Napoleon’s invasion smashed the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and with it what was left of the early modern/medieval frame. Class strife in the wake of the Industrial Revolution unleashed competing forces of liberalism and conservative traditionalists across the European boundaries. And the tug of war among bigger powers including the French, the Russians, and the Habsburgs meant the German aspiration for nationhood was arrested at an ineffective and weak Confederation level, the Deutscher Bund. It may have sealed the inferior fate of Germans hadn’t it been for a radical and unabashed exponent of the politics of power, Otto Von Bismarck who knew that “Passive planlessness” was not an option: “We will be the anvil if we do not make ourselves into the hammer”. But how and when?
That moment came with Austria’s isolation from Russia during the Crimean war, and Bismarck’s keen instinct seized upon that opportunity to challenge for dominance in Germany. Exactly on the 3rd anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, at an equally consequential civil war battle of Königgrätz, Bismarck masterfully channeled the political capital of a Prussian victory against the Austrians, into a movement that led to the unification of Germany in 1871. Europe was never the same again.
Please join us as Adam Tooze, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of History and the Director of the European Institute at Columbia University revisits the socio-economical and geopolitical circumstances in 19th-century Europe that led to the drive for German unification. Tooze retraces the consequences of a unified and strong Germany as the center of Europe.