Student Question

What did Germany lack during its revolutions compared to Italy and France?

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I'm assuming that by "revolutions" in Germany and Italy, we are talking about the nineteenth-century unification movements in those countries. Before we address the issue of what distinguished Germany from the others, it would be best to mention that the French Revolution was more different from both the German and Italian situations, than the German unification was different from the Italian. The Revolution that began in France in 1789 was an overthrow of the existing form of government in a settled, unified state. It was an ideological movement, at first based on the principles of liberty, equality and brotherhood, and it was, like the American Revolution that had concluded just six years earlier (in which France had facilitated our independence), an outgrowth of the principles of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and other changes in European thought that had been occurring slowly for centuries. Though it's undeniable that those same principles to some extent may have animated the unification movements in Italy and Germany, these movements were nationalistic in nature, based on what we today would call ethnic self-determination. Germany had never been a unified nation-state, but was a loose confederation of many independent principalities, ecclesiastic territories, and free cities. These as a whole had been known as the Holy Roman Empire from the Middle Ages until 1806, when Napoleon abolished the Empire and reduced the German principalities to client states of France. The humiliation the Germans felt over this, as well as the generally rising nationalistic sentiments in Europe at the time, stimulated them in the decades after the Napoleonic Wars to unify, to bring all the German lands together into a single political entity or nation-state. The Italians who themselves had been separated into independent principalities for centuries, held the same ideal of unification. Both the German states and the Italian states were finally unified in the 1870s. But the difference between these situations was that Italy, prior to unification, had been dominated by foreign ruling houses, the Austrian Hapsburgs in the North and the French-Spanish Bourbons in the South. The Italian unification movement was largely one to expel non-Italians from ruling Italy. And, it was animated much more directly by the principles at the basis of the French Revolution than the German movement was. The flag of the new Italy, the tricolor, was modeled on the flag of Revolutionary France (with the change of one color). German unification was not an attempt to remove foreign powers, since though Germany had been divided, the individual states had still been ruled by Germans. And, although it's a bit simplistic to say this, the ideology animating the German movement was not a democratic one, but much more an authoritarian one under the Prussian "Iron Chancellor" Bismarck. The ideal of democratic rule, though imperfectly envisioned or sought for in Italy, was what the German movement lacked.

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