The Social And Political Influences Leading Up To The First World War. Romanticism began in the closing decades of the Eighteenth Century. Influencing all spheres of life, pervading the populace of Europe and the first half of the Nineteenth Century with idealistic, yet unreal sentiment. Contradicting any romantic or idealistic belief were the uniform followers of rationalism and conservatism, descendents of Puritanism that arose in the Church of England during the early 17th Century. The German writer E. T.
A. Hoffmann quoted in retrospect “infinite longing” was the essence of romanticism, if this definition is accepted, it may be said that it created in Europe, an illicit hunt for a “utopian” society. This I theorize is the ulterior motive of European society, the search for perfection, seeking a fool’s paradise. Nationalism. It is more than loyalty to a nation, that is simply patriotism.
Nationalism is the belief that ones country is highest on the pedestal of global pre-eminence. It is the need to elevate ones country to a higher global state than any rivals, thus the need for self-determination as in Germany, Prussia absorbed many of the northern protestant states and later the southern catholic ones under the guidance of Otto Von Bismarck. Otto Von Bismarck applying a policy of “realpolitik”1, a mixed bag of “blood-and-iron” ,which subsequently “unified” over 39 tribal duchies of varying sizes, into a single cohesive, culturally unified nation. This is the first time Germany had been completely unified, the change, radical even compared to the Congress of Vienna(1814-15) of which the result was the number of states decreasing from 240 to 39. In a further attempt to strengthen the bond holding Germany together, Bismarck fought three calculated wars, a joint Austro-Prussian invasion of Schleswig-Holstein(1864), Soon after he launched The “Seven Weeks War” (1866), against Austria, the Franco-Prussian War(1870) was launched, Paris was captured in 1871 and the mineral rich Alsace-Lorraine valley was drawn into the Iron Chancellor’s fold.
The southern Germanic states were forced to accept Prussian hegemony, and Germany as it is known today was formed. Within the space of thirty years, Germany had gone from being a cluster of insignificant states to the most powerful state in Europe – full of nationalistic sentiment, patriotic people and militaristic Kaisers. It is easily forgotten that Italy, similar to Germany is only a recently created state. Little over a century ago Italy was divided into five main groups, all subject to political arrangements made by their foreign rulers. It took 21 years of resistance in the name of Irredentism, to oust the puppet Autocratic government.
Liberal views were enough, Liberal views and the invasion of Austria(1848), and for a second time in 1859, the invasions were used in order to establish the nation, and to expel Austrian emigrants from northern Italy, the theme of “unifying” ones nation through military action has been exemplified again. In order to determine a nation on the global stage, an expansionistic foreign policy has been held by both Germany and Italy, and the result has been successful each time fusing the populace closer together by attaining a sense of achievement through hardship and therefore a joint heritage and culture. Now that the period of self-determination was temporarily complete on a national scale, it was only logical that it be commenced on the global scale. Kaiser Wilhelm II believed strongly in “Kultur”2, this combined with his natural militaristic tendencies, made a policy of “Weltpolitik”3, inevitable. Manipulated Darwinistic4 theories were employed by some as the philosophical underpinning for imperialism, racism, and unbridled capitalism, but as imperialism was “fashionable”, it was an acceptable justification for the subjugation of smaller, less civilized nations/cultures such as in North Africa5, and in the Pacific Arena6. Ignoring the fact that millions of lives would be involved, a simple answer was sought, and it was found.
“What was good enough for Britain, was good enough for Germany”, proclaimed German propaganda, and so with childish justification intact, Kaiser Wilhelm set off in pursuit of his dream for a German Colonial utopia. Hence the problem, Germany had started too late, managing to grab what scraps were left on the global plate conflict was on the proverbial horizon. So due to nationalistic sentiment, imperialistic aspirations, global ambitions and vanities, the prospect of war on a continental scale has been raised exponentially. Another influence that widened the gap between the nations, belief systems, and cultures of Europe was the rise of Socialism. Encompassing the masses, the “bourgeois gentilhomme” of Europe, it was a direct result of the “Industrial Revolution’s cog’s” amalgamation of agriculturally based economies and the ensuing transformation into powerhouses of industry7. It was originally an idea of Karl Marx’s utopian dream of the equal distribution of wealth, the people becoming the state as a whole.
It’s further evolution into Communism, took it even further away from its Bolshevik origins and flung it fully into an Anti-capitalistic rendition. Vladimir Ilich Lenin deemed “Imperialism, the highest form of Capitalism8”. When an entire society begins to deviate in a direction that directly opposes your national policy it is destined to shake the foundations of the given society it opposes. By Lenin’s decree, Imperialism was material greed, economic expansion was merely a euphemism for unprecedented gluttony, forget the increasing needs of a swiftly industrializing nation, or a need for secure markets in order to trade. Germany’s voracity was contradictory to socialistic opinion in the extreme. In this sense socialism was quite conservative as well as highly controversial.
The conclusion of this plethora of social and political influences, that intermittently contradict and interfere with each other was inevitably conflict. The degree of conflict was decided decades prior to the declarations of war, the two rival camps established as a deterrent, having the opposite effect, the “Domino Effect” accelerated the conflict to global proportions. It was nationalism that spurred Bismarck to organize his concert of alliances, it was nationalism that spurred Lenin to devise a better system for his countrymen to rebel against their democratically elected government, and it was nationalism drove Serbian Nationalists to murder Archduke Ferdinand on June 28th in the streets of Sarajevo. Nationalism has proven to be the greatest motivator, the most entrancing of all the “isms”, so, In the words of AJP Taylor “The Great War was in a sense a great triumph of nationalism” 1. An expansionist national policy having as its sole principle advancement of the national interest.
2. Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), German philosopher, author of “Address to the German nation”(1807) predicting that Germans would bring forth a new era in history. 3. German aggressive world policy, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s plan to turn Germany into a wold power with a large colonial empire 4. Charles Robert Darwin, 1809-1882, British Scientist responsible for revolutionizing evolutionary theory with his work, “On the Origin of Species” (1859).
5.By 1914, most African countries existed as European colonies, only Liberia and Ethiopia were independent. 6.Germany attained some small tracts of land in Africa, a few small Pacific Islands all of which accounted for just over a single Mile in area excluding Germany itself. 7. The “Communist Manifesto”(1848), was the first published statement of modern socialist doctrine. Whilst living in England, Marx expanded on original theories in “Das Kapital”(1867). 8. Lenin systematized Marxist views of the war in “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” (1916), arguing that only a revolution that destroyed capitalism could peace.