British and German Ideals

British and German Ideals

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Excerpt from British and German Ideals: The Meaning of the War the Schism of Europe, II, Germany and the Prussian Spirit, III, the Austro-Serbian Dispute

Many thousands of books and pamphlets have been written about the great war, describing its origins and the ideals which underlie it. But few of them have arrived at the fundamental truth. This war is the result of the rejection of democracy by Germany and Austria in the years 1848-1870, and its bitterness is due to the fact that two irreconcilable principles, autocracy and democracy, are struggling for supremacy in Europe to-day. It is the purpose of this article to show how autocracy triumphed in those years, how it has steadily corrupted the political sense of the German nation ever since, and how under its baneful influence the rulers and people of Germany have been driven to attempt to establish its predominance over a free Europe by force of arms.

It is not possible to trace in detail the history of those tragic years from 1848 to 1870, when reaction triumphed and democracy failed. It will suffice to recall that in 1848 a national assembly of Germany, elected by popular vote, with one member elected for each 500,000 of the population, drew up a Grundrecht for a German union. This fundamental law was conceived on noble lines. Germany was to become a true federation. The thirty-six separate States were to retain local self-government, but there was to be a federal government, superior to them all, to which every German citizen was to owe primary allegiance. The individual citizen was to be guaranteed those rights which the British citizen had won long before in the struggles over Magna Charta, the Habeas Corpus Act, and during the Great Rebellion, and which were eventually embodied in the Bill of Rights of 1688.

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