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The Zabern Incident gets serious

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the beginning of the Zabern Incident. Well, now it’s got a whole load more serious.

There have been further incidents in Alsace. Mainly these have involved locals insulting soldiers and the soldiers reacting with extra-legal brutality but they haven’t been without their farcical side. In one incident, the participants in a court case managed to get caught up in riot and various judges, clerks and advocates found themselves spending a night in the cells. In another, Lieutenant Förstner, the 18-year old who sparked it all, went out on a shopping trip. Normal enough if you discount the escort of four soldiers with bayonets fixed.

And now it’s reached the floor of the Reichstag. And the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, has lost a vote of confidence.

The Times 5 December 1913 p9

The Times 5 December 1913 p9

In a democracy (e.g. France which in this very week in 1913 has also no-confidenced its Prime Minister) that would mean it’s time for the Chancellor to pack his bags. But not in Imperial Germany. In Imperial Germany the Chancellor is answerable to the Kaiser not the Parliament. Democratically elected representatives can huff and puff as much as they like but they are not going to blow the Prussian Army’s house down. At least not for another 5 years.

This kinda sorta brings me on to an observation: the end of monarchy is a bloody and protracted affair. In England the process began in 1642 and was probably all over by 1700 and involved a couple of civil wars and a military dictatorship. In France it took about 80 years (1789-1871) and involved three revolutions, a terror and a twenty-year war. In Germany (at least the Western half) it lasted from 1914 to about 1948; in Russia from 1917 to 1989; in Spain from about 1920 to 1980. In each case millions died. Oh, and China of course (1911-1980).

The only exceptions I can find are Portugal (although that had a period of dictatorship) and Turkey (dictatorship again). Japan is almost impossible to categorise not least because you have to decide who you take as the monarch: the Emperor or the Shogun?

Getting back to Imperial Germany, the tragedy is that here we see them within touching distance of a proper, functioning democracy. So near and yet so far.

18 comments to The Zabern Incident gets serious

  • Russia is being run by someone with rather monarchical pretensions even now. Honestly, I am not sure they had managed it by 1989 or 1991, although I might have looked like it at the time.

  • Russia is being run by someone with rather monarchical pretensions even now.

    So is the US – only he is far less popular.

  • John B

    England, the end of monarchy?

    I am behind the news evidently, what has happened to Elizabeth II R? Is she now in exile? In The Tower?

    The Civil Wars of which you speak were about what kind of monarch, specifically Catholic or Protestant, and later how powerful… actually a long running, on and off issue since the 13th Century… but the fact is it was never about the abolition of monarchy which should be evident from the fact that there was widespread dismay and little popular support for regicide and a headless Charles I, and an early restoration of monarchy.

    And is there not a reigning monarch in England right now?

    How then can England be comparable with Countries whose wars/revolutions were specifically to get rid of monarchy?

    Meanwhile Germany was a democracy, as you point out when you talk about the German Parliament being democratically elected.

    And not forgetting it was democracy, not least that ‘most’ democratic proportional representation that got the NSDAP into Parliament and gave the World A. Hitler Esq and all his works and pomps.

    And I think it is moot to ponder whether there much difference between old monarchies and modern democracies: the People are put upon, taxed, coerced by the State, no actual say in who rules aside a meaningless, sedative ritual called ‘voting’.

    I think decapitation is a much quicker, effective popular way, decisive and satisfying way of expressing displeasure with a ruler and changing them.

  • CaptDMO

    But…but…it’s just that it hasn’t been done RIGHT yet.
    It’ll be DIFFERENT this time…because latest studies, and polls, show….

  • Patrick Crozier (Twickenham)

    John B,

    The monarchy has had no real power for 300 years. That’s what I am getting at. Having a monarchy does not make you one. I also think you should re-read what I wrote. Germany was emphatically NOT a democracy. It had many of the trappings of one but not the substance as what happened a 100 years ago today demonstrates.

    I am not necessarily saying there is difference between old-style monarchies and modern democracies merely stating that the route from one to the other usually involves a lot of bloodshed.

  • Regional

    Obummer has been raised to divine status by the Seppo Meeja.

  • If only Bethmann Holweg had resigned, maybe he would have been replaced with someone who could have kept the Austrians on a short leash…millions of shades rustle…

  • Mr Ed

    Ireland lost its monarchy in a peaceful way when the Free State became a Republic (OK, it’s a bit of a cheat, the monarchy held on after 1922 like a stray bit of phlegm landing on your shirt after you sneeze).

    San Marino.

    Iceland, a peaceful vote to end the union with occupied Denmark (perhaps US skulduggery?).

    The Union of South Africa becoming a Republic.


    Getting back to Imperial Germany, the tragedy is that here we see them within touching distance of a proper, functioning democracy. So near and yet so far.

    But what if they vote in too large numbers for a bunch of psycho-killers calling themselves (or being) Communists, Nazis or ‘Black-Flag’ Anarchists? Democracy is only as good (at most) as the nutters who vote and the nutters who stand.

  • Antoine Clarke

    In France you have to go at least until 1873: when the IIIrd Republic is grudgingly recognised. In the couple of years previously, “the State that has no name” was in power. It was seriously proposed to restore the monarchy. One sticking point was the flag.

  • Paul Marks

    Proper functioning democracy? Where is one of those? The modern democracies appear to be in slow-motion social collapse.

    Lichtenstein perhaps – although that has a strong (political) monarchy as part of its constitution.

    As for the United Kingdom – do not believe Walter Bagehot on the simply “dignified” role of the monarchy (in fact do not believe Walter Bagehot on anything – or a lot of the other Victorian “greats”, for example the legal writer Maitland was a dreadful liar “but as a matter of fact we have never known such a statute made” – a statute that was either “irrational” or “wicked”, actually there have been a vast number of such statutes, and Maitland knew it perfectly well – the man was a lying swine and his “A Sketch of English Legal History” is a terrible work which celebrates the unlimited and arbitrary power of Parliament to make whatever “law” it likes – indeed ENCOURAGES Parliament to do so, to control all aspects of human life, as part of “social growth”). Queen Victoria was actually a highly political figure.

    The true destruction of the monarchical element in the British constitution (reducing the monarchy to a waving hand) did not really come till the 20th century – the time of British collapse.

    Still I can think of a good side to democracy – at least of the direct sort.

    A democratic vote of the people of Alsace over which country they wished to be part of (France or Germany) might have been very useful.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The fall of the Turkish monarchy was an enormously bloody affair. (World War I killed proportionately far more people in the Middle East than in Western Europe.

    The fall of the Japanese monarchy (as a government, like in Britain) was drawn out over 80 years. It included the fairly bloody civil war of the Meiji “Restoration”, and the enormously bloody and destructive Sino-Japanese War and Pacific Theater of WW II.

    The fall of Italy’s monarchy was coeval with the disastrous farce of fascist rule and the catastrophic effects of WW II on Italy.

    The fall of the Iranian monarchy was followed by 30+ years of “Islamic revolution” including the ghastly Iran-Iraq War.

    There are a few counter-examples: Greece, Brazil, Portugal, Egypt, Hawaii.

  • Jacob

    In view of the failures of democracy in the Middle East, including Turkey and Iran, and in Russia and other countries ( like Latin America), maybe it’s time for a revival or restoration of monarchy.
    I think, Perry should switch from minarchist into a monarchist. It’s not a big switch.
    Remind me of the late Salvador Dali, which was, by his own definition, a monarchist anarchist.

  • Mr Ed


    Is not Saudi Arabia a monarchy?

    At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not the people who matter are decent.

  • Jacob

    “At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not the people who matter are decent.”

    it can be argued that the chances that a monarch will be decent aren’t worse than those of a democratic rabble-rouser.

  • Paul Marks

    In most Muslim countries the only counter weight to total Islam (the only other source of authority) were the clan elders – at the top the Kings. Left to themselves the people would tend to vote for the Islamists.

    The House of Saud is a exception – it is has been in alliance with the worst form of Sunni Islam since the 1700s (and took total power in Arabia with the help of Mr Philby). However, even I this case the monarchy is actually a moderating force (a check) upon the clerics and their misguided flock – just not a very good one.

  • Mr Ed


    Italy Mussolini VERDI.

    UK Blair ER II.

  • Jacob

    OK, ER II is better than Blair I guess (and probably than Cameron too), not so sure about the heir, Charles.
    But, who is VERDI ?

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Victor Emmanuel, Roi Di Italia = V.E.R.D.I. (Victor Emmanuel, King Of Italy). It was also the name of a popular composer. When parts of Italy were under Austrian rule, you could sprout your support for Victor in code, as a love of music. This was before WW1.
    Does that help you, Jacob?