The tendency to focus on German policy-making has significantly helped historians in their understanding of the First World War.
Their investigation unearths a quintessential synoptic importance to the psychological factors possessed by the German elites, as in securing their position domestically they disregarded the consequences internationally. Mulligan defines how the investigations into the First World War has produced a ‘handmaiden to literary irony’1 addressing the cultural involvement of the war, in diverse political and social change, which immediately addresses the predominate mandate of the psychological factors. Its fundamentals in social and political manipulation became the constant source behind the two most predominant strands of the war’s methodology: political influence and contemporary affairs. Renouvin, in the shadow of the diplomatic historians, warned against the potential establishment of a ‘dogma’ to certain individual incidences, instead encouraging the furnishing of explanations behind the flare of international politics, such as the focus on Germany’s stability. Thus, he concluded it was essential to understand the role of the German elites in formulating policy as a consequence to Germany’s domestic status rather than the policy’s immediate repercussions to war as he evolved the road to war as one of ‘reckless errors’2. Berghahn retreats from the ‘golden age’ of Europe supposedly distorted by the war in July 1914, suggesting ‘behind a splendid façade there existed an international community convulsed by growing conflict’, being ‘certainly applicable to the Wilhelmine Empire’ in its reactions to Germany’s ‘rapid industrialisation’3. Transporting the thesis away from the orthodox approach to war, historians address how German elites threatened international security through their erosive policies of Weltpolitik simply to achieve a growth in nationalism as a product for distraction and thus increased stability in the consequence of socialism. This has been a significant development in the understanding of the outbreak of war, as with the break-throughs of Fischer and his literary revelations, the investigation to why such a conflict was allowed to happen and how it materialised can be evaluated through the actions of the Wilhelmine Government.
To prevent the redistribution of power threatened by the rise of socialism, Zilch defines how the ‘aggressive characteristics of the (German) bourgeoise’ in their ‘reactionary and dangerous strategies’4 attempted to contain the domestic threat for their own survival politically. Therefore, this is important as the investigation of psychological influences through the evolving historical thesis since 1918 is the key to understanding the war as it supplies the strongest foundations to the reason Europe mobilised for it. Thus, Lloyd George’s belief that Europe simply ‘stumbled’5 to war; a natural catastrophe that was inevitable as Grey dictates himself ‘had no power to decide policy’6 loses significance with the intensification of the investigation to Social Darwinism, the ‘Escape Forward Theory’, advancing the revisionist argument on the basis that Germany, consumed by domestic turmoil, were distracted thus sacrificed European peace by the need to survive.The understanding to the First World War has become the most constructive in the focus of German policy-making in its developments being dictated by the psychological influences of the German elites. Berghahn describes the growing instability of Germany as ‘economic change took place in a country whose political and social structures were unprepared’7. This evaluation compels investigation to the importance of the mentality of the German elites, as the pivotal position of the lower classes in industrial economic excel shunned the pre-industrial leaders of agriculture. This is important as economic power interdependently raised their political influence which threatened the elites as this proved hazardous to their political control. This encouraged an overwhelming mentality that was to possess the formation of German policy-making as the German elites vowed to protect conservatism at all costs.
Mommsen outlines how the elites politicised to ‘ward off the movement towards fundamental change… by restoring to manipulative strategies of distraction’8 which made German domestic policies before 1914 almost impasse. Fischer outlined how there was ‘no room for compromise with neighbouring social groups or even former competitors’9 in the eyes of the elites as any essence of modernisation would threaten the existing distribution of power within the state. However, this paralysis democratically implemented a damaging permanent battle of ideologies which threatened the status of Germany as ‘no complex industrial society can be ruled restrictively for a long period of time’10.
Here, Hart argues the first instance of German psychological factors causing the First World War as the direr need to have power over their external and internal opponents published ambitions of foreign expansion politically and militarily as the German elites were becoming ‘increasingly tempted to use their superior power’11 to outbreak war. Thus, the immobilisation of the belief that to defeat socialism was within the power of nationalism was contextualised in foreign policy. Wehler sympathises with the position of the German elites as the symbiotic relationship of domestic policies to foreign activity intensified under the precepted pre-revolutionary conditions fed by the rise of socialism. He develops this as the agrarians implemented the policy of Weltpolitik as a means to escape the contradictions and strife possessed within reform as the German constitution was abandoned under the perplexed co-existence of the opposing parties12. Therefore, the German elites had to devise this political agenda as fear of impending collapse was very much tangible. Ferguson agrees as the state of mind the German elites possessed to the seemingly impending threats of socialism were not to an abnormality. The industrial revolution that Germany had experienced was in parity to the industrial manoeuvre that had ‘destabilised Russia’ as the working class began to rebel through trade unionism. The country experiencing ‘65% of factories striking in 1914’13 was increasingly threatening the autonomy of the Tsar, enough to impart fear in the elites as overhaul was what they politicised to avoid.
This alerts the ‘Escape Forward’ Theory by Structuralist historians, as the rising social issues within Germany and the polarisation of class struggles threatened the social monarchical and conservative positioning, causing the leaders to induce the fundamentals of protectionism, which is further addressed by Mayer in how the ‘aristocratic elites sought to ward off the threats of socialism by striking a Faustian pact with radical nationalism’14. The Faustian pact he addresses depicts the endorsement of Weltpolitik and the construction of the Schlieffen Plan which as Ritter argues initiated the demise of European peace as it brought the ‘destruction of political order within moral convention’15 simply to the belief that it would ensure nationalism and thus survival in support. Therefore, by focusing on German policy-making, it reveals the crucial role of the psychological factors of the German elites as without such domestic pressures the First World War would not have taken place. Bebel depicted ‘to reform Prussia is impossible… we are on the eve of the most dreadful war… the people cannot survive the burden of militarism… and the Kaiser is fully aware’16. Thus, the contravene to European peace in Germany’s desperate attempts to retain security sacrificed superior positions of the European States, the degradation of the continent interdependent to the failed policies of Germany where domestic hinderances were resolved in provocation to engage in war.
Therefore, the status of brinkmanship sustained by Bismarck’s ‘Status Quo’ was abolished in the elites’ belief that militarism would ‘invade the ideology of the middle class’ thus ensuring their stability in power. Fischer identifies the policy of rearmament as a ‘political tool’ promoted to ‘restarting the economy and assimilating social protest’17. This is most evident in the inauguration of Wilhelm’s Naval and International Policy as it represented the most comprehensive attempt to mobilise the forces of conservatism and thus stagnation of political revolt. Tirpitz’s production of the ‘Great Overseas policy’ in 1899 was the first policy aimed at achieving economic benefits to neutralise domestic turmoil, that threatened international relations. The German War Council envisage Naval Agreements with Britain following 1912, to be unattainable as they believed Britain dominated in reluctance to uphold its status as ‘all envisage a reduction to our fleet to be a prerequisite of their friendship’18. However, this as Ferguson details, was not abandoned in Germany’s ambition to deteriorate international peace but the tactical failure of manipulation the British Government tried to apply, as their relationship became continuously insignificant with the growing stresses of their domestic issues; Germany’s fleet could not be abandoned as it funded their economic survival. In their policies of manageable sovereignty, their reliance on the Arms Race was becoming ever more dependable, as ‘to prevent recession… more than two capital ships were required per annum’19, a policy, if abandoned, would not only cause economic standstill but political downfall as reluctance and infuriation had begun to form within Government.
This shows the power of German insecurities in the eventual outbreak of war as through their frantic internal policies, they stirred international relations beyond their own perceptions as the domestic actions reduced their opportunities of diplomatic relations by concluding a decade of negotiable co-existence. This is important to address as the Naval tensions produced between the two countries amounted high continental pressures; Britain, as argued by Sheffield, forced themselves to the formation of the Triple Entente in 1904 in the fear of ‘diplomatic reversal’20 within Europe as a powerful German Navy could persevere continental and colonial expansion to produce a German European hegemony thrashing the status quo Britain had maintained. So, Germany’s domestic discrepancies, therefore, caused war as the ‘Kaiser’s erratic bellicosity’ brought the formation of an ‘Anti-German Power Bloc’21. By the formation of the alliance, it prevented a viable occurrence based upon the nature of Germany’s domestic state, ensuring the survival of these States within Britain’s perceptions and therefore its presence and power. The further imposed encirclement created by the alliance caused the outbreak of war as Taylor defines the ‘fragility of the Constitutional Settlement’22 encouraged the abandonment of domestic reforms for the ideology that domestic success lay in a European war. Mayer outlines this as the production of war was to the German ‘domestic tensions rising sharply’ which limited European foreign policy to a crucible of German political pressures, ultimately causing the ‘international system to become increasingly strained’23. This is consequently evident in Taylors evaluation that the Statesmen of Europe were ‘overwhelmed by the magnitude of events… and fumbled more or less helplessly… to a war no one asked about’24.
This is extended by Fay’s evaluation that the outbreak of war was formulated on the secrecy of true policies as ‘the contractually binding alliances caused a lack of independent arbitration mechanisms’25. This caused the outbreak of war as the discrepancy to German domestic threats shows the primacy of foreign policy becoming dominated by mounting political change, making the prevention of war inoperative under the presence of pre-revolutionary conditions. Germany forced the bidding of the European Powers through the exploitation of its mounting domestic instability, fomenting mutual suspicion that not only escalated the arms race but eroded the vital centre of power equilibrium in Europe, as the hypogenic actions of the German elites radicalised extremes, heightening diplomatic obduracy in their efforts to maintain a precarious domestic status quo. In conclusion, the tendency to focus on German policy-making has significantly helped historians in their understanding of the First World War. The investigation behind the importance of the psychological factors possessed by the German elites in securing their position domestically displays a significant product of war as they held little regard for their consequences internally or internationally. The instability of the German elites in holding political power caused the reliance on militarism, a product to distract their domestic population through reviving a sense of nationalism and thus the direr needed trust to the sovereignty. This, in causing the production of the Schlieffen Plan and the domineering policy of Weltpolitik, began to weaken their relations with the surrounding states of Europe, as their increasing obsession with ‘Encirclement’ and their inabilities to succeed through rearmament, transformed their policies to imperialism. Although, colonial enthusiasm was an internationally accepted policy it was the evolution, due to reforms from naval policies to the expansion of the Army, that impended crucial international suspicions.
The increase to land mobilisation meant African colonisation became Continental expansion, as the empty and insecure domains of South-East and Eastern Europe became its fascination. This new perspective alongside their most predominant policy of unity, the defeat of France, forced many of the elites to believe the only assured survival of their reign in Germany was ‘the way out of deadlock… an offensive war’26, as a result of the failed Wilhelmine policies. Germany became hungry for its ‘place in the sun’27, and the questions to where this would be alarmed Europe to the point of hysteria rapidly accelerating alliances and policies. Therefore, it was the consequences of German policy-making born from the psychological factors that fuelled the fire behind the July Crisis as the immensity of pressures invested to the formation of alliance and uncertainty consequently caused the outbreak of war.
Therefore, this is an exceptional development into the understanding of the First World War. It has allowed a synoptic vocal point of investigation in producing a cofounding cause and effect to the actions of the states rather than the simplicity that even modern historians such as Clark still argue that Europe ‘simply slept walked to war’28, thus expanding the histography of its eruption.