Did Bismarck Engineer the Franco-Prussian War?

Taylor Bismarck

Did he foresee it himself? Of all questions in Bismarck’s career this is the most difficult to answer. He was always emphatic that he could not make events. He said once: ‘Politics are not a science based on logic; they are the capacity of always choosing at each instant, in constantly changing situations, the least harmful, the most useful.’ And again, in more devout terms: ‘A statesman cannot create anything himself. He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grasp the hem of his garment.’ When someone praised his direction of events between 1862 and 1871, he pointed to many mistakes he had made and said: ‘I wanted it like this, and everything happened quite differently. I’m content when I see where the Lord wishes to go and can stumble after Him.’ Was this false modesty? Did he in fact manœuvre the Lord’s will just as he manœuvred William I? Perhaps he did, though not so much as his enemies and later historians have alleged.

Certainly there is not a scrap of evidence that he worked deliberately for a war with France, still less that he timed it precisely for the summer of 1870. He was always too impatient and highly-strung to let a crisis mature behind his back


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



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