Nationalism and the First Unification

  • John Breuilly
Part of the New Perspectives in German Studies book series (NPG)


Biefang, in his book Politisches Bürgertum in Deutschland 1857–1868, a study of four national pressure groups and the bourgeois figures who ran them, begins strikingly with an episode from a Reichstag debate in May 1889. Conservative deputy Julius von Helldorf had attacked the principles of the French revolution and its legacy in the shape of socialist and communist movements. August Bebel, the socialist leader, rose to reply. Without the French revolution, he contended, there would have been no Reichstag to debate the matter. Some of the Liberal deputies present for the debate, and many of their fathers, had opposed the status quo and were instrumental in bringing about revolution in 1848, which in turn had ushered in a constitutional regime in Prussia. Bebel went on:

Consider also the later Nationalverein, whose principal leaders, Herr von Bennigsen and Dr. Miquel, are here amongst us today. Without the agitation of this association, without its persistent incitement of unrest and dissatisfaction at the existing situation amongst the German people, we would not have achieved German unity.1


Free Trade French Revolution Unifica Tion Parlia Ment Prussian State 
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  1. 1.
    Andreas Biefang, Politisches Biirgertuin in Deutschland: Nationale Organisation und Eliten 1857–1868 (Bonn 1994), p. 13.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
  3. 3.
    A recent major collection of essays on the role of remembering in German history is Etienne Francois and Hagen Schulze (eds), Deutsche Erinnerungsorte (Munchen 2001).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For an elaboration of this argument see John Breuilly, ‘Culture, doctrine, politics: three ways of constructing nationalism’ in J. Bermendi, R. Maiz and J. Nutiez (eds) Nationalism in Europe, Past and Present (Santiago de Compostela 1994), pp. 127–34.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    On the formation of these new levels of political action see Wolfram Siemann, The German Revolution of 1848–49 (London 1998).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Biefang, op.cit., for pressure groups, press and parties. For cultural associations see Dieter Duding, Organisierter gesellscha,ftlicher Nationalismus in Deutschland (1808–1847). Bedeutung und Funktion der Turner- und Sangeroereine fiir die deutsche Nationalbewegung (Munchen 1984).Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Karoline von Oppen, in an unpublished research report for the two unifications project which analyses Die Gartenlaube, makes the point that ‘In Gartenlaube liberal ideas were surreptitiously smuggled into texts.’ Frank Becker, Bilder von Krieg und Nation. Die Einigungskriege in der biirgerlichen Offentlichkeit Deutschlands 1864–1913 (MUnchen 2001) makes dear the political significance of cartoon and other visual representations of military and political events in publications like Gartenlaube. Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    For the details see John Breuilly, Austria, Prussia and Germany 1806–1871 (London 2002).Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    These points arise from reflections on three recent publications: Ute Frevert, Die kasernierte Nation. Militardienst und Zivilgesellschaft in Deutschland (Munchen 2001); Becker, op.cit.; Arden Bucholz, Moltke and the German Wars 1864–1871 (London 2001). I am also indebted to unpublished work by Jorg Leonhard (Oxford) on the way different experiences of war shape nationalism in nineteenth century Western Europe.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • John Breuilly

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