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Theobald Von Bethmann Hollweg

(b. 1856)

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(b. Hohenfinow, 29 Nov. 1856; d. Hohenfinow, 1 Jan. 1921)

German; German Chancellor 1909–17 Bethmann Hollweg was the son of a German landed estate owner whose family had produced a number of gifted lawyers, and a French Swiss officer's daughter. Having studied law he decided to join the civil service where his abilities were soon recognized. In 1905 he was appointed Prussian Minister of the Interior. He was known as a Conservative who encouraged the integration of the Social Democrats. On his resignation in 1909, von Bülow recommended his appointment as Chancellor. At the same time he served as Prussian Minister-President and Foreign Minister and worked for an understanding with Britain. In return for a naval accord he wanted British neutrality in the event that Germany was involved in a European war. Grand Admiral Tirpitz opposed this and, despite goodwill on both sides, Lord Haldane's mission of 1912 failed to bring about an Anglo-German understanding. This greatly increased the likelihood of war between the two states.

It appears that Bethmann Hollweg bore more responsibility than the Kaiser for the war which broke out in the summer of 1914. He saw Russia as the real danger to Germany and gambled on British neutrality in any German conflict with France and Russia. His mistake led to a general war. He believed the generals, who mistakenly thought the war would be short, and allowed himself to be convinced of the need for unrestricted submarine warfare, a major factor in the US declaration of war on Germany in 1917. Reactionaries brought about his downfall in July 1917 after he had successfully argued for electoral reform in the wake of growing political discontent. Neither his reforms, nor opposition to them, could stop the revolutionary flood and Germany's defeat.

Subjects: Social sciencesPolitics

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