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IV. State and Society
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Overview: Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914   |   I. Economic Development   |   II. Society and Culture   |   III. "Modern Life": Diagnoses, Prescriptions, Alternatives   |   IV. State and Society   |   V. Politics   |   VI. Germany in International Affairs   |   Germany at War, 1914-1918   |   I. Battle   |   II. Mobilization of the Home Front   |   III. Privation and Ferment on the Home Front   |   IV. Seeking an End to the War

Public officials joined artists, social philosophers, and reformers in confronting the challenges of modern life. The "state," which comprised public agencies on the national, state, regional, and local levels, was a vital participant in the effort to steer, soften, or limit the impact of economic, social, and cultural changes that followed in the wake of high industrial capitalism in Germany. The state oversaw the finest system of public education in the world, and it sought to ensure that children were trained in the basic skills needed to cope with the demands of an industrial economy (Doc. 1). Children who advanced into secondary schools were drawn as a rule from better-situated families, and their training was oriented towards professional and bureaucratic careers (in the case of boys) or (in the case of girls) towards being the wives of men who pursued those very careers (Docs. 2, 3).

The principal object of the state's concern, however, was the industrial working class, whose growth and organization in labor unions and political parties appeared to pose a threat to the social and political order. The repertoire of public policies to deal with this threat included both repression and a remarkably progressive program of protection and social insurance, the basis of which had been laid in the 1880s but underwent significant expansion in the Wilhelmine era, thanks in part to the support of officials like Hans Hermann von Berlepsch, the Prussian Minister of Commerce and Industry in the 1890s (Docs. 4, 5, 6). Public welfare marked out a dimension of a broader phenomenon, which a Socialist economist soon thereafter called "organized capitalism" – the growing interpenetration of public and private institutions, as public bureaucracies sought to promote and regulate economic development, and enterprise itself became increasingly organized along bureaucratic lines (Docs. 7, 8). In this respect, the extension of welfare benefits to white-collar employees in 1911 was a moment of both practical and symbolic significance (Doc. 9, 10).

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