Monday, May 09, 2005

Coalition of the Defeated

In The Kaiser's Voters, Jonathan Sperber describes the opposition parties of the Bismarckian Reich -- the Catholics, the national minorities, those loyal to the deposed monarchs ... -- as a coalition of the defeated.

These groups either preferred Grossdeutschland over Prussia or did not see themselves as German nationals. Together they were a voting bloc, spread out over numerous parties. And their existence concerned nationalists who feared that the "defeated" enemies of the empire (Reichsfiend) would use the political process to gain what they lost in war.


[Center founder Ludwig Windthorst]

The Kaiser's Voters is a thorough consideration of the dynamics of German politics and the meaning of the democratic process. Under Bismarck, parties organize into two broad camps: the Kartell (who supported Bismarck), the minority (the coalition, wherein the Center Party acted as a protector), and the National Liberals leaning towards the conservatives.

The legalization of the SPD dramatically changed the dynamics of politics: a German party was able to take root among national minorities; the Center fought to keep its lower class; Protestant workers found an alternative to the nationalist parties.

I could not help but feel that the phrase "coalition of the defeated" could not be read without reference to contemporary politics. "Coalitions" now suggest a discourse about the effectiveness of voluntary and international organizations; good coalitions act with moral purpose, bad coalitions out of resentment. It does not help that the parties that belonged to Sperber's coalition were those left behind by Bismarck's victories.

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