Thus, running parallel to the decline of Hegelian philosophy is the overcoming of the old Prussian idea of the state, as enshrined in the conservative German League, by the idea of German unity that it despised for so long; however, that unity was achieved – paradoxically, like so many historical fulfillments – in such a way that this very Prussian idea of the state became its instrument of force.
In that era, philosophy lost whatever spiritual, ethical-political leadership it had had within the German nation.
Its fate was the fate of a liberalism that, through its adjective “national,” indirectly suggested that it essentially subordinated itself and felt called not so much to assume the leadership of radical elements as to accommodate itself to reactionary ones.
This type of thinking retained a connection with the Enlightenment only in the natural sciences, but once again only in such a way that it timidly avoided conflicts with the ecclesiastical consciousness; this was especially so because ever since the Kulturkampf was abandoned (after 1878), a tolerant-friendly relationship, even with the papist church, was incorporated into the nationalist creed.
The more deeply rooted connections with the general social development are easy to discern. In continuous interaction with the neighboring countries of France and England, the development of large industry also began in Germany after 1840; the workers' movement and with it socialist-communist doctrines were knocking at the gates.
They were also knocking at the gates of the universities. By its very nature, economics was overwhelmingly a doctrine of practical politics. It had worked for the most part on behalf of capitalism and free competition. “Laissez faire” was written on its banner. Of course, German erudition already sought to give it a historical character. And precisely this had a hand in breaking the dogmatism of “Manchesterism.” Ethical motives argued strongly in favor of the struggling working class. Katheder-Sozialismus appeared on the scene. It did not give itself that name but could well enough adopt it. Political economics, which had already earlier drawn the odium of materialism in England, under Carlyle's passionate eloquence and Ruskin's aesthetically-ethically tinged accusations, now wrapped itself in the guise of German idealism, which believed that it was above all imperative to appeal to the obligation of the propertied classes.