Benjamin, Walter
  Bismarck, Otto v.
  Brecht, Bertolt
  Celan, Paul
  Döblin, Alfred
  Fontane, Theodor
  Grosz, George
  Grünbein, Durs
  Heartfield, John
  Honigmann, Barbara
  Isherwood, Christopher
  Johnson, Uwe
  Kleist, Heinrich v.
  Kollwitz, Käthe
  Kracauer, Siegfried
  Lang, Fritz
  Lasker-Schüler, Else
  Liebermann, Max
  Liebknecht, Karl
  Luxemburg, Rosa
  Marc, Franz
  Ossietzky, Carl v.
  Riefenstahl, Leni
  Ruttmann, Walther
  Schinkel, Karl Friedrich
  Speer, Albert
  Tieck, Ludwig
  Tucholsky, Kurt
  Ury, Lesser
  Varnhagen, Rahel
  Wenders, Wim


Bismarck, Otto von

Early Years Early Career Prime Minister German Unification Foreign Policy Domestic Policy Political Assessment

Early Career

His politics during the 1840s did not diverge substantially from those of a typical country squire; if anything, they were more conservative. He believed in a Christian state that received its sanction ultimately from the deity. The existing social and political order was to be defended in order to prevent a Hobbesian chaos of all against all. Given his views, Bismarck was welcomed as a member of the religious conservative circle around the brothers von Gerlach, who were stout defenders of the noble estate against the encroachments of bureaucratic centralization. Bismarck had nothing but sarcasm for aristocratic liberals who viewed England as a model for Prussia. In 1847 he attended the Prussian United Diet, where his speeches against Jewish emancipation and contemporary liberalism gained him the reputation of a backwoods conservative, out of touch with the dynamic forces of his age. (See liberalism.)

Bismarck's response to the liberal revolution that swept through Europe in 1848 confirmed his image as a reactionary. He opposed any concessions to the liberals and expressed contempt for the king's willingness to bargain with the revolutionaries. He even considered marching his peasants to Berlin to free Frederick William IV from the baneful influence of the rebels. With other archconservatives, including Ernst Ludwig von Gerlach, he began contributing to the Kreuzzeitung newspaper (1848) as an organ of antirevolutionary sentiment. (See 1848, Revolutions of.)

For Bismarck's future role, it is important to understand his analysis of the revolution. Like his contemporary Karl Marx, he identified the forces of change as confined solely to the educated and propertied middle class. The vast majority of Prussians, however, were peasants and artisans, who, in Bismarck's view, were loyal monarchists. The task of the forces of order was to confirm the loyalty of these two groups by means of material concessions. The economic policies of the urban middle-class radicals were rooted in pure self-interest, he maintained. The radicals would spur industrial growth at the expense of the lower middle class and the farm population. Ultimately, even the middle class itself might be won over by tactical concessions and success in foreign policy. This strategic and opportunist thinking distanced Bismarck from the ideological conservatives, who were wedded to traditional concepts of authority. His vision of a manipulative state that sustained its power by rewarding obedient groups remained with him throughout his political career.

In 1849 he was elected to the Prussian Chamber of Deputies (the lower chamber of the Prussian Diet) and moved his family to Berlin. At this stage he was far from a German nationalist. He told one of his fellow conservatives, "We are Prussians, and Prussians we shall remain. . . . We do not wish to see the Kingdom of Prussia obliterated in the putrid brew of cosy south German sentimentality." In 1851 Frederick William IV appointed Bismarck as the Prussian representative to the federal Diet in Frankfurt, a clear reward for his loyalty to the monarchy.

With the defeat of the revolution in central Europe, Austria had reasserted its supremacy in the German Confederation, and Bismarck, being an archconservative, was assumed to support the status quo, which included Austrian hegemony. He lived in Frankfurt for eight years, where he experienced a commercial and cultural environment quite different from that of a Prussian estate.

It was in Frankfurt that Bismarck began to reassess his view of German nationalism and the goals of Prussian foreign policy. Not only did he find the constant deference to the Austrians in Frankfurt demeaning, but he also realized that the status quo meant acceptance of Prussia as a second-rate power in central Europe. In 1854 he opposed close cooperation with Austria, arguing that it entailed "binding our spruce and seaworthy frigate to the wormy old warship of Austria." Gradually he began to consider the options that would make Prussia the undisputed power in Germany. A vision of a Prussian-dominated northern Europe and a redirection of Austrian power to the Slavic areas in the south took shape in his mind. If necessary, a war with Austria to destroy its hegemony was not to be excluded. Implementation of such a policy would be anything but conservative because it would entail radical changes in the map of Europe as it had been drawn by the conservative powers at Versailles in 1815.


"Bismarck, Otto von" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

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