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Otto von Bismark
January 14, 2018
notes by William P. Meyers

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Notes on Bismark, The Man and the Statesman by A.J.P. Taylor

These are not notes one would take for a short, general article on Otto von Bismark [link is to Wikipedia]. Rather they are notes that are of interest to me in my writing, including the causes of World War I, the roll of religion in the rise of Adolf Hitler, and governance in general.

"Bismark's planned wars killed thousands; the just wars of the twentieth century have killed millions. Moreover, Bismark disliked war, though not primarily for the suffering that it involved. War was for him a clumsy way of settling international disputes." This is a comment on Germany's small war (Austro-Prussian War) with Austria in 1866. [p. 79]

"Bismark may have intended to "ruin parliamentarianism with parliamentarianism," as he himself boasted. In fact he made Germany a constitutional country. Not only was the franchise the widest in Europe, with the only effective secret ballot. The parliament possessed every essential function. It was the seat of power. The King of Prussia, later called German Emperor, directed the executive; but so did, and does, the President of the United States." [98]

During the Luxembourg crisis it was the Social Democratic Party leader August Bebel who wanted to go to war. "War and an aggressive foreign policy were still the prerogative of the Left, love of peace still the most telling accusation that could be made against a man of the Right." Compare to Isolationists in America, or Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War. [107]

Unification with southern German states: "The war of 1866 had disolved the treaties of the Customs Union; and when Bismark renewed them he introduced a customs parliament, which was made by adding representatives of the southern German states to the existing federal parliament. . . In this way an all-German parliament would come into existence almost unperceived. The manuever was not a success. The Roman Catholic peasants of south Germany used their new franchise to bring a clericalist party, the Centre, into existence. Bavaria returned 26 clericals out of 48 members; all Germany south of the Main [river] returned 50 particularists against 35 supporters of unification." [114]

A clerical error leads to war, the Ems telegram, and the Franco-Prussian war: "if the war had gone well for France, every French statesman would have taken credit for it. In truth, the French blundered into a war that was not unwelcome to them; and Bismark, though taken by surprise, turned their blunder to his advantage." France declared war on Prussia on June 16, 1870.. [118-122]

"In 1870 the Oecumenical council at the Vatican proclaimed the infallibility of the Pope."
"Bismark and the Reichstag were making liberal Germany; and the modern liberal state came everywhere into conflicts with the [Catholic] Church."
"Germany had been divided religiously for three hundred years, and each state possessed a defined religious character of its own."
After Prussia gained Catholic lands on the Rhine in 1815, "there had been a dress rehersal for the Kulturkampf (this time over mixed marriages) between 1836 and 1840, with priests and bishops in prison, churches standing empty, and the state impotent against a religious opposition."
"The unification [of Germany] in 1871 created a state in which the Roman Catholics were a formidable minority." [148-149]

In addition, non-German Catholic groups within Germany, notably Poles, also were against unification, while some Protestant non-German ethnic groups also opposed it. [149-150]

"The Centre [Party] was rather the rallying point of those who, though German patriots, had a different German ideal — 'Greater Germany', a resurrection fo the Holy Roman Empire." [190]

Bismark correctly noted in a speech to the Reichstag that "If the Pope triumphs, we non-Catholics must either become Catholics or emigrate or our property would be confiscated, as is usual with heretics." [153]

Bismark's support for social legislation is assessed as genuine. He said "We must carry out what seems justified in the Socialist programme and can be realized within the present state and society" in 1871. Note that is over 6 decades before the New Deal in the USA.

"In February 1880 [pope] Leo XIII ... accepted Bismark's principle that ... church and state should find a workable compromise." [201]

More details of Bismark's support for socialist programs, in this case Social Insurance with part of the cost paid by the government, rather than employers. [202]

Bismark acquired an overseas empire, making Germany an imperialist country, but he had little interest in it. "In 1889 he tried to give German South-West Africa away to the British. It was, he said, a burden and an expense." [221]

In the election of 1887 Bismark's opponents were defeated at the polls. The Centre Party was "broken when Bismark published a letter from the pope condemning its vote against the army law." Now the army law (funds for 7 years) was passed by a large majority. "Seven members of the Centre obeyed the pope's instructions and voted for the law; the other eighty-three, including Windthorst, abstained. Leo XIII got his reward," as most of the Kulturkampf laws were repealed. [224]

"On 18 May 1899 he made his last speech in the Reichstag, arguing that welfare was the true conservatism." [240]

Bismark tried to dictate a memoir, but "he lost interest after he had dictated his favorite stories." His assistant, Bucher, "was shocked at his disregard for the truth." [255]




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