To what extent were economic factors more important than political ones in German unification?
Over concentration on political and diplomatic themes in explaining German unification has led many historians to look for explanations in the social and economic realms. Many recent historians have taken up this argument, such as Helmut Bohme who considerably stress the importance of the economic factors over the political and military. However, although economic factors certainly played a considerable part in unifying Germany, there are arguments attacking their importance over other factors, namely political (Bismarck), the international situation (decline of Austria) and military factors (army reforms of von Moltke).
Firstly, we must look at the role of the economic factors. J.M Keynes, the famous economist, stated that ‘coal and iron’ and not ‘blood and iron’ was responsible for the unification of Germany. The Zollverein, a customs union, abolished the trade barriers between the different states and established a single currency and tax tariff. Thus for the states involved this meant huge economic gains. For example Alfred Krupps’ arms factory in the Ruhr, employed 60 men in 1836. However by 1876, he employed over 16,000.This figure shows the level of Prussian economic growth.
A. Stiles also points to the Zollverein as the main factor responsible for unification. She states that Prussia’s leadership of the Zollverein eventually meant that she was the ‘figurehead for any nationalist ideas’. Prussia’s leadership of the Zollverein meant that many of the smaller states looked to Prussia as the natural leader of any unified German plans.
Economic factors, it could be argued, provided the monetary requirements for the Prussian army reforms, another key reason for German unification. Surely without the Zollverein and the monies generated from the increased trade it provided, the army reforms would not have been feasible. Therefore in the long run, economic factors...