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

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Now we were relieved of all this anguished distress in one fell swoop. Today, doubts about what might be possible in Germany have been removed, not just from the thinking people but also from the vast majority of the nation. The existing German power is glaringly obvious to them. They have seen and felt its feats, and after the prolonged misery of our powerlessness, these feats have such irresistible force that within months the mentality of the Germans has undergone changes that we dared not expect decades ago. All the unsolvable problems that we struggled with for 18 years have suddenly vanished from our view, and there is just one remaining problem – admittedly, one that will still require plenty of work – but we may be hopeful for its solution, since our actual circumstances are now focusing all thoughts and aspirations on the same point in the very same way that they used to tear them asunder in the past. The only issue now is how the small states can forge a healthy relationship with an undeniably dominant Prussia. That Prussia is the German power – whereas the remaining states are nothing but weak fragments that can only secure their own survival through close, honest association with the former – is a fact that the even most obstinate Swabian Democrat can only fool himself into doubting. However, the agreeable simplicity of our situation, the good fortune finally to feel firm, secure ground underneath our feet, will surely repress a good many of our bad political habits before long, and our politics will finally benefit from the robust health we are thankful to enjoy in many other spheres of life. The windbags who have amply filled the breadth of the political stage until now will no longer make their fortune in the brisk, clear air in which we are currently moving. After we have seen what action means on the grandest scale, we will no longer delight in having our ears tickled with pompous talk. Since the work of the political amateurs has failed so thoroughly, we will now demand that all the seriousness and manly diligence that we have long taken for granted in other areas will be proven in the great state system through which we have entered world affairs. After experience has made clear that the nobility comprises an indispensable part of a monarchical state, and after we have seen that these much-maligned Junkers know how to fight and die for the fatherland in spite of the best Liberal, we will limit our bourgeois conceitedness a bit and be content with maintaining an honorable position beside the aristocracy. We believed that we turned the German world around from the ground up with our agitation: Well, we were well on our way to making ourselves irrelevant; I think we will take this experience to heart. In the face of the greatest experiences our eyes have ever beheld, we became cognizant of the frailty of even those hypotheses we once regarded as rock solid, and upon which we have built our national and liberal politics in recent years. Almost all of the elements of our political system have been proven erroneous by the facts.

[ . . . ]

Whether we look at the crown, the ministers, the nobles, and the military, or at the deputies, the magistrates, and the newspapers – they all have become different; they all have learned great things. And the power of this learning does not only lie in the conceptions of the mind but also in the stirrings of the heart. Not only do they think differently, they feel differently as well. Three months ago, the call “Party or fatherland?” elicited the wild response “Party!” from everyone far and wide. Today, they all give precedence to the fatherland.

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