Stead, William Thomas: Europa

From The United States of Europe, Part I, ch.V. © 1899 by Doubleday & McClure Co.

I HAD the good fortune to be in Berlin two years ago. A great capital is always a great inspiration. And Berlin, with its heroic associations of past wars, is more inspiring than most of the younger cities of the world. But that which impressed me most on this visit was the new building of the Reichstag, which had not been completed the last time I was in Germany. It was not the building itself -although that is imposing, if rather squat, with noble equestrian statues standing boldly against the sky- but the political fact which it represented. Here under one roof, around the same tribune, gather in peaceful debate the representatives of as many States as those which now make up the anarchy of Europe. It is the fashion nowadays to speak of language as if it were a tie closer than all others. But the belief in the unity of the Fatherland because of its common speech is hardly a century old, and long after Arndt had embodied the idea in verse, German fought German with the utmost indifference to the German tongue. The intense individuality of the German, his tendency to construct a special theory of the universe entirely for his own use out of his own consciousness, made the German races the most intractable material for empire-building on the Continent. They fought each other for the love of God; they fought for the pride of place; they were capable of fighting for a theory of irregular verbs. They were divided, and sub-divided, and re-divided again into kingdoms, principalities, duchies, and all manner of smaller States. Every ruler was as touchy as a Spanish hidalgo about his precedence, and no miser ever clutched his gold with more savage determination to keep and to hold than every German princelet maintained to the uttermost the princely prerogative of making war and peace. Not even the constant pressure of foreign peril sufficed to overcome the centrifugal tendency of the German genius. Again and again the wiser heads amongst them had devised more or less elaborate plans for securing German unity. After the fall of Napoleon, the best that could be done was the Bund, which was almost as provoking in its deliberative inaction as the European Concert is to-day. But the Bund perished at the sword’s point, to be succeded by the North and South German Confederations, which in turn disappeared when the victories over France rendered it possible for the Prussian King to be proclaimed German Emperor in the Palace at Versailles. Since then unified Germany has been at peace. Germany has become a unit, and the Reichstag, although sorely distracted by the fissiparous tendency of the German parliamentary man, has been the parliament of the United Empire.

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