Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

What role did the Prussian Junker class play in Prussia’s jingoistic society?

Historians are still debating the degree to which one can characterize Prussia as consistently jingoistic. There are two basic interpretations of the relationship between the Junkers and militarism.

Although the association of the Prussian Junkers with a destructive German militarism began during the First World War, it was in the aftermath of 1945 that historians began to craft a historical narrative in which the Junkers played a central role. Friedrich Meinecke, one of the intellectual mandarins of Berlin, published a dissection of German history in 1946 which presents Prussian militarism acted as a unique cancer within the German body politic. Gordon A. Craig would expand upon this theme in his 1955 classic The Politics of the Prussian Army. Craig contends that Frederick the Great’s cantonal system created an political alliance between East Elbian Junkers and the Prussian state that lasted through 1945. As a result of this alliance, the Junkers absorbed both a militaristic and an antidemocratic ethos; a hubris that snaked its way through German history until found its nemesis under Hitler, who used Junkers militarism to his own ends, which included breaking the estate power of the Junkers. Later historians like Otto Büsch and Hans Ulrich-Wehler would expand this thesis by arguing that the Junkers found that their domination of the officer corps was a secure zone (unlike the rapidly expanding German industrial economy) in which they could operate. Wehler in some cases went quite far in his interpretation and asserted that Wilhelmine jingoism as exemplified by the German Navy League was one of the political tactics employed by the Junkers to cow the German middle classes and win over the German lower orders through popular militarism.

Scholarship in the last thirty years has come to question the levels of continuity between the various German states (Prussia-Imperial-Weimar-Third Reich) and their respective militarisms. The collapse of the GDR meant historians have had access to archives in Brandenburg and the former Prussian territories and they have revealed that the Junkers involvement within the cantonal system was far less systematic than previously thought. Moreover, the research pioneered by Geoff Eley found that nationalist leaders’ attitudes towards the Junkers could range from ambivalence to outright hostility (the slogan of populist nationalist Otto Böckel was “against Junkers and Jews”). Ute Frevert’s A Nation in Barracks contends that that the militarization of German society was far from a monolithic process within German society during the nineteenth century and had a highly localist bent. Similarly, Jeffrey Verhey asserts that popular militarism was not nearly as prevalent as both scholars and laymen have assumed.

As can be seen from the above, the impact of the Junkers on a militarized German nationalism is far from settled among historians. Certain salient facets of Prussian/German society do stand out with regards to the OP’s question. Robert Citino has cogently argued that the Prussian “way of war” (which he haphazardly labels German) grew out of a cultural milieu that emphasized swift movement and offensive operations. The Prussian Junkers did have an ethos that emphasized military service and the Prussian-German state did enshrine military nationalism during the nineteenth century as part of its core values (which to be fair, so did nearly every other contemporaneous European government). The Junkers as a class may have been more ambivalent about German hypernationalism, but the image of an aggressive Prussian militarism had great power. The victorious Allies in 1946 abolished Prussia as a state in 1946 and many of the bureaucrats behind this decision saw it as a symbolic act to break Germany’s martial traditions.



Citino, Robert Michael. The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich. Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 2005.

Clark, Christopher M. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.

Craig, Gordon Alexander. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955.

Eley, Geoff. Reshaping the German Right: Radical Nationalism and Political Change After Bismarck. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.

Frevert, Ute. A Nation in Barracks: Modern Germany, Military Conscription and Civil Society. Oxford: Berg, 2004.

Meinecke, Friedrich. The German Catastrophe; Reflections and Recollections. Boston: Beacon Press, 1950.

Verhey, Jeffrey. The Spirit of 1914: Militarism, Myth and Mobilization in Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Wehler, Hans-Ulrich. The German Empire, 1871-1918. Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, UK: Berg Publishers, 1985.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s