Bismarck the Nationalist

Taylor Bismarck

His first impulse was merely to perpetuate the old pattern: a federal diet of diplomatic representatives from the member states, with Prussia as the presiding power, and a parliament, elected by universal suffrage, to approve the legislation laid before it by the diet. Only gradually did he realize that times had changed, and he along with them. Previously he had been in opposition—fighting against Austria, against the Chamber, even against the king. No wonder that he wanted to cut down the power of others; it seemed the only way of preserving his own. Now he discovered that he was leading, and that the others were in opposition. He had to apply the spur, where previously he had put on the brake. A great national Germany led by Austria or even united by the liberals would have ruined Prussia—and Bismarck along with her. A 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. He got on well with the liberal politicians, who now appreciated his speeches and and followed their arguments. He was impatient with the German princes and even with the King of Prussia. Of course, he did not capitulate to the liberals, though he made an alliance with them. 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, whether monarchy or German nationalism or, later, conservatism. This gave him freedom to manœuvre; but in the last resort the lack of any party of his own led to his fall.


1. Taylor, A. J. P. Bismarck, the Man and the Statesman. New York: Knopf, 1955. Print.


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