They saw their compatriots under Danish rule as victims of a crime against the Volk , unable to exercise their god-given right to express and pass on their innate German character.
German Unification, Wars of (1864–1871)
The general outrage over the situation in Schleswig and Holstein made for an effective mobilisation tool, and liberal nationalists across the German lands used it to level a broader attack on their political enemies at home. They blamed Germany's political fragmentation for the situation and criticised Prussia, Austria and the German Confederation for being unable or unwilling to respond to the demands of the people. Only a unified, representative government could mobilise the nation's strength and save their besieged comrades.
The link between parliamentary governance and national strength is important to keep in mind, since for liberals in the various German states they were inseparable. After all, at its heart political liberalism was a rejection of the formal legal inequalities that had governed the Old Regime.
Aristocrats claimed privilege based on inherited rights and responsibilities, while liberals insisted on inalienable rights, constitutional government and popular political participation. They justified these demands with reference to 'the people', understood as an egalitarian community linked by timeless, organic bonds of culture and language. Of course, in the process liberal nationalists made a claim for their own fitness to rule based on their familiarity with the 'national' tradition, their wealth and property, their education and technical expertise, their embrace of rationalisation and capitalist modernisation, and a certain bourgeois respectability.
In their rhetoric lay a tension between universal rights and the insistence that not all were equally fit to participate in society. The peasants, workers, women, youth and — most appropriately here — national and religious minorities who did not have the proper virtues had to be 'civilised', just as surely as did 'savage' peoples around the globe.
Liberals' faith that they were on the side of progress fueled an impulse to re-shape the population according to their ideals and in the service of their vision of modernity. After , Bismarck was willing to facilitate liberals in their pursuit of this project and forged a temporary alliance that incorporated elements of liberalism into the German state. Bismarck made this choice because, by the s, German liberals had built an impressive base of political support and had achieved significant electoral successes.
It is easy to forget that it was a crisis caused by liberals' strength that brought Bismarck to prominence in the first place. In Prussia in , an impasse over the expansion of the army almost led King Wilhelm I to abdicate; Bismarck's appointment in that year was a final attempt to escape the crisis with royal prerogatives intact. So Bismarck's maneuvering with Denmark less than two years later must be understood in the context of his dance with liberals in Berlin.
Among other things, he needed to convince them that he was the least of all evils, a man they could work with in the short term and still achieve their long-term goals. He was successful in this because liberals believed that history was moving in their direction and away from the forces of reaction. The fact that Bismarck was no nationalist and was able to abandon his alliance with liberals by the end of the s should not lead us to assume that their efforts simply failed.
In concert with Bismarck, they had achieved a nation-state with constitutional governance based, at the national level, on universal manhood suffrage and the principle of legal equality — central liberal demands.
Bismarck's First War: The Campaign of Schleswig and Jutland - Michael Embree - Google Libros
Further, liberal nationalists established models of national belonging that continued to direct attitudes toward minorities and the marginal long after Bismarck was gone. If we look at what happened after the defeat of Denmark, we can see how intertwined were the interests of liberals and the state. After , local officials in Schleswig and Holstein gradually subjected Danish-speakers to the same processes as had been directed at German-speakers in the years before, restricting the use of Danish in schools, the press and on stage.
German nationalist pressure groups came in to challenge Danish nationalists and also to make sure that any local Schleswig-Holstein identity did not tear at the fabric of the new national state. As the region became integrated into the German political system, national parties came to dominate, but local passions continued to shape policy. By the late s and s, fears of Danish nationalist organisation and political influence led to ever harsher restrictions on bilingual teaching and, in , the mass expulsion of over well over 1, Danish citizens.
The localised effort to enforce uniformity and loyalty in Schleswig and Holstein was part of extensive campaigns against others deemed 'outside' the national community. In campaigns whose language is not unfamiliar today, Bismarck and liberals vigorously pursued a Kulturkampf against Catholics, whose 'backward' culture and international connections made their loyalties suspect.
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