The Origins of Prussian Militarism

Peter H. Wilson suggests that the aggressiveness of Wilhelmine Germany was not necessarily a direct consequence of the Prussian social system of the eighteenth century.

The story of Prussia’s transformation from potential victim of hostile international forces into a dominant and aggressive state often seems miraculous. To those who viewed it in the eighteenth century, it inspired a mixture of admiration and apprehension. These feelings gave way in the nineteenth century to a rather less critical glorification fostered by the authorities and German nationalist historians like Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-96), who saw Prussia’s rise as the foundation of a united and dynamic imperial Germany. This vision disintegrated in the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century, after which Prussia’s earlier rise appeared a historical ‘wrong turn’ (Sonderweg) on the path to modernity. It remains nonetheless a compelling tale that requires explanation.

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