Friday 2015-01-30

Bismarck by A J P Taylor

One doesn't get a feel for Bismarck's balancing of concerns, just the bustle of a life amid the 19th century nobility.

With all his brusqueness, no man was more skilful at evading a storm. When a member was preparing to move the adjournment of the Chamber owing to Bismarcks absence, Bismarck put his head round the door and said: I can hear everything you are saying.
There has never been a clearer dispute between the moral and the real view of politics; the more fascinating in that William was advocating a more severe peace with Austria and a less severe peace with the princesbut both on moral grounds. Bismarck used all his most powerful weapons: tears, hysterics, the breaking of crockery, even the threat to jump from a high window.
"Jena came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great; the crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this", a prophecy fulfilled almost to the month.

The true Junkers lived far away to the east, in Pomerania and Silesia. These Junkers were a Prussian specialitygentry proud of their birth, but working their estates themselves and often needing public employment to supplement their incomes. They looked with jealousy at the high aristocracy with its cosmopolitan culture and its monopoly of the greatest offices in the state. We may find a parallel in the English country-gentry with their Tory prejudices and their endless feud against the Whig magnates; but the Junkers were nearer to the soil, often milking their own cows and selling their wool themselves at the nearest market, sometimes distinguished from the more prosperous peasant-farmers only by their historic names.
Doubt was not fought and conquered; it was silenced by heroic will.
Faust complains of having two souls in his breast. I have a whole squabbling crowd. It goes on as in a republic.
He could have said with Oliver Cromwell, whom he much resembled; He goeth furthest who knows not whither he is going.
I learnt only from experience that the Arcadian life of a dyed-in-the-wool landowner with double book-keeping and chemical experiments was an illusion.
In these years he and his brother restored the family finances by plodding economy, not by any striking initiative.
A trivial gesture announced the coming struggle for mastery in Germany. Only the Austrian delegate smoked at meetings. Bismarck pulled out a cigar and asked the Austrian for a match. His act showed that he was a man of a new sort. Previous Prussian delegates had been high aristocrats and, like all the men of the old order, non-smokers. Only Austrian aristocrats smokeda habit they acquired when they inherited the tobacco-monopoly from Napoleon in Lombardy. Bismarck had learnt to smoke from the radical students whom he otherwise despised; and his cigar was a reminder that he really belonged to the world of the Burschenshaft despite his affectation of sympathy with the principles of Metternich.
After all, he had no experience of the diplomatic service until he stepped into the highest rank; and he never troubled to learn the trade. His notes of conversations with others were unsatisfactory all his life on a technical standardinvaluable for revealing the current of Bismarcks own thought, unreliable as a record of the other mans point of view.
Frederick William liked contradictory advice. Manteuffel preached timid inaction; Gerlach, his unofficial adviser, upheld legitimism and a struggle against the revolution; Bismarck wanted conflict with Austria; and Bunsen, the Kings closest friend, advocated from London a liberal alliance with Great Britain.
The great Prussian advance of the quiet years had been the building of a German customs-union, the Zollverein.
The great Prussian advance of the quiet years had been the building of a German customs-union, the Zollverein. This included nearly all the German states except Austria; and it inevitably turned German trade from the Danube valley to the ports of the North Sea.
Frankfurt was the nearest thing to an international capital that Germany possessed; and Bismarck liked clever company whatever his Junker affectations. He had always been exuberantly well, despite his energetic way of living. He smoked Havana cigars from morning to night; drank much Black Velvetthe mixture of stout and champagne which he invented; rode in the woods and swam in the Rhine; wrote endless reports.
He learnt Russian and grew so fond of it that he used it to record his most private thoughts.
The Prussian liberals admired the tradition of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and regarded universal military service as an enlightened measure.
If the kingdom of Italy did not exist, we should have to invent it.
For whatever reasonlove or political tacticsBismarck remained in the south of France and failed to answer letters. In Berlin affairs reached their crisis. The new Chamber had a larger liberal majority than before. It again refused to authorize the additional military expenditure.
On 17 September Roon offered a compromise to the Chamber; on 18 September he withdrew it, on the kings orders. He was at the end of his tether. He wired to Bismarck: Periculum in mora. Dpchez-vous.
On 22 September Bismarck met William at Babelsberg, a summer palace just outside Berlin. It was their first struggle, a rehearsal for their future relations. Bismarck gave the king no time to read his prepared papers. Royal government or the supremacy of parliament was, he said, the only issue; and he would bring the first to victory. William was carried away. He tore up both his act of abdication and his political conditions. He consoled himself with Bismarcks promise that he would always submit to the kings orders in the last resort even if he disagreed with them. William supposed that he was still free to forbid Bismarcks wild ideas in foreign policy; but Bismarck had retained the right to put them forward. Both men remained uncommitted. The future would show which in the last resort was master. Bismarck returned to Berlin as prime minister. A fortnight later he became foreign minister also. He was to remain in supreme power for twenty-seven years.
He bewitched Alexander II, Napoleon III and Queen Victoriaall of whom had started out with strong prejudice against him. He had been trained as a courtier in his youth; and those who met him in old age were astonished to find under his rough exterior all the formal grace of a Talleyrand or a Metternich.
once caused an uproar by saying that a critic was associated with the refusal of taxes in 1848. The president of the Chamber interrupted him. Bismarck repeated the phrase. The president declared that he would suspend the sitting if the phrase were repeated again. There seemed no alternative between humiliation and defiance. With a disarming smile, Bismarck said: It is not necessary for me to repeat my words again. Everyone heard them;
On his first appearance in the Chamber, Bismarck pulled out of his pocket a leaf of olive and offered it as a gesture of conciliation.
The great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and the resolutions of majoritiesthat was the great mistake from 1848 to 1849but by iron and blood.1 This was a statement of fact, not of principle.
All the great questions of our own day, from the defeat of Hitler to the checking of Soviet expansion, have been determined by blood and iron. It is the task of the idealist to put moral clothing on the victor.
William I, who was at Baden-Baden, read of blood and iron in the newspapers; it convinced him that Augustas view of Bismarck was right, and he took train for Berlin to dismiss his new Prime Minister. Bismarck sensed that he was lost if William I were once firmly back among the Prussian politicians. He went to meet the king, travelling in an ordinary carriage and waiting at a deserted junction with the buildings still unfinished for William I to change trains. It would have been useless to make out to William I that the phrase had meant nothing: the king would reply that he could not afford a prime minister who committed such indiscretions unintentionally. Bismarck, therefore, played things the other way. The phrase, he claimed, had been an assertion of royal authority. William I said mournfully: I see how it will endon the gallows. You will suffer the fate of Strafford and I of Charles I. Bismarck countered skilfully: Better that than surrender. And the trick was turned. The soldier-king could not run away from a fight.
Bismarck had thought of playing off the conservative peasants against the town radicals even during the revolution of 1848. Since then he had watched Napoleon Ills success in using universal suffrage to destroy a liberal republic. He agreed with Proudhon: universal suffrage is counter-revolution.
The revolt might spread to Prussian Poland; and Bismarck held that, while Russia could still be a Great Power without her Polish lands, Prussia could not. Indeed, with his endless ingenuity in discovering dangers that were largely imaginary, he even suspected that Gorchakov, the Russian chancellor, was planning to liberate both Russian and Prussian Poland in order to recover the friendship of France. Prussia would be dismembered; France and Russia would join hands across the continent. Bismarck had welcomed the Franco-Russian alliance so long as it was directed against Austria; he had to destroy it when it threatened to turn against Prussia.
In November 1863 Napoleon III invited the Great Powers to a Congress which should consider every European problem. No one troubled to turn up. France had certainly lost the leadership of Europe.
national Germany made by Bismarck would bring him greater control of events. He had spoken contemptuously of German nationalism even after Sadova. By the beginning of 1867 he was talking as though he had taken out the patent for it.
His approach to politics was always that of a diplomat, balancing between the various forces and playing one off against another; and he aimed to be the dominant partner in any association. He never became identified with any cause,
Even democracy can manage to evade its own standards. Atomic power was developed in Great Britain for some years without the authorization and even without the knowledge of parliament.
The capacity of admiring men is only moderately developed in me, and it is rather a defect of my eye that it is sharper for weaknesses than good qualities.
But they would do this only if they had themselves causes for quarrel with Germany; and these did not appear to exist. Bismarck had no colonial ambitionsit did not even occur to him to claim any French colony in 1871. Hence England and Germany were friends, if not natural allies, as England and Austria had been earlier.
He referred enviously to the example of England where there was a parliament with a strong majority, homogeneously organized, under a leadership such as was provided by the two Pitts or Canning, or even Palmerston, Peel.
Bismarck, as so often, had got out of one difficulty only to find himself in a greater. He had carried universal suffrage in order to ruin the liberals, his opponents of the eighteen-sixties. His calculation proved correct. Middle-class liberalism had little appeal to a mass-electorate; and it fell to pieces in Germany as in every other country within a generation of the establishment of universal suffrage.
The Reich was not financially self-supporting; it depended upon contributions from the individual states for the bulk of its income. A new tariff-system would both protect German industry and give to the Reich a secure revenue of its own. No doubt there were cruder political calculations. Tariffs might win back the support of the Conservatives; they might ruin the more doctrinaire National Liberals; in any case they would supply a new national appeal to take the place of the Kulturkampf.
Bismarck claimed a consistency of policy and purpose. His speeches treated forty years of political activity as a single theme; and the memoirs which he wrote after his fall were designed to show that he had always pursued the same long-term aims.
Bismarck always loved to balance. He never committed himself irrevocably to any course. In foreign policy his alliances often led to wars; and his wars were the prelude to alliances.
Bismarck straddled between king and parliament, later between emperor and Reichstag, and played them off against each other. He was always ready to tell the Reichstag that his only responsibility was to the emperormy only constituent; and he warned the politicians that they could not even cut his salaryit was guaranteed by the constitution, and he would go to law for it. Things were very different when he went to court. Then he insisted that the emperor must agree to the Reichstags wishes, whatever Bismarck interpreted them to be.
Western democracies expect the political leader, whether president or prime minister, to be the centre of public agitation. General elections are themselves a form of running debate. But Bismarck never argued or took part in the cut-and-thrust of debate. He rhapsodized in the Reichstag, standing ostensibly above the parties; and he would slip into his speeches some general philosophic reflection from which the voters were expected to divine the correct party-moral.
Beware of opposing Bismarck immediately if you disagree with him. If you do, hebeing so excitablefinds such crushing arguments for his opinion and becomes so obstinate that no power on earth can move him from it. Williams
Bismarcks hostility was not confined to politicians. Though he could flatter foreigners, such as Jules Ferry or Salisbury, when it suited his purpose, it maddened him that they were out of his reach. His greatest contempt was reserved for professor Gladstone, perhaps because he recognized there his only equal.
A new medical attendant, Schweninger, at last imposed moderation on the genius who had imposed it on others, but never on himself. At their first meeting, Bismarck said roughly: I dont like being asked questions. Schweninger replied: Then get a vet. He doesnt question his patients.
His speeches are among the greatest literary compositions in the German language, despite their repetitions and their clumsy, fragmentary phrases.