The Long Defeat: Christendom and Its Defenders, 1789 to the Present. Part 4: The ‘Other’ Empire

Together with Austria, Slovenia, and Czechia, what is now Germany made up the bulk of the Holy Roman Empire, which — as we have seen — was for a long time ruled by the Habsburgs. Unlike their hereditary domains, most of the HRE was made up of — by 1789 — a patchwork tapestry of over 300 hereditary fiefs, ecclesiastical states, and free cities. As we have seen, the French Revolution upended all of Europe, and Germany in particular. Finally, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, it appeared that the genie had been put back in the bottle.

At the same time, the era called forth Romanticism, a movement which — while eventually having local versions throughout the West — began in Germany. Writers and artists such as Novalis, Achim von Arnim, Clemens Brentano, August and Friedrich Schlegel, Joseph Goerres, Caspar David Friedrich, the brothers Grimm, and a host of others fought the Enlightenment and the Revolution alike in the intellectual and cultural spheres. They reignited interest in German folklore and fairy tales, in the mythic German forest, and in Nordic Mythology. In so doing, they reawakened interest in the Middle Ages, and so — in Protestant Germany — in Catholicism. Such as Novalis looked to the European unity disrupted by the Protestant revolt, and many of his brother Romantics embraced Catholicism. A host of political writers, such as Gentz, Haller, Mueller, and von Baader championed the Church and Catholic Monarchy. During the Restoration period, Neo-Gothicism and political reaction were dominant, while Prussia willingly played second fiddle to Austria in the new Germanic Confederation that replaced the Holy Roman Empire after 1815.

That order was shaken by the revolutions in 1830, whose most notable accomplishment was to chase Charles X — last legitimately crowned King of France — off the throne (Belgian revolutionaries also succeeded in winning independence for their country; Polish ones did not). But a decade later, the pro-Catholic Friedrich Wilhelm IV, the “Romantic upon the Throne,” became King of Prussia. He immediately ended his father’s feud with the Church, and finished Cologne’s Cathedral (upon which work had stopped at the Lutheran revolt). The new King surrounded himself with advisers — nicknamed the “Camarilla” — some of whom were devout Evangelicals, such as J.F. Stahl and the brothers von Gerlach (Leopold and Ernst), and others of whom were Catholics like Radowitz and Reumont.

The year 1848 saw revolutions across Europe, engulfing all of Austria’s nationalities and many of the German States as well. A German Parliament was called at Frankfurt; its members were divided over the form a new German Empire would take. Conservatives called for a Large German entity that would include Austria; Liberals wanted to exclude the Habsburg domains and give the Crown to Friedrich Wilhelm. He refused it, and in time the status quo was regained in Central Europe.

Over the following decade, however, the “Little German” solution found opposition among such Protestant north German thinkers as Constantin Frantz, Heinrich Leo, and Johann Friedrich Böhmer, and Catholics like Franz Johann Joseph Bock — all of whom were inspired by the memory of the Holy Roman Empire, and could not imagine a Germany without the Habsburgs at the head. At the same time, the growth of the urban proletariat and the misery brought forth by the Industrial Revolution brought forth Catholic responders to the social question such as Wilhelm von Ketteler, the Bishop of Mainz who encouraged the formation of both Catholic Labour Unions and Catholic Social organisations.

Inspiring as all of this was, Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s death in 1861 brought to the throne of Prussia his younger brother, Wilhelm I. The new King, in turn, was enamoured of the ideas of the Liberal Otto von Bismarck, who was both anti-Habsburg and anti-Catholic. As Chancellor of Prussia, Bismarck was determined to eject Austria from Germany and make Prussia the leading power in a new German Empire. The Austro-Prussian War of 1866 saw this accomplished, as well as the annexation to Prussia of the Kingdom of Hanover, the Electorate of Hesse Kassel, the Grand Duchy of Nassau (whose deposed ruler, however, would go on to inherit Luxembourg), and the Free City of Frankfurt, Germany’s nominal capital. The other German Monarchies (Bavaria, Saxony, Württemberg, etc.) acquiesced in Prussia’s dominance. Five years later, after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, Wilhelm I was proclaimed as German Kaiser, and half of Bismarck’s dream was complete. He would go on to wage political war against the Church in the Kulturkampf.

Bismarck would not be unopposed, however. The existing Catholic organisations were joined by a Catholic political party, the Centre. Encouraged by von Ketteler, its founder, Ludwig von Windthorst, was — not too surprisingly — also a member of the pro-Hanoverian independence party, the Welfenbund. Assisting him were August Reichensperger and Hermann von Mallinckrodt. They found allies in the Prussian Conservative Party, and successfully battled Bismarck’s anti-Catholic measures. Eventually, seeing his enemies as potential allies in the greater struggle against the Socialists, Bismarck ended the fight and reconciled with Leo XIII — who knighted him in return. But his star was waning fast; in 1888, Wilhelm died, and was replaced with his short-lived son, Friedrich III. His death in turn brought to the Prussian and German thrones his son, Wilhelm II. Having little use for Bismarck, the Kaiser dismissed him less than two years later.

The new ruler was a very complex man. On the one hand, he was extremely pro-British; his beloved maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria, literally died in his arms. But he loathed and despised her successor, his uncle Edward VII — who returned the sentiments. He wanted Germany to emulate Britain’s success as an overseas Empire, which put the two countries on a collision course. Wilhelm loved his cousin Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia. But despite all the trappings of supremacy with which their respective thrones were wrapped, both Monarchs gradually lost control of the machinery of government to their respective political classes; when they concluded a treaty of alliance after a pleasant reunion in 1902, both of “their” governments voided the accord — with disastrous consequences 13 years later.

Religiously, Wilhelm was a very devout Protestant. If not so “High Church” as his great uncle Friedrich Wilhelm IV had been, he certainly leaned that way — as the architecture and fittings of his newly rebuilt Berlin Cathedral show. To cement his relationship with his former subjects who emigrated to the United States, he distributed bibles, bells, and other such gifts to many German churches in America — some of which are treasured to this day. He also donated heavily to Harvard’s nascent Germanic Museum in 1905. He also cultivated good relationships with his Catholic subjects. Just as he had funded Protestant German institutions in the Holy Land, in 1898 Wilhelm endowed the Catholic Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem.

At the same time, fresh currents were stirring in the German soul. Pan-Germanism sought to draw all German-Speakers — including those in Austria-Hungary — into the Prussian-dominated Reich; this movement was also anti-Catholic. As with the other European nationalisms of the period, its quasi-mysticism made a religion of nationality. In a sense, it was a rival with the Catholic Revival for the soul of the Germans. Indeed, partly under the pressure of the growth of Scientism, mysticism in poetry and much else became a major motif in German culture on the eve of the First World War.

That War ruined Germany, to be sure. Thousands dead, the economy a shambles, overseas possessions lost, and all seemingly for nothing. Moreover, the Kaiser and the other princes were all deposed and fled; in their place was the Weimar Republic. Born of defeat, it captured the imaginations and patriotism of relatively few Germans. Some turned left, and embraced the Communist vision of Utopia — from this there were unsuccessful revolts in Berlin and elsewhere, as well as a short-lived Soviet Republic in Bavaria. These were suppressed by demobilized veterans and Right-Wing Students in the so-called “Freikorps.” Eventually, order of a sort was restored, and by 1924 the Weimar Republic seemed to be a going concern.

But it satisfied few. In 1918, the Bund der Aufrechten — “League of the Upright” — was founded, to restore the Hohenzollerns. The Catholic Bavarian Karl Ludwig Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg was active in organising for Bavarian restoration — either as part of or independent from Germany. But many thinkers, Catholic and Protestant, thought that Germany’s ills required more than a restoration of the Wilhelmine Monarchy. A Reich at once more in tune with the Middle Ages and with the future; a construction not merely political but spiritual and cultural as well was what they were after. Of course, there were many differing ideas as to how to go about it, but collectively they were dubbed the “Conservative Revolution.” Among its luminaries were Edgar Julius Jung, Ernst Jünger, Heinrich Brüning, Ernst von Salomon, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Stefan George, Hubertus von Loewenstein-Scharffeneck, and the Austrians Othmar Spann and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Together they hoped to build a new “Holy Germany.”

But it was a movement of the Left whose leaders knew well how to cover themselves in patriotism that would end as masters of Germany — the National Socialists. Well-dubbed “Brown-Shirted Bolsheviks,” their charismatic leader, Adolph Hitler, was able to convince a few of the Conservative Revolutionaries as well as a large chunk of more conventional opinion that he would be the country’s saviour — especially after the collapse of the German economy. President Hindenburg’s dismissal of Heinrich Brüning paved the way for Hitler’s rise to power. Most Monarchists and Conservative Revolutionaries opposed him — and their darkest suspicions were confirmed by the murders of several of their number during the “Night of Long Knives.” The remainder became the heart of German resistance to Hitler; from their ideological ranks arose Claus von Stauffenberg, hero of the July Plot against Hitler in 1944 — who died shouting “Long live Holy Germany!” Many more lost their lives in the aftermath of that attempt’s failure.

After the war, the remnants of the Centre and Conservative Parties united to form the Christian Democratic Party under the leadership of Konrad Adenauer. Initially, the right-wing of that party was made up of such folk — particularly the Abendlaendische Bewegung. But in a 1950s heavily influenced by both the United States and the Soviet Union (who were, for different reasons, inimical to both Monarchy and the ideals of the Conservative Revolution) they were soon sidelined. The “revolution of 1968” seemed to put paid to such ideas.

Despite the fall of the Soviet Union and the shift of the entire political spectrum to the left — as well as the collapse of morality common to the West — there are Germans to-day who are keen on exploring, retaining, or even restoring elements of their political and cultural heritage. In addition to the journal Corona, Tradition und Leben is perhaps the largest Monarchist group in the country; it is dedicated to restoring the Hohenzollerns to the German and Prussian Crowns, as well as the other houses to theirs. The Verband des Koenigstreuen in Bavaria continue to carry the torch for the Wittelsbachs. The Windsors’ Hanoverian cousins also have their defenders, the Welfenbund. The various other formerly Sovereign Houses are still active, as are the Nobility. There is also a small remnant of the old Catholic Centre Party. The Renovatio Institute seeks to serve “the common good by contributing to the preservation and renewal of its cultural foundations and finding answers to the challenges facing this heritage and the cultures based on it from the richness of the heritage of Christian-Occidental thought.” With similar ideas are the German Conservatives. The German section of the Paneuropa Union declares that it “is committed to Christianity as the soul of Europe, in particular to the Christian image of man. The Pan-Europa Union is fighting against all tendencies which destroy the spiritual and moral strength of Europe, Nihilism, atheism, and an immoral consumerism. The Pan-Europa Union strives for a Christian Europe that is a continent of human dignity and respect for God and his creation.”

Religiously, the Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King operate in the country, while Berlin has its traditionalist community, the Institute of St. Philip Neri. Pro Missa Tridentina and Una Voce Germany are lay organisations. On the cultural front, the Association of German Citizens’ Associations is an umbrella group of local groups around the country who seek to maintain local traditions; the Federation of Homeland and Environment in Germany serves a similar function. The Family Businesses — Land and Forests represent private landowners, noble and otherwise, whose roots in their property often go back centuries.

Suffering from the same secularisation and demonizing of anyone to the right of Socialism that bedevils the rest of Europe, modern Germany is far from happy in its own skin. On the one hand localism has always been very strong — while on the other its connexion with the Holy Roman Empire always compels it to look beyond its borders, whether for unity or conquest. The massive Islamic influx in recent years has added to the country’s woes, as have Chancellor Merkel’s heavy-handed anti-COVID measures. Pray very hard for a country that has produced so many Saints and heroes, that it may one day indeed be “Holy Germany.”