Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 June 2011
In recent years historical research on Imperial Germany has called into question traditional interpretations of this case at the same time that political science research on the “third wave” has transformed the study of political development. This article argues that combining the insights of these two literatures offers benefits to both. For historians, the exercise provides a fresh perspective on the purported distinctiveness of Imperial Germany's political system and the relationship between its economic and political development. For political scientists, the German case has important lessons to teach about the role of structure versus agency in driving political liberalization, the time frame necessary for genuine political development to occur, and the role of war and the nature of the international system as wild cards in changing the outcome of the game. Most interestingly, perhaps, it also shows that a weak version of modernization theory holds true, namely, that it is not possible over the long term for a simple authoritarian regime to maintain control over an increasingly economically developed society.
1 “Letter from the president to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate,” White House Press Office, January 24, 2000.
2 GOP presidential candidates debate in Phoenix, Arizona, December 7, 1999.
3 The example has even been raised as a charge against today's neomodernizationists: “American foreign policy is now anchored in a peculiarly ahistorical syllogism that assumes industrial capitalism leads eventually to civil democracy (never mind Nazi Germany and other unfortunate exceptions).” Greider, William, “Ambassador Babbitt,” Nation (May 8, 2000), 8.Google Scholar
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14 Dahrendorf, , Society and Democracy in Germany (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969).Google Scholar The “bourgeois revolution” approach probably began with Karl Marx; see, for example, Marx, , “The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution,” Neue Rheinische Zeitung, December 14, 1848Google Scholar, in Marx, Karl, The Revolutions of 1848 (London: Harmondsworth, 1973)Google Scholar; and idem, “A Radical German Revolution,” in “Toward the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law: Introduction,” Deutsch-Französische Jahrbucher (1844), reprinted in Padover, Saul K., Karl Marx on Revolution (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971), 422–26.Google Scholar References to works in this genre will be sprinkled throughout the article, but some well-known statements include Fischer, Fritz, From Kaiserreich to Third Reich (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1986)Google Scholar; Parsons, Talcott, “Democracy and Social Structure in Pre-Nazi Germany,” in Parsons, , Essays in Sociological Theory (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1954)Google Scholar; and Taylor, , The Course of German History (New York: Capricorn Books, 1962).Google Scholar A nuanced discussion of this type of argument is Nipperdey, Thomas, “1933 und die Kontinutät der deutschen Geschichte,” in Nipperdey, , Nachdenken über die deutsche Geschichte (Munich: C. H.Beck, 1986).Google Scholar For good overviews of this literature, see Evans, Richard, “The Myth of Germany s Missing Revolution,” in Evans (fn. 11)Google Scholar; Martel, Gordon, ed., Modern Germany Reconsidered (New York: Routledge, 1992), chaps. 1–3Google Scholar; and Eley, Geoff, From Unification to Nazism (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1986).Google Scholar
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26 In England property restrictions disenfranchised at least one-third of all male voters, while in the United States voluntary registration lowered turnout and most African Americans were effectively barred from meaningful political participation. For a discussion of voting requirements in Germany and comparisons with other countries, see Suval, Stanley, Electoral Politics in Wilhelmine Germany (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985)Google Scholar; and Sperber, Jonathan, The Kaiser's Voters (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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28 Dahrendorf (fn. 14); and Wehler (fn. 16).
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31 See, for example, the classic article by Lipset, Seymour Martin and Rokkan, Stein, “Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments,” in Lipset, and Rokkan, , eds., Party Systems and Voter Alignments (New YorkFree Press, 1967).Google Scholar
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38 On conflicts within this new progovernment bloc, see Snell (fn. 20), esp. 173ff.; and Fairbairn (fn. 30, 1997), 62.
39 Fairbairn (fn. 30, 1997), xi; Fairbairn (fn. 30, 1992). But see also Wehler, Hans-Ulrich, Bismarck und der Imperialismus (Berlin: Kipenheuer und Witch, 1969).Google Scholar
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48 On the struggle and failure to put together such a coalition, see Heckert (fn. 46). Indeed such coalitions appeared in a number of the more liberal states, further increasing the apprehension of conservatives (and radicals within the SPD).
49 Retallack (fn. 46), 271.
50 On the SPD and the 1912 election, see Berman (fn. 5), 128–30. On the election in general, see Bertram, Jürgen, Die Wahlen zum Deutschen Reichstag von Jahre 1912 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1964).Google Scholar On growing tensions between conservatives and liberals at the regional level, see Retallack, James, “‘What Is to Be Done?’ The Red Specter, Franchise Questions, and the Crisis of Conservative Hegemony in Saxony, 1896–1909,” Central European History 23 (December 1990).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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57 Nipperdey has an interesting analysis of this point, using the work of Heinrich rather than Thomas Matin as his starting point. “War die Wilhelminische Gesellschaft eine Untertanen-Gesellschaft,” in Nipperdey (fn. 14, Nachdenken).
59 See Inglehart (fn. 10).
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64 Some might argue that this was itself a consequence of structural factors—that the forces in Germany one would expect to have pushed for further liberalization were unable or uninterested in doing so because their actions and preferences were themselves conditioned by the historical, social, and political context within which they operated. Devising appropriate methodological tests for such reflexive hypotheses is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, as this article has tried to argue, curren understandings of Imperial Germany emphasize not the strength and constraining effect of the historical context but rather its fluidity and development over time. Moreover, dramatic examples of successful political reform elsewhere driven by actors operating under similar structrural constraints further suggest that for the SPD and other German progressives, the fault lay to a large extent not in the stars but in themselves. See Berman (fn. 5).
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69 See fn. 56; and Janos (fn. 12).
70 One recent attempt at counterfactual history also considers the possibility of Imperial Germany's making a successful transition to democracy; see Ferguson, Niall, The Pity of War (New York: Basic Books, 1999).Google Scholar Ferguson argues, however, that this would have occurred not if Germany had avoided the war but rather if it had won it. A quick victory by Germany, he claims, would have avoided most of the horrible bloodshed, allowed the kaiser to claim an impressive success, and left ex-corporal Adolf Hitler permanently on the sidelines of history. What Ferguson fails to consider, however, is that such a victorious campaign would have strengthened the kaiser and conservative elites, forestalled a National Liberal move to the left, and alienated the SPD further from its potential coalition partners. The most likely result would therefore have been, indeed, eventual further liberalization, but under the leadership of a revivified conservative coalition that would have been reluctant to go all the way to a full democratic regime.