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Conclusion 335

We Germans, who for historical reasons have not
a uniform hut a manifold political life, are the last
nation in the world that can afford to indulge in
abstract political principles, either such as are derived
only from Prussian or such as are derived only from
South German traditions, and to fit all politics to
these principles. It is our task to conduct political
development in Prussia, the individual States and the
Empire in such a way that in each member of the
Empire those forces are preserved which tend to make
it most valuable to the Fatherland in general. Har-
mony of German life in all its parts must be attained,
not so much by making all institutions in the north,
south, east and west uniform, as in smoothing the
differences that still exist.

Bismarck's foundation of the Empire was not least
masterly in that it created a firm bond of union, while
at the same time it did not destroy the peculiarities
and the independence of the individual States; and
also in that it not only nominally, but actually, made
Prussia the leading State by preserving the monar-
chical principle in the new Empire.

The union of Germany that the patriotic Demo-
crats of the 'forties conceived in the nineteenth cen-
tury was to do away with the independence of the

336 Imperial Germany

Federal States, more or less, and to vest the unifjang
power in the paramount influence of an Imperial
Parliament. Apart from the fact that the German
Princes would never have consented to such a union,
it was a mistake in a thoroughly monarchical country
like Germany to expect unifying power from parlia-
mentary life which had no existence, and therefore
had never been tested.

That in a common representative assembly of the
German people the forces tend rather to separate
than to unite in the idea of the Empire and in great
national tasks, has been amply proved by the strug-
gles between the Imperial Government and the par-
ties in the Reichstag during the years which have
passed since the founding of the Empire. Bismarck,
the Prussian, realised better than anyone else that in
Germany strong government could only be based and
maintained on the monarchical principle. The work
of union could only be permanent if the monarchy
was not a purely ornamental part of the fabric of the
Empire, but was made to be the actual support of the
union. And if the creative power of Prussian mon-
archy, well tested in the course of centuries, was to
be enlisted in the interests of the new Emj^ire, then
the King of Prussia must, as German Emperor, be

Conclusion 337

more than the bearer of shadowy dignities; he must
rule and guide — and for this purpose must actually
possess monarchical rights such as have been laid down
and transcribed in the Constitution of the Empire.

Germany would never, or at best very slowly and
imperfectly, have achieved union as a State by fol-
lowing the paths of democracy along which other na-
tions have reached the goal of national development.
As a monarchy, with the federal Princes represented
in the Federal Council, and the King of Prussia at
the head, we have become a united German Empire.
Had we been entrusted entirely to the care of quar-
relling parties in Parliament, the idea of the Empire
would never have gained so much ground, would
never have been able to win the heart of Germans to
such an extent as is actually the case, since the unity
of the Empire was placed under the protection of
the monarchy. At the beginning of the 'sixties, in
the nineteenth century, Crispi, later President of the
Ministry in Italy, a country whose fate has a resem-
blance to Germany's, wrote to Mazzini that he had
been converted from the Republic to the Monarchy,
because the latter would unite Italy, whereas the
former would disintegrate her: the same applies to
us. And it is particularly true in our case because

338 Imperial Germany

the German Empire, situated lq the middle of Eu-
rope, and insufficiently protected by nature on its
frontiers, is and must remain a military State. And
in history strong military States have always required
monarchical guidance.

A strong monarchy at the head of affairs by no
means precludes a lively interest on the part of the
people in the political life of the Empire and the indi-
vidual States. On the contrary, the more keen and
intelligent the interest that all classes of the nation
take in the development of political matters, the closer
will grow the ties between the people and the mon-
archy, which as leader and guide stands at the head
of national life. Political life in a modern monarchy,
as created by our Constitution, entails co-operation
between the Crown and the people. It is an old mis-
take to want to gauge the concern of the nation in
political affairs solely by the rights granted to the
representatives of the people. A Parliament may
possess very extensive rights and yet the nation may
take very little interest in politics. Thus in France
formerly. Parliament was sometimes all-powerful,
whereas the people were indifferent. The relatively
large measure of constitutional rights which the
Reichstag and the Diets in Germany enjoy might be

Conclusion 339

accompanied by far keener political interest and far
deeper political understanding on the part of the na-
tion, than has hitherto been the case. The so-called
"politification of the people" is a matter of political
education, not a question of parliamentary power.

The statement uttered from time to time, that my
idea was to change the distribution of power between
the Crown and the Parliament in favour of the latter,
that is, to introduce parliamentary government in the
West European sense of the words, belongs to the
thickly populated realm of political fables. In my
eyes the dividing line between the rights of the Crown
and of Parliament was immutably fixed. In foreign
as well as in home politics I considered it my noblest
task, to the best of my understanding and ability, to
strengthen, support and protect the Crown, not only
on account of deep loyalty and personal affection for
the wearer, but also because I see in the Crown the
corner stone of Prussia and the keystone of the Em-

What we Germans need cannot be attained by al-
terations in the sphere of constitutional law. The
parties which would acquire greater rights, to a large
extent still lack political judgment, political training
and consciousness of the aims of the State. In Ger-

340 Imperial Germany

many a large number of educated people, who ought
to play a leading part in party life, still adopt an
attitude of indiiFerence, if not of dislike towards poli-
tics. Very clever men often assert with a certain
pride that they understand nothing and wish to know
nothing of politics. The ignorance which prevails in
regard to the most elementary matters of government
is often astounding.

Those times are past when it was of no concern to
the welfare of the State whether the nation did or did
not understand the laws under which it lived. Legis-
lation no longer lies exclusively in the hands of spe-
cially trained and experienced officials ; Parliament co-
operates in the task. But the work of the factions is
even now carried out much as the work of the officials
alone used to be formerly: to the accompaniment of
a complete lack of understanding and judgment on
the part of large sections of the community. In con-
nection with economic questions, it is true groups that
are interested in agriculture, commerce and industry
display a certain amount of activity, as do associa-
tions formed for special purposes when matters con-
nected with these special purposes are in question;
for the most part, however, the dictum of the Mem-
bers of Parliament is accepted quite passively by the

Conclusion 341

limited understanding of the common herd. But, as
soon as the tangible effects are felt, bitter criticism is
heard, which, however, is limited to the individual case
and does not result in any stimulation of political un-

What we Germans lack is active interest in the
course of political affairs, interest that is not only
aroused at elections which take place at considerable
intervals, but that is concerned with all the great and
small questions of political life. It is the duty of the
educated classes to take this political education in
hand — the duty of the intellectual leaders, whom the
Germans foUow more readily than does any other
nation. The indolent indifference towards political
life of men who are aesthetically and intellectually
sensitive, though in earlier times it was harmless, is
now out of place. The present, which is full of grave
and great political tasks, and which has, by means of
Parliaments, given the people a share in State affairs,
demands a political generation. It is not the duty of
the Government in the present time to concede new
rights to Parliament, but to rouse the political interest
of all classes of the nation by means of a vigorous and
determined national policy, great in its aims and en-
ergetic in the means it employs. The criticism to

342 Imperial Germany

which every policy that is not colourless must give
rise does no harm, so long as positive interest is
aroused. The worst thing in poHtical life is torpor, a
general and stifling calm.

Rest is only permissible to him who has no more
duties to fulfil. No nation can assert that of itself,
least of all the Germans who so recently embarked
on a new course towards new goals. The number of
problems we have solved since 1870 is small compared
with the number that still await solution. We may
only rejoice in what has been accomplished if the
sight of what we can do gives us faith in our power
to achieve more and greater things. Goethe depicted
the German nation as a man, not in Wagner, who is
filled with satisfaction by the contemplation of the
splendid things he has ultimately accomplished, but in
Faust, who, with high self-confidence, is always at
pains to achieve greater things, and, as the ultimate
conclusion of wisdom, gives utterance to the truth
that: "He alone deserves liberty and life who must
conquer them daily anew."




MAR 12 1970



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Online LibraryBernhard BülowImperial Germany → online text (page 18 of 18)