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II. Society and Culture
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Overview: Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914   |   I. Economic Development   |   II. Society and Culture   |   III. "Modern Life": Diagnoses, Prescriptions, Alternatives   |   IV. State and Society   |   V. Politics   |   VI. Germany in International Affairs   |   Germany at War, 1914-1918   |   I. Battle   |   II. Mobilization of the Home Front   |   III. Privation and Ferment on the Home Front   |   IV. Seeking an End to the War

Industrialization triggered new social formations. Traditional life in the countryside contended with the movement of the rural population to cities and urban conurbations (Docs. 1, 2, 3, 4). Social mobility increased among the middle strata of society, as Germany completed the transition from a corporate or estates-based society [ständische Gesellschaft] to one based on class relations (Docs. 10, 11, 12, 13). Yet social stratification cut many ways. Large inequalities in wealth, education, housing, and health segregated cities, where demarcated spaces and divergent ways of living fostered distinctive group identities (Docs. 2, 3, and 9). These inequalities also bred social conflict, which led to responses from the state and private organizations that sought to ameliorate, or at least control, the antagonisms created by economic and social inequality (Docs. 5, 6, 7, 8).

In this class-based society, the lifestyles of aristocrats, the bourgeoisie, and the working class diverged. As the political role of nobles in the modern bureaucratic state waned, their privileged social status remained intact. It has been claimed that the bourgeoisie or “upper middle classes” strove to imitate the nobility, in an effort to gain the social recognition that they believed their economic and scientific achievements merited (Doc. 14). The so-called “feudalization of the bourgeoisie” has been blamed for making the German bourgeoisie receptive to the social norms of militarism and paternalistic authority, as well as to archaic codes of honor (Docs. 15, 16), that came to the forefront in Nazi society. Meanwhile, private life and leisure, which remained emblems of class experience, were played out in forums that new technologies and productive capacities had called to life, such as the movie house and the department store (Docs. 17, 18).

Confession, gender, and generation could not be reduced to class divisions, nor could they escape them. Although women's inferior status was captured broadly in popular prejudice and social convention, and although the dynamism of the German economy provided increasing opportunities for women outside the home, the experience of working-class women differed in basic respects from that of bourgeois women (Docs. 19, 20, 21, 22). The same proposition applied to the young and the old (Docs. 23, 24, 25). The Kulturkampf [cultural struggle] abated during the Wilhelmine era, but confessional antagonisms survived amid the discrimination that Catholics continued to face (Docs. 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32). The Catholic milieu embraced many industrial workers but tended to reject radical utopian alternatives as a framework for expressing social aspirations (Doc. 33). Jews had always been subjected to anti-Semitism in Germany, but by the 1890s most of them had concluded that acculturation was the key to full integration (Docs. 34, 36). The vision of a separate Jewish homeland in the Middle East, which was born in the 1890s, had little appeal to German Jews, despite Kaiser Wilhelm’s apparent interest in the project (Doc. 35).

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