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Otto Von Bismarck Research Paper


The status-quo that Germany was wallowing in and which was established by Metternich came to an end with the revolution that began in 1848. There was great need to have a strong and unified nation which would offer the kind of leadership that the region demanded.

After the revolution, instead of Prussia and Austria using their established positions in Vienna and Berlin respectively to play a unified role of shaping politics in Germany, they opted to make use of the German Confederation to assert their political interests and power in German affairs.

As a matter of fact, this was a strategic move by the two countries to gain control and power over the opposing camps. This made it impossible for the two parties to realize their endeavors of unifying Germany as it has been observed and analyzed by historians. Stern posits that the success of either Austria or Prussia in establishing a greater force in Germany required mediatization.1

This would be the only approach that would a positive difference towards their pursuit for unity. As a result, following the revolution of 1848, Prussia planned to corral both medium and smaller states in Germany into a unified body held by what many leaders had come to unanimously agree with.

This was the conservative constitution. The document provided guidelines on how the various parties who were in the union would interact and run their affairs in a more harmonious manner.

However, with issues related to different interests exhibited by arch-conservatives to have the conservative powers show national solidarity and the inevitable large scale European war, Prussia could not attain its ambitions of bringing about German national unity. On the other hand, it was compelled to sacrifice its plan to unionize Germany.

The consequence of the sacrifice as Tullock puts it in his publication was a massive defeat in managing its international affairs and in pursuing its interests in German politics.2 In any case, this proved to be a very tricky political arrangement among these states bearing in mind that each one of them had unique interests.

On the other hand, Austria tried to unify German by reconvening the Federal Diet and using the power of the president to have all institutions brought into a single executive body. Austria intended to have the executive body put under the Austrian tutelage. To achieve this, it had to ensure that the Federal Diet was expanded, a consideration which saw its involvement in the Prussian Zollverein.

This step of action by Austria is believed to have played an important role in establishing a strong unifying force in Germany. Nonetheless, it is imperative to note that this show of unity must have been contributed by myriad of other factors other than just the overlying reasons.

Political analysts argue that while all this was happening, including the desire to establish a status quo in political conservative status, some of the prominent interests by Austria that could be felt were its political and economical desires to use the national unity in Germany to subjugate others politically and eventually assume leadership roles in the politics of Germany.

According to Clark in his book A firewall to alms: a brief economic history of the world, such a move would only be interpreted as a source of political struggle which was entirely not founded on conservative solidarity, but whose dominant motif was indeed what could be fittingly described as political pragmatism.3

Otto Von Bismarck

In his publication, Smith posits that many developments that took place in Germany and which led to its unification are considered to be the works of one of the most visible and vocal arch-conservatives and a prominent figure called Otto von Bismarck.

Scholars are quite categorical that Bismarck entrenched himself into politics as an individual who was strongly opposed to the Revolution. He was known as a formidable force towards the opposition of revolution. It is imperative to mention that his entry into German politics was through a conservative ticket.

However, his arch conservative reputation did not dictate his attitude towards the dualism exercised by Prussia and Austria or the path he took in German politics. This will be discussed in detail later in this paper.

Actually, during his early years of political involvement in the nation’s affairs, he strongly exhibited his willingness to depart from the ideals held by conservatives with little uneasiness over conservative national solidarity, in order to pursue similar interests to that of Prussia. This move was also meant to put himself at par with the politics of the wider German including that of Prussia.

One of the most important driving factors that made Bismarck pursue the political unification of Germany was to first ensure that the unfettered rights which Prussia had in Germany were met. In addition, it is worth noting that there were special interests which Prussia had reserved for German and which were supposed to be met.

Indeed, since Bismarck’s first entrance into politics in 1848, he strongly demonstrated his desire to see parity between Austria and Prussia, a consideration that even with a hard-wearing defense of the decisions by Olmutz, was seen to develop him into a tough statesman whose roles would eventually bring about the unification of Germany.

Crankshaw argues that even so, his willingness to come out of the conservative path was an act that completely depicted him as an individual who was not a great conservative preserver.4

His move as some critics concur with Crankshaw was a rejection of revolutionary and nationalistic tendencies, a departure from the maintenance role ensuring a conservative supranational solidarity and a break away from various tenants of conservatism.

While an individual may look at the actions of Bismarck against the greatest contributions of Emanuel Kant on perceiving actions taken as important ends and not means, and also oppose the move by Bismarck, it is imperative to underscore that Bismarck was driven by the need to create a sense of unity in Germany and Europe. In spite of the long period of time it would take.

In hindsight, Bismarck’s actions strongly gained massive support from utilitarianism proponents who believed that the end results justified the means.

However, it is clear that the desire that Bismarck had to preserve traditional power and order in Prussia were not motivated by political assumption that were similar those held by his arch conservative colleagues.

Instead, as Stelzel puts it, they were driven by practices of realpolitik which demanded his political allegiance to Prussian interests, ideals and ideologies regardless of whether they were liberal or conservative.5 This political desire by Bismarck appeared to be very tricky and challenging as well.

Bismarck’s nationalism

Crankshaw indicates that on the matter of nationalism, Bismarck did not in any way give support to the Frankfurt’s parliament liberal effort of unifying Germany.6 He strongly believed that Austria and Prussia deserved to exist separately. His view extended to polish nationalism.

As a conservative, he argued that that Germany was made up of non-German lands in Austria such as Bohemia and Hungary and lands which Germany controlled such as Italy and Poland. While this view contradicted that which liberalists had on nationalism and which bordered on political institutions, national borders, language and culture, it was clear that Bismarck’s perspective on German nationalism was not aimed at creating unity, but was purely based on hatred of foreign occupation and oppression of Germans by foreign nations.

This perspective is indeed a sharp contrast in what was originally known to be the aim of Bismarck’s call for the unity of German. It is also against this backdrop that Prakke laments that according to Bismarck, nationalistic sentiments were found to have their existence on particularism in Prussia and Austria.7

One of the most important factors to consider when exploring nationalism from the perspective of Bismarck is the fact that it was not meant for Germany. Needless to say, it was largely meant for Prussia. Prakke notes that there were three critical factors which defined Bismarck’s view of nationalism in Germany.8

One of those factors was historical. According to most historical and political analysts, the latter factor was specifically meant for Prussia sine it had a direct impact on Prussia. Prakke continues to indicate that this factor was inseparably and strongly bound up with power political factors.

It is imperative to point out that Germany was historically considered as das alte Reich, an aspect that allowed one state to possess other territories including those that were non-German like Italy, Hungary and Poland.

The Prussian factor as Hiort indicates in his publication was to allow Prussia first at the European level and secondly in confederation level to deal with different states among which included Austria.9

The belief held by Bismarck which as a means in unifying Europe was that Prussia, a nation that was during that time a great power in Europe has all the rights to pursue power interests wherever it pleased.

Cherniaev points out that Bismarck and Hitler are related in the manner in which they implemented their totalitarian ideologies that were largely aimed at expanding their territories using any means available to them.10 Hitler and his ideologies fell within the valley of Bismarck’s focus of using force and authority to suppress the enemy and establish Germany as the greatest empire in Europe.

Cherniaev’s argument provides important insights on some of the elements that made Bismarck to be so ruthless ruing his era. It further creates the understanding that for a nation to move and strongly focus towards conflict and seeking to destroy its enemies completely, an illustrious past must have defined such moves.

As evidenced from Crankshaw’s resource, nations that fail to build institutional capacities and rely on personal aspirations as was the case with Bismarck and Hitler risk becoming unstable as each leader considers his views to be the best.11

Even with the constitutional restoration that took place during that time, individual aspirations from personalities like Bismarck could not allow stability to reign in Germany.

Indeed, it is evident that a country that is on the track of development, when distracted in the manner that Bismarck did to Germany, can easily deviate strongly from the voice of reason and get into the verge of destruction. This was seemingly a similar path which was taken by German.

Otto von Bismarck, Gold and Iron

Bismarck’s speech on the unification of Germany is a reflection of the new orientation that Germany was taking and its aim and determination to use all means to gain control of the region.

In addition, Bismarck’s bold, aggressive and war driven motives when comparison is drawn between iron and blood, largely reflected the strength of Germany at the local and regional level in the late 19th century.

Having united Germany and making it as an empire, iron and blood was a turning point for localized focus towards war and external ruthlessness. This political scenario put German in an unfamiliar ground which later led to its instability in terms of political administration of the country.

Having served for a long period of time in the government of Germany, Bickford indicates that Bismarck appears to have learnt from history that Germany needed to equip itself with and of course get ready for military operations.12

He cites the need for German driven liberalism as opposed to inclination towards Prussia which he indicated required to prepare itself and get ready to fight and defend its territory and ideologies when the opportunity presents itself. The speech reflects Bismarck tough lessons from the past with some sense of bitterness as he expressed his determined move to use iron and blood for Germany.

The speech, which was highly speculative, appeared to underscore the critical role of preparing Germany for war. Through taxes which Bismarck argued were very critical in putting Germany at the international realm, the conclusion that use of iron and blood would be pursued at all cost indicate the ruthless model that Germany would use to conquer its enemies and strengthen itself.

Though Bismarck does not bring out the relationship that he would pursue with the enemies very well, he points out at there was infallible need for individual states to strengthen themselves. He indicated that Prussia should take away its liberalism and use it in strengthening itself.

In his view, Bismarck saw Germany to have adequate capacity in terms of manpower and resources to pursue its ruthless goals without necessarily involving the neighbors. By delivering this message to the government of the day, Bismarck intended to convince it on the need for more resources to prepare the country military.

Pointing that the treaty of Vienna had failed to anchor real politics, military as the real politics, according to Bismarck required additional taxes and resources.

Throughout Bismarck’s speech, there is strong relationship between his need for finances and his roles. Noting that Prussia refused to have the southern states in Germany to engage in the activities of liberalism reflected the need for national development and dissociation with neighbors.

Bismarck’s kind of leadership also reflected that real politics would not be determined by speeches and majorities by Gold and Iron. His relationship with Gerson Bleichroder as Stern posits in his book “Gold and Iron: Bismark, Bleichroder, and the Building of the German Empire“ is a clear indication of how much Bismarck needed funds to carry pout his operations of unifying Germany.13

His private banking transactions were carried out by Bleichroder who placed loans and carried out the transfer of credits on behalf of the German empire and the Prussian state.

Bismarck’s role in establishing the German Empire

The revolution of 1848 saw the democratic and liberal character shifted to German nationalism under the pragmatic realpolitik led by Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck. Merritt indicates that Bismarck developed ideas of extending the hegemony of Hohenzollern in all the states in Germany.14

To achieve this, it was necessary for Austria, which had been a major rival of Prussia, to be eliminated and states in Germany become unified. In his mind, Bismarck had a picture of a Prussian dominated and conservative Germany.

These thoughts among other factors drove him towards initiating three distinct wars that made his endeavors successful. Merritt further indicates that the wars included that which was waged against France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, the 1866 Austro-Prussian war and the wear with Denmark in 1864 also called the second war of Schleswig.

It is worth noting that all these created bitter relationship between the opposing camps and was largely considered to be a betrayal by those states which had been sympathetic to Bismarck and German.

The consequence of the 1866 war led to the end of the German confederation with a split between the kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian empire, each with its own allies. Needless to say, such splits coupled with the subsequent formation of alliances harbored a healthy ground for the First World War and the Second World War that were to be fought later.

In the years that followed the 1866 war, different southern German states which had earlier been excluded from the North German confederation, were allowed to join via treaties. In 1870, the name of the northern German confederation was changed to the German empire.

Indeed, many authors attribute the success of Germany to be an empire to the role played by Bismarck. It is a fact that almost unanimously supported by many analysts that the most important legacy that Bismarck left in the history of Europe was the unification of Germany.

Ziblatt indicates that since the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire, Germany had existed as a collection of free cities and separate principalities with no one to unite them.15 Until the coming of Bismarck, many leaders and kings tried without success to unify the various states in Germany as a single nation.

The unification of Germany and the subsequent formation of a German empire made Germany to be ranked among the most powerful nations in Germany.

Despite many criticisms that have been leveled against Bismarck’s leadership style and which his paper has not looked much into, it is evident that some of the most important and valuable characteristics his leadership are his cautious, astute and wise leadership as well as his pragmatic foreign policies.

These factors played a pivotal role of bringing Germany to its unified state and its amiable diplomatic relationship with other nations in Europe.

Finally, it is worth agreeing with biography by Crankshaw who regard Bismarck as a political personality who had great skills, a transformational leader and an ambivalent character. His ambitions as a monarchist saw him bring Germany to an empire and silenced political opposition.

His tenure that lasted over 30 years witnessed his undisputed control over policies made by the government. It is also indisputable that he was instrumental towards the outbreak of several wars that were witnessed in Europe long before the major wars were fought.


Bickford, Andrew. “Soldiers, citizens, and the state: East German Army officers in post- unification Germany.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51, no. 2 (2009): 260-287

Cherniaev, Anatolii. “The unification of Germany: Political mechanisms and psychological stereotypes.” Russian Social Science Review, 40, no. 3 (1999): 50- 65.

Clark, Gregory. A firewall to alms: a brief economic history of the world. Oxfordshire, Princeton University Press, 2007.

Crankshaw, Edward. Bismark. New York, Viking Press, 1981.

Hiort, Pontus. “Constructing another kind of German: Catholic commemorations of German Unification in Baden, 1870-1876.” The Catholic Historical Review, 93, no. 1 (2007): 17-46.

Merritt, Richard. “Germany since unification: The domestic and external consequences.” Perspectives on Political Science, 28, no. 2 (1999): 107-107.

Prakke, Lucas. “On the rise and decline of the monarchical principle: constitutional vicissitudes in Spain and Germany.” European Constitutional Law Review, 6, no. 2 (2010): 268-292.

Stelzel, Philipp. “Working toward a common goal? American views on German Historiography and German-American scholarly relations during the 1960s.” Central European History 41, no. 4 (2008): 639-671.

Stern, Fritz. Gold and iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder, and the building of the German Empire. New York, Vintage Books, 1979.

Tullock, Gordon. “The legacy of Bismarck.” Public Choice, 139, no. 1-2 (2009): 3-3.

Ziblatt, Daniel F. “Recasting German federalism? The politics of fiscal decentralization in post-unification Germany.” Politische Vierteljahresschrift. 43, no. 4 (2002): 624-652.


1 Fritz Stern, Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder, and the Building of the German Empire (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 25.

2 Gordon Tullock, “The Legacy of Bismarck.” Public Choice 139, no. 1-2 (2009): 3.

3 Gregory Clark, A firewall to alms: a brief economic history of the world (Oxfordshire, Princeton University Press, 2007), 40.

4 Edward Crankshaw, Bismark (New York: Viking Press, 1981), 78.

5 Philipp Stelzel, “Working Toward a Common Goal? American Views on German Historiography and German-American Scholarly Relations during the 1960s.” Central European History 41, no. 4 (2008): 639.

6 Crankshaw, p. 78.

7 Lucas Prakke, “On the Rise and Decline of the Monarchical Principle: Constitutional Vicissitudes in Spain and Germany.” European Constitutional Law Review 6, no. 2 (2010): 270.

8 Ibid, p. 271

9 Pontus Hiort, “Constructing another kind of German: catholic commemorations of German unification in Baden, 1870-1876.” The Catholic Historical Review 93, no. 1 (2007): 36.

10 Anatolii Cherniaev, “The Unification of Germany: political mechanisms and psychological stereotypes.” Russian Social Science Review 40, no. 3 (1999): 65.

11 Crankshaw, p. 60.

12 Andrew Bickford, “Soldiers, citizens, and the state: east German army officers in post-unification Germany.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 51, no. 2 (2009): 260.

13 Stern, p. 130.

14Richard Merritt, “Germany since Unification: the domestic and external consequences.” Perspectives on Political Science 28, no. 2 (1999): 107.

15 Daniel Ziblatt, “Recasting German federalism? The politics of fiscal decentralization in post-unification Germany.” Politische Vierteljahresschrift 43, no. 4 (2002): 642.

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