Oscar E. Aguado
AMULAC ID# 2166
Western Civilization II DS
July 30, 2013
Bismarck: Genius or lucky
Bismarck was one of the most dominant and significant statesmen of the nineteenth century. A political intellect who achieved the apparently impossible undertaking of unifying Germany without a political party to support him, despite an unsympathetic parliament and with no direct control over any army. His—Bismark— only arsenals were the utter force of his personality and his crafty ability to influence Emperor Wilhelm I.
Jonathan Steinberg’s biography takes a new look at this witty, slightly hysterical despot using the diaries and letters of his friends, colleagues and enemies and he paints a portrait of a man full of contradictions. He had grand political visions that were created with subtle strategies of political genius but his pettiness and vindictiveness were never far behind.
Bismarck adored conflict and he had a palate for being offensive. His “slap in the face” method to political manipulation was a tactic in itself that led him more often that not to get his own way.
In the modern era minds, Bismarck is clasped together with a mix of Churchill and Pinochet. He was anything but consistent though. His conception of Realpolitik meant that anything that allowed him to get his own way was acceptable: whether or not that meant joining an Evangelical Christian sect as he did as a young man giving him a start in politics or cosying up to the Liberal party when it served his purpose. He even went so far as turn the Prussian political landscape upside-down by adopting full male suffrage much to the chagrin of his fellow conservatives. The Austrian Foreign Minister Baron Rechberg summed up Bismarck’s protean nature, when h...
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...ck, through hard work and determination.
He spent his life fighting liberalism and found natural allies in Russia and Austria, with their authoritarian and anti-democratic traditions but he was fighting a losing battle. The reactionary absolutism that he championed had had its day by the time he left the political stage. The great man acted as a bulwark against liberal and democratic principles while he could but when Bismarck was brushed aside, those principles flooded the political arena.
So where did Bismarck’s genius lie exactly? He was the father of “Realpolitik” which meant “constantly shuffling sets of alternatives and playing off one against the other.” His real genius lay in his guile, cunning and sense of political timing – but above all in his willingness to take risks and be shockingly aggressive. Never has the force of personality alone achieved so much