The Final Defeat in Germany and Reconciliation with Prussia

Austria Table of Contents

Because Russia was aligned with Prussia and because Britain had retreated into isolationism, Austria-Hungary turned to France as an ally in its bid to regain leadership in Germany. France wanted gains in Germany at Prussia's expense and was receptive to an alliance. Open cooperation with French expansionist ambitions, however, was inconsistent with Austria-Hungary's efforts to be the leader and defender of the German nation. The success of the alliance thus depended on France's position as the defender of the south German states against Prussia--which France failed to do.

France declared war on Prussia and invaded German territory in July 1870. The south German states rallied to Prussia's side in the Franco-Prussian War, and Beust's patient effort to detach those states from Prussia lay in ruins. Austria watched helplessly as Prussia, the presumed underdog, quickly and soundly defeated France. In January 1871, Prussia founded the Second German Empire, uniting the German states without Austria.

Unable to undo what Prussian military prowess had wrought in Germany, Austria-Hungary trimmed its sails accordingly. Count Gyula Andrássy, a Hungarian, replaced Beust as foreign minister, and the empire's foreign policy began to reflect the anti-Russian mentality of the Hungarians. Before 1871 ended, Austria-Hungary and Germany were working toward a united foreign policy.

This diplomatic cooperation with Prussian-dominated Germany contributed to the internal political stability of Austria-Hungary. Exclusion from a united Germany was a psychological shock for German Austrians because their claim to leadership in the Habsburg Empire had rested in part on their leadership of the German nation. Cut off from Germany, they became just one of many national groups in the Habsburg Empire and constituted only slightly more than one-third of Austria's population. Had Prussia remained hostile, Austria-Hungary's German population might have been the excuse for Prussian territorial ambitions similar to those harbored by the other nation-states that surrounded Austria-Hungary. Aligned with Austria-Hungary, however, Prussia distanced itself from German nationalists in Austria-Hungary, and the annexation movement remained politically insignificant. But, because German Austrians no longer had their majority status guaranteed by participation in the larger German nation, many felt increasingly vulnerable and threatened. German Austrians thus became open to a nationalism based on ethnic fear and hostility that contrasted with the self-confident Liberal nationalism of earlier decades.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress