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10-08-2015, 15:22

The Unification of Germany and Italy

Within a few months, however, it became clear that optimism about the imminence of a new order in Europe had not been justified (see the box on p. 11). In France, the shaky alliance between workers and the urban bourgeoisie was ruptured when workers’ groups and their representatives in the government began to demand extensive social reforms to provide guaranteed benefits to the poor. Moderates, frightened by rising political tensions in Paris, resisted such demands. Facing the specter of class war, the French nation drew back and welcomed the rise to power of Louis Napoleon, a nephew of the great Napoleon Bonaparte. Within three years, he declared himself Emperor Napoleon III. Elsewhere in Europe— in Germany, in the Habsburg Empire, and in Italy—popular uprisings failed to unseat autocratic monarchs and destroy the existing political order. But the rising force of nationalism was not to be quenched. Italy, long divided into separate kingdoms, was finally united in the early 1860s. Germany followed a few years later. Unfortunately, the rise of nation-states in central Europe did not herald the onset of liberal principles or greater stability. To the contrary, it inaugurated a period of heightened tensions as an increasingly aggressive Germany began to dominate the politics of Europe. In 1870, German Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) provoked a war with France. After the latter’s defeat, a new German Empire was declared in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, just outside Paris. Many German liberals were initially delighted at the unification of their country after centuries of division. But they were soon to discover that the new German Empire would not usher in a new era of peace and freedom. Under Prussian leadership, the new state quickly proclaimed the superiority of authoritarian and militaristic values and abandoned the principles of liberalism and constitutional government. Nationalism had become a two-edged sword, as advocates of a greater Germany began to exert an impact on domestic politics. Liberal principles made similarly little headway elsewhere in central and eastern Europe. After the transformation of the Habsburg Empire into the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867, the Austrian part received a constitution that theoretically recognized the equality of the nationalities and established a parliamentary system with the principle of ministerial responsibility. But the problem of reconciling the interests of the various nationalities remained a difficult one. The German minority that governed Austria felt increasingly threatened by the Czechs, Poles, and other Slavic groups within the empire. The granting of universal male suffrage in 1907 served only to exacerbate the problem when nationalities that had played no role in the government now agitated in the parliament for autonomy. This led prime ministers after 1900 to ignore the parliament and rely increasingly on imperial emergency decrees to govern. On the eve of World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was far from solving its minorities problem. (See Map 1.2 on page 12.)

 

 

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