Otto von Bismarck

Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at the web site of the Hanover Historical Texts Project.

As First Minister of Prussia in the 1860s, Otto von Bismarck succeeded in uniting Germany under the rule of the Prussian King. After 1871, with the establishment of the Prussian-led German Empire, Bismarck served as First Chancellor under the Emperor Wilhelm I. An aristocrat, militarist, and conservative, Bismarck was willing to embrace some liberal, democratic, and socialist ideas in order to strengthen the German nation and German monarchy.

1. Why did Bismarck support universal suffrage and social insurance for workers?
2. What were Bismarck's values and principles?
3. What were Bismarck's views of classical liberals and of socialists?
4. What were Bismarck's views of the working class?
5. In what ways was Bismarck's convervatism similar to Metternich's conservativsm? In what ways was it different?

[1] I do not think that doctrines like those of "Laissez-faire" . . . should be applied in the State, and especially in a monarchically, paternally governed State. . . . Our kings (Prussian and now German) have secured the emancipation of the serfs, they have created a thriving peasantry, and they may possibly be successful--the earnest endeavour exists, at any rate--in improving the condition of the working classes somewhat. . . . Give the working-man the right to work as along as he is healthy; assure him care when he is sick; assure him maintenance when he is old. If you do that, and do not fear the sacrifice--or cry out "State Socialism" (as soon as) the words "Provision for old age" are uttered,--if the State will show a little more Christian solicitude for the working-man, then I believe that the gentlemen of the Wyden Program (the socialist program of the Social-Democratic Party) will sound their bird-call in vain, and that thronging to them will cease as soon as the workingmen see that the Government and legislative bodies are earnestly concerned for their welfare. . . .

[2] The acceptance of universal suffrage was a weapon in the (Prussian) war against Austria and other foreign countries, in the war for German Unity. . . . Moreover, I still hold that the principle of universal suffrage is a just one, not only in theory but also in practice, provided always that voting be not secret, for secrecy is a quality that is indeed incompatible with the best characteristics of German blood

[3] [T]he support given to (Socialists by workers) rests on the fact that the judgment of the masses is sufficiently stultified and undeveloped to allow them, with the assistance of their own greed, to be continually caught by the rhetoric of clever and ambitious (Socialist) leaders. The counterpoise to this lies in the influence of the educated classes which would be greatly strengthened if voting were public . . . It may be that the greater discretion of the more intelligent classes rests on the material basis of the preservation of their possessions. The other motive, the struggle for gain, is equally justifiable; but a preponderance of those who represent property is more serviceable for the security and development of the state.

[4] Absolutism would be the ideal form of government for a European political structure were not the King and his officials ever as other men are to whom it is not given to reign with superhuman wisdom, insight and justice. The most experienced and well-meaning absolute rulers are subject to human imperfections. . . . Monarchy and the most ideal monarch . . . stand in need of criticism. . . . Criticism can only be exercised through the medium of a free press and parliaments in the modern sense of the term. Both correctives may easily weaken and finally lose their efficacy if they abuse their powers. To avert this is one of the tasks of a conservative policy, which cannot be accomplished without a struggle with parliament and press.

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