Journal Article

The Spectre of a People in Arms: The Prussian Government and the Militarisation of German Nationalism, 1859–1864

Frank Lorenz Müller

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXII, issue 495, pages 82-104
Published in print February 2007 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online February 2007 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cel374
The Spectre of a People in Arms: The Prussian Government and the Militarisation of German Nationalism, 1859–1864

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In the late 1850s, war and associated issues such as military power, army organisation and manly valour assumed a central role in the way sections of Germany's political public projected the nation's future. Convinced that war would deliver great political rewards and highly critical of the existing princely armies, the national movement called for a people's militia which it believed would be unbeatable, economical and a protector of constitutional liberty. Providing proto-military training by turning gymnastics associations into armed, military organisations thus became a central theme in nationalist agitation.

Even though historians have been unimpressed by the effectiveness of these efforts, the Prussian government, against whose wishes the attempts to arm the people were directed, took the issue seriously. Numerous official reports convey a story of resourcefulness and tenacity on the part of various gymnastics associations as well as documenting the closeness of governmental supervision in Prussia.

Eventually, Bismarck undertook to clip the wings of the popular military movement. In 1864 he beat them at their own game by delivering what came to be regarded as a great national victory. This also began a process of bürgerlich appropriation of the official military. By 1870, the bürgerlich public identified the nation with the army and this laid the foundation for the bourgeois militarism with which Imperial Germany is readily associated. The speed and success of the bürgerlich-national appropriation of the royal army suggests that the formative power of the process of militarisation that German nationalism had previously undergone was considerable.

Journal Article.  10828 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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