The allure of colonies had its limits, however. Friedrich Kapp (D19) and others offered cogent criticisms of colonial chauvinism. Over time many Germans came to share Kapp’s assessment. They also realized that Bismarck had not been wrong to worry that Germany would benefit only marginally, if at all, from even a “pragmatic” approach (D22) whereby economic control of overseas territories relied on the activity of chartered companies rather than state initiative (“the flag follows trade”) (D23, IM12). The often brutal treatment of native Africans provided the Social Democrats with plenty of ammunition to denounce Germany’s territorial expansion overseas (D24). Satirical magazines also ridiculed claims that colonial conquests represented a “civilizing mission” on behalf of all mankind (IM17). Nevertheless, the indefatigable Peters and others were always ready to answer such criticism with further claims – as vehement as they were unsupportable – about the economic, national, and cultural benefits of colonies. Sometimes they pointed to the danger of giving Socialist critics of colonialism a hearing at all (D25). Whether opposing colonies or calling for more overseas expansion, such pronouncements expressed a growing sense of unease among nationalists that Germany’s mission in the world remained unrealizable within the constraints imposed by Bismarck’s system and style of governance.
Further Reading: Military and International Relations
Klaus Bade, Friedrich Fabri und der Imperialismus in der Bismarckzeit. Revolution – Depression – Expansion, Freiburg i.Br. and Zurich, 1975.
Konrad Canis, Bismarcks Außenpolitik 1870-1890. Aufstieg und Gefährdung, Paderborn, 2004.
Sebastian Conrad, Globalisierung und Nation im Deutschen Kaiserreich, Munich, 2006.
Sebastian Conrad and Jürgen Osterhammel, eds., Das Kaiserreich transnational. Deutschland in der Welt 1871-1914, Göttingen, 2004.
Stig Förster and Jörg Nagler, eds., On the Road to Total War: The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification, 1861-1871, Cambridge and New York, 1997.
Sara Friedrichsmeyer, Sara Lennox, and Susanne Zantop, eds., The Imperialist Imagination: German Colonialism and its Legacy, Ann Arbor, 1998.