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German Liberalism Recast: Hermann Baumgarten’s Self-Criticism (Early October 1866)

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It is sad to say that the most powerful parliamentary faction of Prussian liberalism, the Progressive Party, completely refused to tackle this pressing duty. Its position left it guilty of adding to the confusion of Prussia’s friends in the small states. In the most decisive moment we have experienced in 50 years, it induced idle passivity in some and even drove others to active participation on behalf of Austria. Moreover, not only the Progressive Party but also left-wing centrists followed such an incomprehensible policy; only the majority of the moderate Liberals took the position to which duty and prudence directed every liberal-minded patriot. In those days around the middle of May, I gave vent to the worries of my heart in a leaflet** dedicated to the North German Liberals, and the arguments therein definitely applied to Prussia two or three times over. I will do without the satisfaction of reporting how this call to Prussia from the south was rejected in the Prussian capital by some. At that time, it took some courage to give outspoken expression to one’s dissent from the vast majority of the party.

[ . . . ]

This was the situation on June 14. Three weeks later, the entire German world had changed fundamentally. Austria was prostrate. The middle-sized German states had revealed themselves to be simple small states without any independent capability. Prussia towered above this puniness of particularism like a giant bursting with power. It had shattered the boastful Austria within eight days. And not only did it stand as a healthy power alongside one diseased in all its limbs, it also stood as a highly civilized power alongside a much more barbarian one. The “German brothers” in Austria took on the job of thoroughly curing the south German [i.e., pro-Austrian] enthusiasts. What shameless lies in their press, what mindless brutality in their field dispensaries, in their military hospitals, in captivity, what disloyalty against the allies, what servility vis-à-vis the foreign imperator! Now the greater Germans in Bavaria and Swabia had lived to see what this Habsburg glory was really all about; now even the blind saw that the Habsburg dynasty had poisoned Austria to the very core, almost to the extent that it had poisoned Spain once upon a time, and that the brotherly phrases of the German Austrians were nothing but a blatant snare for the dupes in the Reich. All the participants in the great alliance for the punishment of Prussia revealed themselves to be small and poor beyond all expectation – poor in ideas, knowledge, and genuine enthusiasm alike, small on the battlefield and in the cabinet. Furthermore, against all expectation, the much-maligned Prussia stood there great and rich, great in all capabilities, rich in all power. The astonished world did not know what it ought to admire more about this state – the singular organization of its military force or the moral dedication of its population; the incomparable health of its economy or the soundness of its people’s education; the greatness of its victory or the modesty of its news reports of its victories; the bravery of its young soldiers or the dutifulness of its very aged king. Everything, everything in this state, this state that people had come to regard for years as the certain prize of the revolution, revealed itself as possessing magnificent authenticity, and the more one began to examine the mysterious phenomenon, the more things one found that were worth admiring. This people in arms rushed ahead with irresistible force on an unprecedented path of victory and nevertheless remained a people of peace – a people who remained wholly unaffected by the intoxication of martial glory, who demanded the resumption of quiet work, and who almost did more grieving for the soldiers killed in action than rejoicing over victory. It developed an incomparable gallantry in a fight it had kept at bay with utmost effort for a long time. It put its entire strength at the disposal of a government against which it had fought the most embittered struggle for four years.

[ . . . ]

** Entitled Partei oder Vaterland? [Party or Fatherland?] – trans.

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