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Monday, September 15, 2014

Published Opinion vs Public Opinion

"It is... notoriously difficult to get the measure of public opinion, and we should be wary of any judgement that relies exclusively on newspaper commentaries —'published opinion’ and ‘public opinion‘ are not the same thing. The Emperor may have lost ‘the aura of the sovereign who is above criticism,’ wrote one foreign observer in the autumn of 1908, when William II was engulfed in a scandal over tactless utterances published in the London Daily Telegraph. ‘But with all the personal magnetism that he possesses, he will always retain an immense ascendancy in the eyes of the mass of his subjects.' William's invocations of divine providence were the laughing stock of the quality papers, but they struck a sympathetic chord with the more plebeian theological tastes of many humbler Germans. By the same token, his outspoken denunciations of avant-garde art appeared ludicrous and retrograde to the cultural intelligentsia, but made sense to those more numerous cultural consumers who believed that art ought to provide escapism and edification. In Bavaria, the ceremonies of the ‘imperial cult' (parades, unveilings and the jubilee celebrations of 1913) attracted the mass attendance not only of the middle classes, but also of peasants and tradesmen.“ Even within the Social Democratic milieu of the industrial regions, there appears to have been a gulf between the critical perspective of the SPD elite and that of the mass of SPD supporters, among whom the Emperor was perceived as the embodiment of a ‘patriarchal-providential principle'. The conversations recorded by police informers in the taverns of Hamburg's working-class districts registered some disparaging, but also many supportive and even affectionate comments about ‘our William'. Substantial (if not precisely quantifiable) reserves of imperial-royalist capital did accumulate in German society. It would take the social transformations and political upheavals of a world war to consume them."

--- Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 / Christopher Clark
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