Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Quote of the day

From Jack Snyder, Myths of Empire (1991), pp.97-99 (footnotes omitted):
The most powerful explanation for German expansionism...focuses on the domestic political consequences of Germany's late industrialization.... It was characterized by the comparatively abrupt development of large-scale heavy industry, centrally financed by bank capital and organized into cartels.... Its social concomitants were the divergence of agricultural and commercial interests, the organizational concentration of economic power, the immobility of investments and consequently of interests, and the emergence of mass political movements without the prior completion of a bourgeois-liberal political transformation.

This pattern had decisive consequences for the power and interests of the key actors.... Junker landowners... had an overwhelming incentive to use [their] political power to inflate the price of grain...through protective tariffs.... The military used its high degree of operational autonomy...to pursue...apolitical, offensive strategies for decisive victory.... Cartelized heavy industry used its market power, high-level political access, and political subsidies to mass groups to promote industrial protectionism and the building of a fleet while blocking a liberal political alliance between labor and export industry.

These group interests promoted policies that led to Germany's diplomatic encirclement: Junkers got grain tariffs that antagonized Russia; the navy and heavy industry got a fleet that antagonized Britain; and the army got an offensive war plan that ensured that virtually all of Europe would be ranged among Germany's enemies. Thus three key elite groups had the motive and the opportunity to advance policies that embroiled Germany simultaneously with all of Europe's major powers.

10 comments:

Peter T said...


Fair enough. What this does not explain is why key German elites were prepared to go into a major war, knowing that failure would likely doom them to revolution. And, BTW, "apolitical strategies" does not come close to what the General Staff were doing. They were intensely political, and shared all the fears and prejudices of their fellow elites.

It doesn't come close to the sheer irrationality of many German moves (or, at least, their ability to ignore unpleasant realities). The Naval Program is a case in point: it sat at the confluence of several major currents of elite thought - it boosted heavy industry when that was going through a downturn, appealed to the nationalism of centrist and right-wing middle-class voters, tried to bribe the workers of Hamburg and Kiel away from support for the SPD, and maintained the military budget without increasing the army. This latter was desirable because the military budget was not under civilian control, and a larger army meant widening the pool from which officers were drawn - maybe even commissioning Jews and social democrats.

When it was pointed out that a fleet large enough to pose a threat to Britain would be difficult to fund, and anyway be vulnerable to several possible British responses, all of which would worsen Germany's strategic position, the answer was to craft the program in a way that made it possible to deny that was aimed at Britain. The predicted British response then provoked a bout of hysteria.

So its not so much specific interests as the lens through which they were viewed - and this lens was coloured by violent antipathy to the prospect of sharing political power with lower social groups. At the same time, industrial and military developments made it necessary to have the cooperation of such groups. The resulting dilemmas provoked a collective nervous breakdown.

LFC said...

I think Snyder (the author of the bk being quoted in the post) probably would agree w a lot of this. At other points in the chapter from which the quote is drawn he discusses strategic 'myths' and how they influenced, eg, the naval program. And his reference to heavy industry blocking a liberal alliance betw labor and export sectors is in line w yr perspective also.

The differences betw Snyder and Berghahn I'd imagine are probably more of emphasis than ones of stark disagreement -- though I don't recall offhand whether Snyder cites him. Also, Snyder is a political scientist and is thus trying to make a larger theoretical argument -- in effect he's arguing something that historians already take for granted -- namely that domestic politics and domestic structures are important drivers of expansionist (or 'over-expansionist') foreign policy. Which sounds like an obvs point, except that structural Realist theories have downplayed or miminized domestic factors, or at least denied that "malign political forces on the home front," in Mearsheimer's words, fueled e.g. the German decision for war in 1914.
The last quote is from Mearsheimer, 'The Tragedy of Great Power Politics,' p.211. And see his rather unconvincing, in my view, elaboration on pp.213-216.

LFC said...

p.s. -- where he argues that Germany's going to war in 1914 was "a calculated risk" that almost succeeded, not "a case of wacky strategic ideas pushing a state to start a war it was sure to lose" (p.215).

While Snyder (against whom Mearsheimer is arguing here) stresses the misguided strategic ideas, that emphasis is not at all incompatible, as i said before, w yr pts about elite motivations and class antipathy, etc.

thusbloggedanderson said...

When the general staff said they had nothing to do with "politics," they meant "democracy." Opposing democracy is of course quite political.

I love this jibe by Falkenhayn as war minister at the Reichstag:

"Only through the fact that the Prussian army is removed by the constitution from the party struggle and the influence of ambitious party leaders has it become what it is: the secure defence of peace at home and abroad."

That was in ... 1914.

LFC said...

Yes, the adjective "apolitical" in the Snyder quote does seem inapt -- even if he meant "not subject to political oversight" or "divorced from pol. realities" or something like that, it's not the right word.

Interesting that Falkenhayn says "Prussian army," not German army, or perhaps, given the makeup of the officer class, that wasn't unusual? (I'm so obviously not a military historian I'm thinking of adding that caveat to the blog profile. :))

thusbloggedanderson said...

No military historian I either, but I do recall that the Bavarian army retained some separate status within the Imperial army; I can't recall whether that was the case with Prussia's too, or whether the Imperial army was effectively the Prussian army. Probably Falkenhayn was being deliberately undiplomatic, as ministers will be when they aren't responsible to the legislature.

Peter T said...

I left the formal study of IR behind many years ago. It's depressing to find that they are still arguing over what historians take for granted. Much like economists, they do not seem to be able to see that their modelled forests often do not have any actual trees.

Prussian Army is correct - the pre 1914 German Army was formally the armies of the several states, with the smaller states coming under Prussian control, and the major ones linked by various common arrangement - something like NATO, but a little tighter.

LFC said...

"Much like economists, they do not seem to be able to see that their modelled forests often do not have any actual trees."

Won't disagree w that. In recent years, though, my sense is that *some* IR types have become a bit more historian-like (clumsy phrase, sorry) in their thinking, while a few historians have shown an interest in engaging some of the IR lit, which is good for both 'sides'.

Political scientists (which is what most IR types, at least in the US, are) and historians will always approach things somewhat differently, but they are talking to each other more now than in the past, which, as I say, must be a good thing, even if in the end it doesn't have a huge impact on either 'discipline'/field.

The joint site run by the Intl Studies Assn security studies section and some other groups is one example of that conversation, I think. I linked it the other day, shd prob check in there now and then.

LFC said...

http://www.issforum.org

LFC said...

(actually it was more like a month ago, not the other day.)