Mirror Image of the Nation: An Investigation of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Leadership of the Germans
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In recent years, Kaiser Wilhelm II has been the subject of renewed historical interest. For decades, however, historians have ignored the Kaiser while focusing considerable attention on the period of German history that bears his name. The striking, if lamentable, reality that not one full-scale scholarly biography of Wilhelm II has yet been published testifies to the fact that until now historians have chosen to investigate Wilhelmine Germany while minimizing the significance of Wilhelm II. At the same time, a spate of popular biographies of the Kaiser have been written by more or less amateur historians. The general public, it seems, remains curious about the Kaiser. This combination of popular interest and scholarly neglect corresponds to the mixture of adulation and irritation with which Wilhelm was viewed by his contemporaries. He seemed at once a fascinating, mythical figure of heroic proportions and an inconsequential and pathetic posturer. It is the thesis of this study that both the images of the Kaiser reflect the reality of Wilhelm II’s leadership of the Germans, a leadership that was dynamic and compelling, yet weak and ineffectual.
KeywordsPublic Opinion German Nation German People Personal Dilemma Absolute Sovereignty
This essay owes its inspiration and many of its conclusions to a lengthy and intense collaboration with an experienced psychoanalyst, Dr. Nathaniel London, and to the Kaiser Colloquium, a gathering of Kaiser Wilhelm II scholars on the island of Corfu in September 1979. The spirit of that meeting on Corfu is captured in an article on the Kaiser Colloquium by Jost Nolte in Die Zeit Magazin of October 26, 1979, titled “Der Kaiser, der em Spiegel seines Volkes war” (a title very similar to that of this chapter) and by the book Kaiser Wilhelm II: New Interpretations edited by John C. G. Röhl and Nicolaus Sombart (Cambridge, 1982), which contains the papers presented on Corfu. To Dr. London and the members of the Kaiser Colloquium this chapter is affectionately and gratefully dedicated. I also want to thank Otto Pflanze, Lamar Cecil, and Robert G. L. Waite for their help in preparing this article for publication, as well as the fund which provided for the typing of this article and the Department of Psychiatry of Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center for help provided in preparation of this manuscript.