Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman

By A. J. P. Taylor | Go to book overview

VII
THE CHANGE OF COURSE

BISMARCK claimed a consistency of policy and purpose. His speeches treated forty years of political activity as a single theme; and the memoirs which he wrote after his fall were designed to show that he had always pursued the same long-term aims. He boasted of being an opportunist only in the sense that his means and methods changed with the times. He said in 1887: 'What is an opportunist? He is a man who uses the most favourable opportunity to carry through what he regards as useful and appropriate.' And it is, of course, true that Bismarck remained unmistakably the same throughout his career-- always more concerned to get his own way than to lay down in advance what that way should be. He loved both combat and success. It was a sad contradiction to him that one excluded the other: by winning a combat, he also brought it to an end. He was devoted to his instruments--the Hohenzollern dynasty or the German nation--so long as they served his will; but ultimately it was the triumph of his will, a mastery of the external world, that mattered to him.

Yet, on a more practical plane, there were two occasions when he changed his outlook on life and public affairs so profoundly that we can speak of a real change of course, even of a change in himself. One man disappeared; and a different man took his place. No doubt the new man was equally determined to get his way, but the way went in quite a different direction. The first of these occasions was shortly after Bismarck went to Frankfurt in 1851; the second during his long absence from Berlin in 1877. When Bismarck went as Prussian representative to the Frankfurt diet, he was a 'reactionary', as he had been consistently

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