Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, October 04, 2019

History That Wasn't: The United German Republic of 1919

I've been reading Robert Gerwarth's The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, a history book dealing with ways in which the collapsed of the empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottomans and Russia created regional conflicts and tensions that in turn led to WW2. It's a very worth reading book, especially if one's prior exposure to the topic is limited to the summary that often ends up in textbooks claiming that the war guilt clause the reparations were the primary things which played into the rise of the Nazis.

One of the fascinating things that he covers is that in 1918-1919 as the Austrian and German successor states were being put together primarily under the leadership of Social Democratic parties (in the climate of the place and times, think of social democrats as being the stable middle ground between communists on the left who wanted actual revolution and the imperial/military right which in many cases didn't want parliamentary democracy at all) many social democrats in both Germany and Austria were pushing for a union of the two countries into a single German-speaking nation. This seemed to be in keeping with Wilson's 14 Points, and it would have both provided Germany with something to focus on other than its territorial losses to Poland and Austria a way to continue to exist as a stable country after being stripped of its primary agricultural and industrial areas through the dissolution of the empire. Austria in the winter of 1918-19 was a rump state with a third of its population in Vienna and not nearly enough agricultural land to feed its starving people.

The allies did not want to allow the unification of Germany and Austria even if it seemed in keeping with the principle of national self determination, because it seemed impossible to explain how they had fought and died to defeat German militarism only to green light the creation of a larger and more unified German state than they had faced in 1914. And yet, it's possible to imagine that if the Social Democrats had been able to deliver a united German Republic as a channel for national aspirations, this would have given them the credibility to stabilize and lead the country into a better future.

With unification definitively denied, uniting the countries became an aspiration of the far right and another example of how democratic government could never provide a path to the national greatness for which many people yearned in a period of defeat.

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