It is difficult to assess the fall of the German Empire. Just how much of role did Wilhelm II play in its demise? That is the issue that is debatable. By the time World War I began Bethmann-Hollweg was the German Chancellor and the Kaiser had the breaks applied to him. Had World War I not occurred it is possible that the German Empire would have evolved into a type of monarchy where the role of the monarch would have evolved into being a figurehead. The German Empire was, technically speaking, a Constitutional Monarchy. However, the Constitution for the German Emprie did grant the Emperor considerable powers. However, as we have seen, a strong Chancellorship was being developed and despite Wilhelm II’s attempt at personal rule the monarch was being held in check and a more ceremonial role was developing.
The World War I happened. At the time Wilhelm II was blamed for the war. Today historians debate on how much of a role he played in starting the war. The material I have read is mixed at best and conflicting. I think that says a great deal. For it is my position that Wilhelm II was conflicted about the War. I think he was outraged at the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria-Este, who had been his personal friend, and he felt confident that Austria would punish Serbia in a short war. As noted in his many correspondences with Czar Nicholas II of Russia he did not want Russia to be drawn into the war. Although his rivalry with Britain and the arms race between the two nations did raise tensions that did contribute to the war, the Kaiser, was full of bluster but would have liked to have avoided the war. He certainly did not envision the world wide carnage that did happen. Nobody knew it would get as bad as it did.
Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg also supported the war and the Austrian invasion of Serbia. Wilhelm’s role in wartime saw an ever-decreasing power and his ceremonial role grew as he handed out awards and honorific duties. By 1916 the Empire had effectively become a military dictatorship under the control of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff. Wilhelm II found himself increasingly cut off from reality and the day-to-day political decision-making process. Emotionally Wilhelm vacillated between despair and defeatism or euphoric dreams of victory, depending upon the fortunes of his armies. However, outside of Germany itself nobody realized the Emperor’s diminished role. He remained the focus of all propaganda and was the symbol of the German Empire.
What did bring down the Kaiser? In the end it was simply the war. Four long years of unimaginable carnage brought hunger and disease and just plain weariness of all the death and destruction that the war brought. It wasn’t just the Allies that brought down the German Empire, the war itself caused Germany to implode. It was made quite clear to the Kaiser at the end when Germany was having a revolution. The Kaiser wanted to return to Berlin with the troops but it was pointed out to him that the troops wanted nothing to do with him. The Army, the Navy, the German citizens were sick to death of War and the Kaiser was the symbol of all that had gone wrong so at the end there really was no saving the monarchy.
The Kaiser’s cousin Prince Maximilian of Baden was selected to the Chancellorship late in 1918. He wanted to save the monarchy and have the Kaiser abdicate in favor of his eldest grandson (the Crown Prince was not popular either). I like to think that if the Kaiser had agreed to it and peace was sought among the Allies it may have been possible to save the monarchy. But who knows?