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Friedrich Fabri, Does Germany Need Colonies? (1879)

The text below was written by Dr. Friedrich Fabri (1824-1891), who has been called the “father of the German colonial movement.” From 1857 onward, Fabri’s main occupation was Director of the Barmen Rhine Missionary Society. That he never actually visited a single German colony did not prevent him from forcefully stating his case in the book Does Germany need Colonies? [Bedarf Deutschland der Colonien?], originally published in early 1879. (The text reproduced below is from the third edition, dated October 1883.) Fabri tended to overemphasize the singular influence of his book in launching colonial enthusiasm in the early 1880s; nevertheless, both he and his book were much discussed in social circles that also participated in the colonial movement, including bankers, intellectuals, businessmen, and military leaders. At the outset of the text excerpted here, Fabri advances mainly economic arguments for a strong colonial policy. In the second part, he emphasizes the role that emigration to the colonies might play in relieving the threat of Social Democracy and in furthering Germany’s “civilizing mission” in the world.

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The time really can be said to have come to bring up for public discussion the question “Does Germany need colonies?” Once before, in the first intoxication of joy over the newly-created German Reich, in 1871/72, fleeting calls for colonies were heard in our press, calls which sought to give their cause more definition in a few pamphlets. At that time both the Reich Government and public opinion maintained an attitude of reserve, so that this tentative impulse soon died away.

Today the situation is substantially different. As we see it, many pressures now urge us towards a serious consideration of the question raised above; as we see it, public sentiment is now, as a result of our general development during the last few years, fully prepared to apply itself with lively interest to the question of whether the German Reich stands in need of colonial possessions. The reasons for this change of mood are readily discernible. Three considerations may be said to be chiefly decisive in this connection: our economic position, the crisis in our tariff and trade policy, and our navy which is growing mightily.

In the new Reich we have of late got into an economic situation which is oppressive, which is truly alarming. It is poor comfort that the trade crisis, which has continued for so long, is putting a heavy strain on more or less all the civilised States. Relatively – leaving Russia and Austria out of account here – Germany can be said to be in the most unfavourable position. Great though the growth of our prosperity may have been in the last few decades compared with earlier times, yet we are still on the whole poor, and the strength and resilience of our national prosperity are not at all proportionate to the plenitude of political power which we have acquired. This could easily create serious difficulties for the continued healthy development of our great national community. Moreover, the situation is all the more fragile because, just when, in the aftermath of the financial boom, we thought ourselves to be very rich, we were suddenly and sharply reminded of our poverty. It has rightly been said that only in this century has Germany recovered economically from the terrible catastrophe of the Thirty Years’ War. Just when, during recent decades, we had begun purposefully to work our way up, there began, shortly after our national resurgence, that depression in business which has now lasted for years and whose end is not yet in sight. It may be assumed that something like a quarter of our national income has disappeared in the last few years, that is to say, has become unproductive. And our national prosperity was, on the whole, still weak, for it did not undergo that gradual but continuous improvement seen in Britain for the last two centuries, and also in the Netherlands, North America, and even in France, after she had overcome the upheaval of the revolutionary period. The most important factor in the so unfavourable development of the German situation, however, is the rapid rise in the rate of population growth, a circumstance which is of the most far-reaching economic significance, but one which is still quite insufficiently recognised as such, with the result that so far almost nothing has been done to deal with it. [ . . . ]

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