Bismarck's Shadow: The Cult of Leadership and the Transformation of the German Right, 1898-1945

Bismarck's Shadow: The Cult of Leadership and the Transformation of the German Right, 1898-1945

Bismarck's Shadow: The Cult of Leadership and the Transformation of the German Right, 1898-1945

Bismarck's Shadow: The Cult of Leadership and the Transformation of the German Right, 1898-1945


This book unearths a fascinating phenomenon of German political culture--the elevation of a political figure to the level of a demi-god and the effects of such deification on the course of German politics during the first half of the twentieth century. Revered during his lifetime, Bismarck became the object of an avid political following after his death. Frankel examines how certain ritual practices and a particular historical understanding created, in effect, a Bismarckian cult. He argues that the effects of this were not only cultural. They carried across to political practice, contributing to the right's progressive radicalization from the turn of the century through to the triumph of the Nazis. Essential reading for anyone interested in Bismarck, twentieth-century German history, or Hitler's rise to power, Bismarck's Shadow sheds new light on German political culture and the development of National Socialism.


The example of a great man can effect more changes in the world than all the social
legislation. But beware, if the example be misunderstood! Then it may happen that a
new type of man may arise, who sees in severity and repression, not the sad transition
to humane conditions, but the aim of life itself. Weak and pacifistic by nature, he strives
to appear a man of iron because, in his conception, Bismarck was such a man. Invoking
without justification one higher than himself he becomes noisy and dangerous.

Heinrich Mann, Der Untertan

In a Berlin pub around the turn of the century a group of devoted Bismarck followers met every Wednesday evening to reminisce about the recently deceased Reich Chancellor. At one of these meetings, Maximilian Harden – baptized Jew and publisher of the journal Zukunft – sat with a contemptuous look upon his face, listening as each sought to outdo the other with anecdotes of their common hero. Finally he leaped to his feet and yelled, “You with your Bismarck! What was so special about him? I first made him great.” After a moment of awkward silence, the man sitting across from him, a Pan-German named Wilhelm Kollmann, rose to his feet, grabbed a wine bottle and yelled, “you damn Jew!” as he slammed the bottle on Harden's head, nearly fracturing his skull. in relating this story, Kollmann reassured his listener that Harden was fine. He had just given him a 'lesson'. Kollman felt himself fully justified: “Such a fellow wanted to lay his hands on Bismarck.”

This story helps illustrate a fascinating historical phenomenon – the critical role of Bismarck in German political culture from the late nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth. Here we have a group of solid middle-class Germans meeting to discuss Bismarck. But this was not a homogenous group. While Harden was certainly a strong German nationalist and concerned himself intensely with issues of national power and prestige, he was no Pan-German, and men such as Kollmann had any number of issues that divided them from the baptized Jewish journalist. and yet Bismarck brought them together – but not completely. Despite their shared admiration for the Iron Chancellor, and their shared hopes for German greatness that were embodied in the symbol of Bismarck, they fought over him. Max Harden challenged the claims of those around him to be the true disciples of Bismarck and the rightful executors of his will by himself claiming to have 'made' Bismarck into the towering figure to whom they all bowed down. But his challenge . . .

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