To have an ‘entrenched autocracy’ is to have an autocracy (a system of government which allows one person to have absolute rule and power) which is unmoveably deep-set; one which will, for all intents and purposes, never be changed. There are both for and against factors which argue that Wilhelmine Germany was so, including the power that the Kaiser had over the Reichstag and his chancellors, the Kaiser’s own personality and beliefs, the challenges to the Kaiser’s rule and the rise of ‘extremist’ parties such as the Social Democrats. Whilst it cannot be denied that the Kaiser had absolute power and say over Germany, there was always stumbling points, blockades, which stopped him from exercising the ‘self-rule’ which he had always desired.
Because of the constitution which Bismarck, the previous chancellor, had passed, the Kaiser could exercise complete, de jure rule. The Kaiser had the power to hire and fire any member of his ‘inner circle’ which he so chose and that extended to the chancellor; in a 27 year period he had gone through four of them. Constitutionally, the work of Bismarck had meant that there could never be any challenge, short a full-blown revolution, which could disarm or disrupt the Kaisers position. Through recent history, it had become ‘entrenched’ into the minds of the German people and that of the Bundesrat and Reichstag representatives that Wilhelm was there to stay; his say was final and there was little, in real terms, that could be done to halt his power. On the face of it, the Bundesrat was a well spread group of representatives, giving each individual state of Germany a say in constitutional changes. However, because of the dominance of the Kaiser’s ‘home’ state, Prussia, the balance was never truly equal.
It only took 14/58 members of the Bundesrat council to veto any legislation that was proposed, and seen as though Prussia held 17/58 seats, it was virtually impossible for anyone outside of Prussia to pass legislation (which wasn’t favoured towards the benefit of the Kaiser.) In conclusion, the best way to analyse the “entrenched power” of the Kaiser would be to compare the power of his rule with that of Britain and Russia. Britain was ruled by democracy (one vote one person), and the King of England had comparatively little say on final legislation passes and proposals to changes in constitutions. However, the Tsar of Russia did have a complete autocracy; even more so that Kaiser Wilhelm, as he didn’t even have a Reichstag or Bundesrat to call on for consultancy, he just did what he wanted, whenever he wanted it. So, whilst the Kaiser did have almost unattainable power, it wasn’t completely absolute, as any proposed legislation could’ve been vetoed by the Bundesrat, and he always had the influence in his ear of his chancellor and his inner party circle.
The Kaiser often took it upon himself to make decisions of great magnitude (the firing of the chancellors, the push for Weltpolitik), and many of his choice could easily be categorised as bad ones. It was believed that he showed so unfavourable, almost psychotic personality traits which greatly influenced his decision making and his attitude to politics. It was claimed, for example, that he had never actually read the Germany constitution, and evidence (such as his support of Bulow during the Eulenberg crisis) could indicate that he was irrational and megalomaniacal – he made his choices based on his emotions and not on logic or reasoning. However, his push for Weltpolitik, and the ends which his cabinet was willing to go to achieve that goal (such as the Inheritance Tax and a rise in VAT) suggest that, be it due to patriotism, or be it due to real belief that the Kaiser meant the best for his country, the people of Germany supported his decisions and were willing to put personal differences and opinions aside if it would bring about what the Kaiser desired.
The Kaiser wasn’t, however, unflappable. It has been inferred that one of the main reasons that Bulow was able to keep his position as chancellor for as long as he did was because he was able to scheme and manipulate the chancellor into believing what he wanted him to believe in. Politically, things weren’t all plain sailing for the Kaiser either. To support Weltpolitik, original bills to pass Inheritance and VAT taxes, which would hurt the Junkers and the working class respectfully, were rejected, highlighting that the Kaiser couldn’t always force the issue on his country. Despite this, the ultimate fact that the Kaiser was able to sack Bulow (following the Daily Telegraph affair) and that the taxed were all eventually passed, plus the lack of widespread revolution against the Kaiser’s rule, suggests that, by and large, the Kaiser maintained a strong, (not unbreachable) autocracy and it was somewhat ‘entrenched’, if not fully set.
Whilst the Kaiser wasn’t alone in showing signs of some influence and power in Germany, the majority of overall influence, for large parts of the early 20th century, belonged to Prussia and the Conservatives. Only with the growing strength of the Social Democratic Party was there an influence outside of the traditional power-areas of Germany. By 1912, the SDP were the largest individual party in the country, and support for them was continuing to grow. The reason for growth, and subsequently the potential damage this could do to the Kaiser’s autocratic rule was influenced by a variety of factors. Firstly, some people were starting to see through the Kaiser’s ineptitude and his dependence on his chancellors to come up with and implement policies.
The Kaiser had never been known as one for strict political adherence or knowledge, and this was accentuated with his damaging policies against the working class (VAT increases) in order to fund Weltpolitik. This led to dissatisfaction amongst the working class and the trade unionists, who turned to politics and, successfully, managed to gain limited power in the Reichstag in order to block any damaging legislation being passed. The Kaiser’s inability to bring together major parties such as the Conservatives, the Social Democrats and the Catholic Centre party only added to his problems, and, in this instance at least, it would appear that the Kaiser didn’t have full control of political policy, as he was ostensibly unable to move taxation forward in order to reach his goal of Weltpolitik (and ‘self-rule’.) One area of the German economy which was moving forward around this period, the banking system, wasn’t actually under (direct) control of the Kaiser.
It could be argued that its own autonomy and the fact it didn’t have to rely on deadlines and rules put forward by the Kaiser allowed it to prosper where other areas failed. The Kaiser’s over-reliance on Weltpolitik being the answer for Germany undoubtedly stopped his rule from ever becoming an ‘entrenched autonomy,’ as there would always be substantial opposition who would veto his proposals. It is questionable then as to why the Kaiser didn’t chose to ban (or at least block their appearance in the Reichstag) the left-wing parties. Perhaps he didn’t think of it; but more likely is that he knew that there would be sizeable opposition to his move and that it could damage not only his reputation, but also his position as long-term, unconditional leader of Germany. His ‘fear’ of what such drastic action could result in meant that total autocracy wouldn’t be possible; unlike the Tsar in Russia (up to the Bolshevik revolution), the Kaiser had sizeable and resonant opposition.
Ultimately, the combination of internal and external influencers on the Kaiser, as well as his own ineptitude to deal with social and political pressure and choice (through his own personality defects / ignorance) meant that only in his own head would the Kaiser ever have been able to have complete, autocratic rule over Germany. Once again, I believe that when you contrast the absolute rule the Tsar had over Russia c.1900-1914 and compare that with the troublesome rule the Kaiser had over the same period, it infers that the Kaiser never really had an ‘entrenched autocracy.’ His personal problems were too numerous and the external influence of the left-wing, possibly impending-revolutionary beliefs were all contributory to the Kaiser being entrenched de jure only; in de facto terms, he was never strong, intelligent or able enough to command complete, autocratic rule.