Even the relations between Austria and Prussia, from 1725 had deteriorated due to the age-old question of the inheritance of the Duchy of Jülich-Berg, and to Prussian ambitions over Silesia. The new acquisitions, the possession of the Baltic coast, the profound reforms of the principles in the economic, administrative and military fields, their authority freed from any hindrance of representative powers, the intelligent collaboration of the refugiés, especially Huguenots, made Prussia (v.) a worthy and dangerous rival of Austria. All the other states had remained behind: only the Hanover represented a significant burden, not for itself, but for the union with the English crown. This whole situation manifests itself in the so-called war of Austrian succession: Prussia is against Austria, for the possession of Silesia, Saxony and Bavaria, the latter backed by France, according to old custom: it is alongside Austria. the Hanover-England, because fearful of Prussia as Hanover, of France as England. That during the war, a Wittelsbach, Carlo Alberto, could even surround the imperial crown (Charles VII: 1741-45), is of little importance: not only because dignity of short duration,
The war consecrated, with the conquest of Silesia, the European power of Prussia and the fame of the great Frederick; but it also demonstrated the vitality of Austria and the decline of Bavaria, a mere instrument of French politics. No different result came out of the subsequent war (see seven years, War of the), despite the changed positions: with Austria, France, Russia (until 1762), Sweden, then Spain, Saxony and the greater part of the German states: against Austria, Prussia and Hanover (England).
That, by now, Prussia was on an equal footing with Austria and at the level of a great European power, was seen in the first partition of Poland (1772): a purchase not territorially great for Prussia, but of capital importance: finally, across West Prussia, a bridge was built between the old Marca and Pomerania on one side, East Prussia on the other. Of the stumps of the Hohenzollern domain, two were welded into one. What was it compared to Prussia, the little politician of the states and small states of the Empire?
Morally and materially petty, in most of them: the spirit of the Enlightenment which informs the court of Potsdam, does not penetrate, for example, in Bavaria or in others of the southern and western states; or of the absolutist Enlightenment they only adopt the leveling of all social classes in the face of the only podestà of the prince, but not also the feeling (which, in different ways, belonged to Frederick the Great and Joseph II) of serving good of their peoples. In this sense, Prussia contributed to the political education of the German people, while it, and by quite different ways, was being formed, through cosmopolitan ideals of culture, through its great poets and thinkers, through religious revivals, as, since the end of the previous century, pietism, a more concrete awareness of its national physiognomy. Of course, it is not possible to see a direct relationship between the action of the states and this spring flowering of the German spirit; indeed, the most ardent foci of German spiritual life are neither in Prussia nor in Austria, but in the minor and minimal principalities, in Leipzig, in Halle, in Gottingen, in Weimar: patronage of small courts, irradiation of some universities. But the fact is that within the states, even if not absorbed and empowered in them, a new life circulates; and the German, and especially the Protestant German, cannot fail to have an eye to Prussia and feel reflected on himself, even if not a Prussian, a little of that surprise admiration in which intellectual Europe surrounded that state and that sovereign. in the second half of the century;
So what happened, in 1778-79 and, more clearly, in 1785, was not only due to shrewd calculations of the policy of equilibrium of principles, but was also accompanied by the favor of a large part of the feeling, in a certain sense national, of the Germans: that is, when Joseph II’s aspirations for at least a part of the Bavarian heritage of the Wittelsbachs were opposed not only by Prussia, but by almost all the German states; and when, shortly thereafter, the attempts to seduce the Bavarian voter with an offer from the Austrian Netherlands failed to take effect in the face of the same opposition. To be sure, these plans in Vienna were also wrecked by the aversion of the courts of Paris and Petersburg, as well as the German ones: but the Fürstenbund who, in 1785, gathered around Prussia, first Hanover and Saxony, then many other princes, including Catholics, even ecclesiastics, Germans, was, for the first time, after two and a half centuries of intelligence with foreigners, only German and already contained, in germ, ideas and developments of the following century.