Conservatism in Germany

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Conservatism in Germany has encompassed a wide range of theories and ideologies in the last three hundred years, but most historical conservative theories supported the monarchical/hierarchical political structure.

Conservatism is a political and social philosophy promoting traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. The central tenets of conservatism include tradition, organic society, hierarchy, authority, and property rights. Conservatives seek to preserve a range of institutions such as religion, parliamentary government, and property rights, with the aim of emphasizing social stability and continuity. The more traditional elements—reactionaries—oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were".

Monarchy of Germany

The Monarchy of Germany was the system of government in which a hereditary monarch was the sovereign of the German Empire from 1871 to 1918.

Social stratification Population with similar characteristics in a society

Social stratification is a kind of social differentiation whereby members of society are grouped into socioeconomic strata, based upon their occupation and income, wealth and social status, or derived power. As such, stratification is the relative social position of persons within a social group, category, geographic region, or social unit.


Historical conservative strains

During the pre-revolutionary Vormärz era, the label conservatism united a loose movement of intellectual and political forces without any party organisation comparable to the British Tories. The tradition of conservative theorists like Justus Möser (1720–1794) opposed the Enlightenment tendencies and the ideals of the French Revolution. [1]

<i>Vormärz</i> Historical period in Germany

Vormärz was a period in the history of Germany preceding the 1848 March Revolution in the states of the German Confederation. The beginning of the period is less well-defined: some place the starting point directly after the fall of Napoleon and the establishment of the German Confederation in 1815; others, typically those emphasizing the Vormärz as a period of political uprising, place the beginning at the French July Revolution of 1830.

Tories (British political party) dissolved British political party

The Tories were members of two political parties which existed sequentially in the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Great Britain and later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. The first Tories emerged in 1678 in England, when they opposed the Whig-supported Exclusion Bill which set out to disinherit the heir presumptive James, Duke of York, who eventually became James II of England and VII of Scotland. This party ceased to exist as an organised political entity in the early 1760s, although it was used as a term of self-description by some political writers. A few decades later, a new Tory party would rise to establish a hold on government between 1783 and 1830, with William Pitt the Younger followed by Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool.

Justus Möser German jurist and social theorist

Justus Möser was a German jurist and social theorist, best known for his innovative history of Osnabrück which stressed social and cultural themes.

While many of the conservative theorists are labelled "political Romantics" (most notably by Carl Schmitt, himself a conservative), at least four strains are distinguishable before 1945:

Carl Schmitt German jurist and political theorist

Carl Schmitt was a conservative German jurist, political theorist, and prominent member of the Nazi Party. Schmitt wrote extensively about the effective wielding of political power. His work has been a major influence on subsequent political theory, legal theory, continental philosophy and political theology, and remains both influential and controversial due to his close association and juridical-political allegiance with Nazism. Schmitt's work has attracted the attention of numerous philosophers and political theorists, including Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Susan Buck-Morss, Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, Waldemar Gurian, Jaime Guzmán, Reinhart Koselleck, Friedrich Hayek, Chantal Mouffe, Antonio Negri, Leo Strauss, Adrian Vermeule, and Slavoj Žižek among others.

In political science, a reactionary can be defined as a person or entity holding political views that favour a return to a previous political state of society that they believe possessed characteristics that are negatively absent from the contemporary status quo of a society. As an adjective, the word reactionary describes points of view and policies meant to restore a past status quo.

German Romanticism intellectual movement in the culture of German-speaking countries in the late-18th and early 19th centuries

German Romanticism was the dominant intellectual movement of German-speaking countries in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, influencing philosophy, aesthetics, literature and criticism. Compared to English Romanticism, the German variety developed relatively late, and, in the early years, coincided with Weimar Classicism (1772–1805). In contrast to the seriousness of English Romanticism, the German variety of Romanticism notably valued wit, humour, and beauty.

Novalis German poet and writer

Novalis was the pseudonym and pen name of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, a poet, author, mystic, and philosopher of Early German Romanticism. Hardenberg's professional work and university background, namely his study of mineralogy and management of salt mines in Saxony, was often ignored by his contemporary readers. The first studies showing important relations between his literary and professional works started in the 1960s.

Also included are the anti-Enlightenment Romanticism of Friedrich Nietzsche, the conservative Realpolitik and statecraft of Otto von Bismarck and the anti-republican monarchism of the German National People's Party (DNVP) during the Weimar Republic.

Romanticism period of artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that started in 18th century Europe

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.

Friedrich Nietzsche German philosopher

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar whose work has exerted a profound influence on modern intellectual history. He began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. He became the youngest ever to hold the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in 1869 at the age of 24. Nietzsche resigned in 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life; he completed much of his core writing in the following decade. In 1889, at age 44, he suffered a collapse and afterward a complete loss of his mental faculties. He lived his remaining years in the care of his mother until her death in 1897 and then with his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. Nietzsche died in 1900.

Realpolitik is politics or diplomacy based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism. It is often simply referred to as "pragmatism" in politics, e.g. "pursuing pragmatic policies". The term Realpolitik is sometimes used pejoratively to imply politics that are perceived as coercive, amoral, or Machiavellian.

Otto von Bismarck

Conservative thought developed alongside nationalism in Germany, culminating in Germany's victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War, the creation of the unified German Empire in 1871 and the simultaneous rise to power of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck's "balance of power" foreign policy model maintained peace in Europe for decades at the end of the 19th century. His "revolutionary conservatism" was a conservative state-building strategy designed to make ordinary Germans—not just his own Junker elite—more loyal to state and emperor. He created the modern welfare state in Germany in the 1880s. According to Kees van Kersbergen and Barbara Vis, his strategy was "granting social rights to enhance the integration of a hierarchical society, to forge a bond between workers and the state so as to strengthen the latter, to maintain traditional relations of authority between social and status groups, and to provide a countervailing power against the modernist forces of liberalism and socialism". [2]

German nationalism

German nationalism is an ideological notion which promotes the unity of Germans and German-speakers into a nation state. German Nationalism emphasizes and takes pride in the national identity of Germans. The earliest origins of German nationalism began with the birth of romantic nationalism during the Napoleonic Wars when Pan-Germanism started to rise. Advocacy of a German nation-state began to become an important political force in response to the invasion of German territories by France under Napoleon.

Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871 military conflict of the Second French Empire versus Prussia and its allies

The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the War of 1870, was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the German states of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. Lasting from 19 July 1870 to 28 January 1871, the conflict was caused by Prussian ambitions to extend German unification and French fears of the shift in the European balance of power that would result if the Prussians succeeded. Some historians argue that the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked the French into declaring war on Prussia in order to draw the independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—into an alliance with the North German Confederation dominated by Prussia, while others contend that Bismarck did not plan anything and merely exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. None, however, dispute the fact that Bismarck must have recognized the potential for new German alliances, given the situation as a whole.

German Empire empire in Central Europe between 1871–1918

The German Empire, also known as the Second Reich or Imperial Germany, was the German nation state that existed from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1918.

Bismarck also enacted universal male suffrage in the new German Empire in 1871. [3] He became a great hero to German conservatives, who erected many monuments to his memory after he left office in 1890. [4]

After the Revolutions of 1848, conservative parties were represented in several Landtag assemblies of the German states, particularly in the Prussian Landtag, from 1871 onwards also in the Reichstag parliament of the German Empire. The Prussian conservatives, mainly East Elbian landowners ( Junker ), who had been sceptical towards the Unification of Germany promoted by Minister President Bismarck, re-organised themselves within the German Conservative Party. In the Reichstag, they had to face the rivalry of the Free Conservative secession, which comprised bureaucratic elite leaders as well as Rhenish business magnates, who had supported Bismarck's politics from the beginning.

During Bismarck's time in office, German conservatives more and more turned to statism and paternalism in the rising conflict between economic liberalism as promoted by the National Liberals and the labour movement represented by the Social Democratic Party. They supported the Chancellor's Anti-Socialist Laws, but also strongly embraced the implementation of a social insurance (pensions, accident insurance and medical care) that laid the ground for the German welfare state. Likewise, conservative politicians appreciated the enforcement of what they called national interests during the Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church and the Centre Party. Though Bismarck's domestic policies did not prevail against his opponents, they further strengthened the power of the state.

At the same time, the influence of the parliament on those policy guidelines remained limited. Universal suffrage (for men) had been implemented already in the 1867 Reichstag election of the North German Confederation, but the MPs had few legislative powers. The German government remained responsible only to the Emperor and the Chancellor used to rule by alternating majorities. Not until the late days of World War I a parliamentary reform was carried out, instigated by the Oberste Heeresleitung (Supreme Army Command) in view of the German defeat. Biased by particular interests and reserved towards political parties espousing an ideology or vision in general, German conservatives up to then had not been able to install a big tent in the sense of a people's party.

Weimar Republic and Nazi oppression

Conservatism in Germany was shaken by the lost World War I and the German Revolution of 1918–1919. The thinkers of the conservative revolution, a reaction to the lapse of the once venerated monarchical tradition, strived for an inventive realignment (new world order) based on continuous principles while in the late 1920s the DNVP under press baron Alfred Hugenberg turned towards far-right nationalist policies, culminating in the co-operation with the Nazi Party on the eve of the Machtergreifung in 1933. Several conservative politicians like Hugenberg himself, Franz von Papen and Konstantin von Neurath became members of the Hitler Cabinet and some like Franz Seldte even joined the NSDAP.

During the period of Nazi rule, all other political parties, including conservative, were outlawed. The "national revolution" of the Nazis had priority and the racist and social changes in German society were not allowed to be stopped by the conservative forces of "reaction" (Reaktion, see "Horst-Wessel-Lied"), like for instance the Catholic, Christian-democratic Zentrum and the Prussian monarchists. Several conservative opponents of the Nazi regime like former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher or Edgar Julius Jung were murdered during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. After a period of pacification in the Third Reich, notable conservatives were involved in the German Resistance, most notably in the 20 July plot.

Modern conservatism

After World War II, conservatism in Germany had to deal with the experience of totalitarism and its own involvement. Its protagonists finally adopted the ideals of a liberal constitutional ( Rechtsstaat ) democracy and in turn eliminated themselves as a separate political power.

In modern Germany, the post-war Christian Democratic Union (CDU) along with the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) claim to represent all forms of conservatism in Germany. National conservative new establishments like the German Party did not last while up to today there remain some marginal parties to the right of the CDU and CSU, difficult to distinguish from the far-right-parties, e.g. The Republicans. There also exist marginal movements to restore the German monarchy, most notably Tradition und Leben. During the German student movement of the late 1960s, CDU/CSU politicians called for a "strong state" and the restriction of individual rights in order to put down the disturbances.

Notable modern ("technocratic") conservative theorists included Ernst Jünger (1895–1998) and his brother Friedrich Georg Jünger (1898–1977), Hans Freyer (1887–1969), Helmut Schelsky (1912–1984) and Arnold Gehlen (1904–1976). They stressed the subjection of political decisions to the circumstances determined by a technologically advanced civilisation, denying ideological claims to overcome social alienation, which would remain an illusion only advocated by demagogues.

Recent developments

Like most political parties in Germany, the CDU and the CSU to a lesser extent has turned to centrist policies after German reunification. This has led to an emphasis on economic liberalism and social justice (in the tradition of Catholic social teaching) compared to firm conservative positions. However, the party's claimed conservative feature remains a non-defined iridescent term, oscillating between national and social manifestation.

Since West Germany Chancellor Helmut Kohl formed a coalition government of the CDU and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) in 1982, both parties have often been frequently referred to as belonging to a larger centre-right (bürgerlich, "civic") faction within the German party system. However, this distinction has been criticised for neglecting not only social liberal trends, but also conservative tendencies within centre-left parties like the Social Democrats or The Greens.

See also


  1. James N. Retallack (2006). The German Right, 1860–1920: Political Limits of the Authoritarian Imagination. University of Toronto Press.
  2. Kersbergen, Kees van; Vis, Barbara (2013). Comparative Welfare State Politics: Development, Opportunities, and Reform. Cambridge UP. p. 38.
  3. Moore, Robert Laurence; Vaudagna, Maurizio (2003). The American Century in Europe. Cornell University Press. p. 226.
  4. Richard E. Frankel, "From the Beer Halls to the Halls of Power: The Cult of Bismarck and the Legitimization of a New German Right, 1898–1945," German Studies Review, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Oct., 2003), pp. 543–560 in JSTOR

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