William II Essay

Irresponsibility and a lack of central direction." Discuss the domestic policy of Kaiser Wilhelm II in the light of this judgment."

When Bismarck resigned as the German Chancellor in 1890, all power and authority that had been gathered in his hands was transferred to Wilhelm II, a young Kaiser determined to force his will whenever he deemed it necessary. Wilhelm believed in the full authority of the All Highest and retained the right to intervene in issues of policy at random. Leo von Caprivi, Bismarck's successor, wrote in 1985 of "the Kaiser's tendency to make sudden decisions," and in 1897 Prince Hohenlohe complained about the "lack of authority" that rendered it impossible for him to govern the German Reich effectively. Irresponsibility on Wilhelm's side caused a lack of central direction, for without authority and with the Kaiser's way of making impulsive decisions, none of the chancellors succeeding Bismarck were able to pursue an effective and continuous style of government.

While Wilhelm II held the authority to unilaterally cancel any policies or to inaugurate or dismiss any of his ministers, nobody could be sure if and when the emperor would intervene. L. Cecil brings it to the point, writing that "He was ... the one constant, unavoidable, unpredictable factor with which all statesmen in Berlin ... had to reckon." It is important to note that Wilhelm did not pursue a distinctive policy of his own, but rather determined his actions on the scene of domestic policy by spontaneous likes and dislikes. At times, he drew up programs and forced their execution, such as the program of Social Reforms of 1890 which was to bring about the fall of Bismarck. However, these engagements were rare and appeared at random - frequently, the emperor would even contradict himself in substantially reversing major policies of the recent past. His frequent absences from Berlin added another factor of uncertainty. The Reisekaiser (traveling emperor) was absent from the capital almost half of every year, frequently upon return to fully redirect decisions that had been reached in his absence. While Wilhelm perceived himself as the All Highest whom everybody had to obey, he did not care too much about politics per se. He even boasted that he had never read a contemporary German newspaper nor the constitution. However, the authority that he was granted by the constitution made him the most influential political power in the Reich. How careless he used his power, despite being quite intelligent and well educated, is an indicator of his irresponsibility.

Examples of specific policies serve well to illustrate the Kaiser's tendency to make decisions based on temporary inclinations. In May 1889, a strike by miners in the Ruhr gave Wilhelm the chance to act in support of the working classes. Completely overruling Bismarck's plans to make the Anti-Socialist laws permanent, the Kaiser introduced new laws including a ban on Sunday working and instructions to Lutheran pastors to concern themselves with social questions. After 1894, however, he pointedly withdrew these instructions and issued a stream of anti-socialist legislation similar in nature to that proposed by Bismarck only 4 years earlier. Similar in nature is the abrupt change from international trade treaty systems to protective tariffs. Even though these changes were in fact conducted by the respective chancellors, Wilhelm's consent can be taken for granted as otherwise he would have intervened. In 1892 and 1893, trade treaties were arranged by Caprivi with a multitude of European neighbors. These arrangements were canceled and protectionism reintroduced by von Bülow in 1902, when pressure from the Junkers made this an obvious policy for Wilhelm to embark on.

Another indicator of the irresponsibility of the Kaiser is the Daily Telegraph incident of 1908. T. A. Morris states that "characteristic irresponsibility on the Kaiser's part led to utterances offensive to Britain and to Russia and highly embarrassing to Germany." Wilhelm's quick-tempered character led not only to irrational policies, but also to actions on a smaller scale which were counterproductive in serving the Reich.

Wilhelm's fascination for the army had its worst outcome in the Zabern affair, which showed how the emperor perceived himself as a patron of the army and allowed extreme independence of the armed forces domestically. In November 1913, a series of disturbances broke out in the garrison town of Zabern in Alsace. The arrogant garrison troops triggered disturbances and immediately declared a state of siege, yet were later not brought to account for their actions as the Kaiser supported his officers. The Zabern affair serves as an illustration of how a personal like of the Kaiser, who was in a state of fascinated love with the military, determined his use of authority to be irrational and opposed by the Reichstag as well as his cabinet.

Prince Hohenlohe states in 1897 that "without authority, government is impossible." Authority was not given to any of his chancellors by Wilhelm II, which made their task more difficult if not impossible. The irresponsibility of the monarch can be summarized by stating its main manifestations. Firstly, he failed to arrange himself with his cabinet. The ministers and the chancellor were thus often uninformed over major policy changes that did not coincide with their carefully planned programs of domestic policy. Furthermore, it could never be anticipated just when Wilhelm would intervene. By appointing ministers without his chancellor's consent or even knowledge of the change, and by dismissing others in the same way, Wilhelm can be held directly responsible for a lack of central direction. His spontaneous decisions and his stressed disinterest in general politics show how he did not realize just how much responsibility he had to bear.