restricted access Conclusion. German Political Culture, Democracy, and Terrorism
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Conclusion G e r m a n P o l i t i cal C ul t u r e , D e m o c r ac y , a n d T e r r o r i s m In these pages, I have tried to show how anarchism, a movement always on the fringes of Imperial German politics and never strong numerically, nonetheless played an important role in the development of the empire’s political culture. As an exemplar of political otherness, a marker of political pathology, anarchism attracted persistent attention and helped various political factions legitimate their worldviews and justify their political prescriptions. For conservatives, anarchists exemplified the danger posed by movements challenging society’s established hierarchies. Anarchist violence validated conservatives’ conception that a war between anarchy and society existed, whose prosecution did not allow for fastidious adherence to legal or democratic standards. Conservatives defended the Socialist Law as a response to the “state of emergency” posed by the endeavors of “revolution parties.” As Chancellor Bismarck put it in his memoirs, the defense of the German nation had to come before petty concerns about law and constitutionality. “I have never doubted,” he wrote, “that, in a severe crisis, a minister must advise his monarch to stage a coup d’état . . . rather than let his fatherland succumb to anarchism and the state perish before his eyes. . . . A state which fights for its very existence does not make its decisions dependent upon the advice of law faculties.”1 Seeing the battle against revolution as an existential struggle for the German state and culture’s survival justified repressive legislation, from the Socialist Law to the Revolution Bill to the Penitentiary Bill, while also placing Social Democracy irredeemably beyond the circle of legitimate political movements. When Social Democrats, Catholics, and left liberals reframed the relationship of Social Democracy to violent revolutionism generally and anarchism specifically, they challenged the conservative interpretation of both issues, rejecting “exceptional laws” as Conclusion 213 unjust and counterproductive and refusing the premise of Social Democratic responsibility for anarchist violence. Without abandoning their revolutionary posture, Socialists redefined their concept of revolution to place it inside the German political-cultural mainstream. They recast their public identity in explicit opposition to anarchism’s deviant pseudo-revolutionism, which, they claimed, shared with conservatives a faith in the efficacy of immoral and brutal violence. Despite their deep opposition to Socialism on religious grounds (in the case of political Catholics and mostly Catholic minorities) or the party’s view of the state’s role in social and economic life (in the case of left liberals ), other parties remained committed to combating them in the intellectual realm and working with them when possible. Left-liberal scholars’ interpretations of anarchism backed Social Democratic claims about the harm of illiberal policies and the complete opposition between anarchism and Socialism, while elaborating a critique of anarchism sympathetic to the philosophy’s opposition to state power. Social Democrats also utilized the anti-anarchist rhetoric that had become central to their identity to quell internal party disagreement, stigmatizing dissenters as quasi-anarchists who threatened to undermine core Socialist principles. In all of these ways, discussions of anarchism’s origins and its relationship to Socialism contributed to the development of political values in the Kaiserreich. This study adds to a body of scholarship showing the growing normalization of Social Democracy’s place in the German Empire’s political landscape and the development of robust liberal values in this era. Even ex-chancellor Bernhard von Bülow in 1914 went so far as to describe “the safety valves of parliamentary life” as “indispensable” to the maintenance of social order and moderate Social Democratic behavior, though he still considered the Socialists fundamentally anti-national.2 While Bismarck had envisioned a situation in which he could endlessly cobble together coalitions of “friends of the empire” or, in a later version, “state-supporting parties” against shifting “enemies of the empire” (including Catholics at times, left liberals at times, and Social Democrats perennially), this discourse failed, in large part because those who faced the government ’s ire found common ground on the need for fairness and legality. The ongoing emphasis by Social Democrats, political Catholics, and left liberals (and over time, right liberals as well) on the distinction between legitimate Socialism and illegitimate anarchism facilitated Social Democracy’s integration into the nation’s normal political life, encouraging Socialists and other Reichsfeinde to stand together in opposition to government and police overreach, even if they were...


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