Bismarck and the Development of Germany: The Period of Unification, 1815-1871

By Otto Pflanze | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
THE BISMARCK PROBLEM

WITH the exception of Napoleon, no other figure in modern European history has attracted as much interest as Otto von Bismarck. Since the first serious studies of the man and his career appeared sixty years ago, the size of the bibliography has reached staggering proportions.1 Still the flood of books and articles continues with no sign of abatement. Bismarck and national unification have as great a fascination for Germans as do Lincoln and the civil war for Americans.

To non-Germans as well, the personality and achievement of the Junker genius have a magnetic attraction. His political career of almost half a century was one of the longest in the annals of statecraft. For nearly three decades of that time he was the dominant figure in German and European politics. Unexplored nooks and crannies, even whole rooms, are still being discovered in the edifice of his career. The wide range of his interests, the complexity of his mind, and his almost incredible skill at political invention and maneuver have made the subject difficult to exhaust.

By far the most important reason for continued interest, however, is the need to reassess the German past in view of the terrible tragedy of the twentieth century. In a book of essays dedicated to this theme Hans Kohn remarked that "the process of rethinking German history centers rightly around the appreciation of Bismarck's work." Reviewing the "German catastrophe," Friedrich Meinecke, the dean of German historians, wrote sadly in 1945, "The staggering course of the first, and still more the second world war no longer permits the question to be ignored whether the seeds of later evil were not already present in the Bismarckian Reich."2

____________________
1
Hajo Holborn, The Political Collapse of Europe ( New York, 1951), p. 200. The best general survey of the literature is Walter Bussmann, Das Zeitalter Bismarcks in Leo Just, ed., Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte, 111/3 ( Constance, 1955).
2
Hans Kohn, ed., German History: Some New German Views ( London, 1954), p. 30; Friedrich Meinecke, Die Deutsche Katastrophe ( Wiesbaden, 1946), p. 26. For reviews of the "Bismarck controversy" see Kohn, op. cit., pp. 11-43, and AndreasDorpalen

-3-

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