to exist as a separate force,
their place being taken by the dictatorship of the army high
command. This was to end only after the defeated German armies
had marched home — and dispersed.
the Prussian landowners had viewed the separation of Austria
from Germany as Bismarck’s greatest achievement, a guarantee
of their own position. In the wake of their defeat (1918),
while resisting the loss of their Polish lands, they were
prepared to resist the loss of Austria too. The Treaty of
Versailles was a defeat both for conservative German
nationalism and for demagogic German nationalism. Therefore,
it united them as never before and ensured that all parts of
Germany would continue to overthrow the settlement of 1919 the
moment the army leaders gave them the permission to do so. The
Weimar Republic (1919-33) and the settlement of Europe alike
reposed solely on the realisation by the German Generals of
their country’s military weakness.
"crisis" of 1930 was provoked by the Reichswehr and
Bruning chosen as Chancellor for the sole purpose of speeding
up German rearmament. The economic crisis was an afterthought,
an accident which took the Reichswehr by surprise. Bruning’s
own position was sincere enough: wishing to serve Germany, he
could only serve the army. Moreover in promising rearmament he
was pursuing a policy in which he himself believed. The
economic crisis of 1929-33, alluded to above, did not deal a
deathblow to the republic; at most, it drew attention to the
fact that the republic was dead.
can withstand fair weather; it is tested when the storm begins
to blow. This test the German republic could not pass; with
few supporters, and no roots, it fell at the first rumble of
could boast the last year of victories (1944), but the
victories were hollow; the British Isles were not invaded, the
Soviet Union was not subdued. In the autumn of 1942, the tide
of German success was halted at Stalingrad by the Soviets and
at Alamein by British army; the two great powers had thereby
paid the debt which they had owed to Europe since 1864.
Unsuccessful in total war, the Nazis accomplished a miracle of
total destruction; in their ruin they brought down the Reich
which had lasted for more than a thousand years.
In July 1945,
the leaders of the three great victorious powers met at
Potsdam to plan the future of Germany. The "many great
nations" whom Bismarck had dismissed with scorn now sat
in the seats of Frederick the Great, of Hitler, and of
Bismarck himself. German history had run its course.
One of Taylor’s
best known books, "The Course of German History",
has rarely been out of print since its first appearance in
July, 1945. Its major thrust, that there were continuities in
German history and that the Nazis were not an aberration but
only an extreme version of Germany’s drive for mastery in
central and eastern Europe. More, that the Germans as a whole
were guilty of expansionist policies and that nearly all
Germans had been committed to a Greater Germany.
"Habsburg Monarchy 1815-1918" which this reviewer
read for his Master’s at Lahore saw the birth of "The
Course of German History" between its two editions (1914
and 1948). The latter study was hailed by its critics as an
"impatient book, vivid and tempestuous, pointed and
pugnacious, concise and overzealous, severe and sarcastic,
ambitious and angry". It remains a strong statement of
the view that German history is exceptional; in his own words,
it is "a history of extremes. It contains everything
(1906-90), Britain’s well-known political and diplomatic
historian of the 20th century, was also a noted journalist. A
socialist by conviction, he was, by the 1940s, more an
individualistic radical and even populist. He authored several
bestselling books, including "English History
1914-1945", "The Origins of the Second World
War" and "The Warlords".
With Taylor one reads history
at its best: vivid, incisive, interpretative, provocative. And
at the same time, eminently readable. Like all good history,
it presupposes a thorough grasp of basic facts and important