In the “Dogma of Guilt,” Ernst Troeltsch posits that general hatred of Germany coupled with the expansionist policy of its military leaders fueled global perception of German guilt and responsibility for WWI.
At the outbreak of the war, the Allies viewed Germany as an outdated imperialist power controlled by a disillusioned Kaiser looking to grow his sphere of influence. As revolutionary tendencies grew in Germany, many blamed the regime for their suffering. While the revolution gave birth to a new government, perhaps the Allies saw it as an admission of guilt for the actions of the previous one. Furthermore, because the German elite, who were in favor of the war, maintained status and influence even after the revolution, the victors believed the new government was guilty as well. Specifically, the military continued to exercise control on the politics of Germany, most notably with the election of Paul von Hindenburg, who Eric Weitz referred to as “the very embodiment of Prussian militarism,” as President of the Weimar Republic.
Moreover, Troeltsch suggests that German military tactics unnecessarily worsened the conflict. He states that “policy-makers allowed themselves to surpass the original goals of maintaining the status quo and pure defense.” Although the war began as a call to arms to defend Germany, Troeltsch notes that it evolved to “demand ever greater gains.” Rather than labeling the defensive war a success and pursuing a settlement, the Kaiser continued to fight, dividing the nation and making it “very easy for the Entente…to prove Germany’s desire for world conquest.” In this sense, Troeltsch’s argument is similar to Schivelbusch’s point that the German elite were politically incompetent, especially with regard to the blunder of declaring war when they could “have let the cannons go off by themselves.”
In Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau’s speech in Versailles, he attempts to justify the crimes that were committed in WWI, remarking, “crimes in war may not be excusable, but they are committed in the struggle for victory.” This argument furthers the view that Germany was willing to do anything to achieve victory. Therefore, instead of helping the case of the German Delegation, the Count’s statement served as proof to the Allies that the Kaiser’s regime went to all lengths to achieve world domination, demonstrating the reasoning for German guilt that Troeltsch presented.