Abigail Green. Fatherlands: Building and Nationhood in Nineteenth-Century Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 386 pp. Â£45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-79313-1.
Reviewed by Tuska Benes (History Department, University of Pennsylvania)
Published on H-German (October, 2003)
Federalism and Nationhood in the German Fatherlands
Federalism and Nationhood in the German Fatherlands
Federalism was the handmaiden of German nationalism in the nineteenth century. As Abigail Green elegantly demonstrates in her recent book, German nation formation cannot be understood without attention to the states. Fatherlands details how the inhabitants of "Third Germany," those regions traditionally subordinate to Prussia and Austria, reconciled local loyalties and national statehood, while juggling conflicting forms of cultural and political identification. If such tensions appear endemic to German history, Green takes as her specific goal a re-consideration of the unification process and the ability of the German Empire to inspire the loyalty of citizens with pre-existing confessional, regional, and state-based identities. How did state-based identity coexist with national identity before unification? How did this relationship develop after 1871? The author approaches these questions through a comparative study of particularist state-building in three representative fatherlands: Hanover, Saxony, and Wuerttemberg. Special consideration is given to the reigns of Ernst August of Hanover (1771-1851) and his son Georg V (1819-1878), Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony (1797-1854), and Wilhelm I of Wuerttemberg (1781-1864), as Green successfully navigates between rich case-studies and a broader consideration of the role territorial borders and political institutions played in nineteenth-century nationalism.
The answer Green offers is not unexpected, but revealing in its detail. The author argues that regional state-building and the persistence of local identities were not incompatible with the growth of nationalism. Rather, a "high level of cross-fertilisation" (p. 147) existed between particularist and nationalist cultures, suggesting that both were parallel developments in a larger process of modernization. According to Green, the individual German fatherlands formed the "building blocks" (p. 98) of the new nation. State governments appropriated the language and symbols of cultural nationalism, but without competing with the claims of German national identity on their own terms. Local historical societies, such as the Welf Museum in Hanover, for example, intended to complement rather than supplant the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg. "Dualism" is for Green thus the "most distinctive" aspect of German nationhood in the years surrounding unification (p. 21). Only when political nationalism came to threaten the independence of states, such as after the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, did particularism define itself in opposition to nationalism.
More informative than this conclusion is the road the author takes in its support. The most interesting and innovative facets of this study pertain to the process of particularist state-building in the tumultuous and underexamined period of the mid-nineteenth century. Green examines how effectively the official press, educational policy, government propaganda, and railway construction contributed to the consolidation of state cultures and identities. Insightful is her analysis of how "reactionary" governments innovated and adapted to protect their legitimacy in the face of new domestic concerns and nationalist pressures. The particularist states were able to appropriate the nationalist celebrations of singers and gymnasts, for example. The popular Cannstatter Volksfest in Wuerttemberg fused dynastic and representational elements with the pragmatic aim of supporting agriculture, giving public expression to the stability of the polity in periods of crisis. The 1850s and 1860s are notoriously understudied, and Green details how the monarchs of Hanover, Saxony, and Wuerttemberg reworked the principle of dynastic loyalty to meet the demands of modern constitutionalism and representative government. This process both recalls and explains what Green terms the "enduring power and popularity" (p. 94) of monarchy in mid-nineteenth-century Germany.
In Green's final analysis, the impact of state-building policy in the German fatherlands was "significant if limited" (p. 21). Particularism was more amenable to the cultural nationalism of the pre-unification period than to the cult of Kleindeutschland that replaced it. For this reason, the political nationalism of imperial Germany failed to put down more than shallow roots in non-Prussian areas. In Wuerttemberg, for example, the survival of a constitutional tradition nurtured by Wilhelm I focused anti-Prussian sentiments on the undemocratic and authoritarian aspects of the national government. Green concludes that unification did not substantially alter what it meant to be German in the territorial states. Politically, the inhabitants of the Mittelstaaten still identified as Hanoverians, Saxons, and Wuerttembergers; culturally they welcomed being national and German. Green's Kaiserreich emerges as the same uncompleted nation state diagnosed by earlier historians. But her view from the periphery credits the persistence of particularist identities with some of the limited strength nationalist loyalties claimed after 1871.
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Tuska Benes. Review of Green, Abigail, Fatherlands: Building and Nationhood in Nineteenth-Century Germany.
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