Otto von Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck

Was a conservative Prussian statesman who dominated German and European affairs from the 1860’s until 1890. In the 1860’s he engineered a series of wars that unified the German states, significantly and deliberately excluding Austria, into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership.

Bismarck was born in Schönhausen, Kingdom of Prussia. His father, Ferdinand von Bismarck-Schönhausen was noble landowner, descendant of aSwabian family settled in Pomerania. Ferdinand was a typical member of the landowning elite of Prussia. The economic situation of his family was modest, Ferdinand’s qualities as a farmer probably were less than mediocre, and Bismarck wouldn’t get to know the real wealth until rewards after the German unification started to arrive.

He spent five years at the school, thenhe attended the “William Frederick” gymnasium for three years. He passed the university entrance exam (Abitur) in 1832. At the urging of his mother, he began to study law at Göttingen, in the Kingdom of Hanover. Apparently, Bismarck was a mediocre student who spent a lot of time drinking with his colleagues in an aristocratic fraternity. After a brief period at the University of Berlin, he joined the Prussian civil service, where he was suffering from boredom and from the inability to accept the principles of hierarchical bureaucracy.

Otto von Bismarck’s policy from the 1840’s hasn’t strayed too far away from that of a typical country noble. Indeed it can be said that his policy was a more conservative one. He believed in a Christian state, confirmed ultimately by the supreme deity. The existing social and political order had to be defended to prevent the chaos described by Hobbes as the struggle of all against all.

Bismarck was full of sarcasm when he was dealing with liberal aristocrats who considered England as a model for Prussia. In 1847, he attended at the United Diet of Prussia, where his speeches against the Jewish emancipation and contemporary liberalism earned him a reputation of an illiterate conservative, totally not aware of the dynamic forces of his time.

In 1849, he was elected member of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies (lower house of the Diet Prussia), and the family moved to Berlin. He was still far from being a German nationalist. Otto told one of his fellow conservatives: “We are and will remain Prussians… We do not want to see the Kingdom of Prussia lost in the putrid stew of our cozy South German sentimentalists.” In 1851, Friedrich Wilhelm IV appointed him as the Federal Diet representative of Prussia in Frankfurt, an obvious reward of his loyalty to the monarchy.

Between 1870 and 1890, Bismarck won the respect of many European leaders by his sincere efforts on behalf of peace. Apart from few colonial purchasesin the mid-1880’s, Germany had acted as a power pleased with what it had. The considerable tactical skills of Bismarck had managed to create a strong German Empire during the first decade of his reign in power.

The second part of Bismarck’s strategy to destroy the social democracy was the application of a social legislation aimed at lulling the workers and leading them away from political extremism.

Being 75 years old in 1890, Bismarck resigned from his post upon tasting the failure. The Anti-Socialists Law was not renewed and the new government has struggled to attract workers to the regime. Bismarck withdrew to his domain with a bitter heart. The fact that he subsequently became a very rich prince didn’t make his withdrawal easier. Over the next eight years, until his death in 1898, Otto issued stinging criticisms against its successors. Elected to the Reichstag, he preferred not to take the place. He wrote his memoirs, which were sold very well.

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