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Quotes / Otto von Bismarck

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Bismarck himself

"Not by speeches and votes of the majority are the great questions of time decided — that was the great error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood."
— In the budget commission of the Prussian House of Representatives, 30 September, 1862.

"Courage on the battlefield is commonplace among us, but you not rarely you will find that quite respectable people lack civil courage."
— To Robert von Keudell after the debate in the Prussian Landtag on 17 May, 1864, coining the German term Zivilcourage.

"Gentlemen, let us work quickly! Let us seat Germany, so to speak, into the saddle. It will be able to ride."
— Speech in the legislature of the North German Confederation, 11 March, 1867.

"Nach Canossa gehen wir nicht." ("We will not go to Canossa", referring to Emperor Henry IV having to abase himself before the pope in 1077).
— Speech in the Reichstag, 14 May, 1872, in the opening phase of the Kulturkampf.

"I shall not advise any active involvement in this matter as long as I see no German interest in all of it which would — if you'll pardon the bluntness of the expression — not be worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian musketeer."
— Speech in the Reichstag, 5 December, 1876, referring to the Oriental crisis.

"I do not imagine the negotiation of the peace in such a way that in case of diverging views we shall play the arbiter and say: so shall it be, and the might of the German Empire stands behind it, I rather think of it more modestly, yes — without comparison in other matters I do not hesitate to cite something from common life — more as that of an honest broker who really wants the transaction to be done."
— Speech in the Reichstag, 19 February, 1878, before the Congress of Berlin.

"A good horse dies in its harness."
— In the Reichstag, 4 February, 1881, rejecting the idea of retiring from office.

"We Germans fear God, but nothing else in the world, and the fear of God is what makes us love and foster peace."
— Speech in the Reichstag, 6 February, 1888.

About Bismarck

In the autumn of 1862, amid a situation of acute crisis which they had quite clearly engineered, they put forward the only candidate of the extreme conservative, ultra-royalist and outright absolutist clique for the office of Prussian Prime Minister. This was Otto von Bismarck, of whom the Prussian King had prophesied in 1848 that he was to only be used once the bayonet freely reigned...For the next thirty years he was to fight vehemently and with staggering success on behalf of the groups that lent him support, groups representing the old Prussia and its ruling elites against the forces of social and political progress. But the consequences were to prove completely disastrous in the long run for the majority of Germany's population.
Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire 1871-1918

"He left a nation totally without political education...totally bereft of political will accustomed to expect that the great man at the top would provide their politics for them. And further as a result of his improper exploitation of monarchical sentiment to conceal his own power politics in party battles, it had grown accustomed to submit patiently and fatalistically to whatever was decided for it in the name of monarchical government."
Max Weber, Parliament and Government in the new order in Germany

Bismarck saw politics as struggle. When he talked about 'politics as the art of the possible', he meant that in a limited sense. He never considered compromise a satisfactory outcome. He had to win and destroy the opponents or lose and be destroyed himself...Whoever has power in a normal political system may win a round but must then continue the struggle to reach consensus. That was not Bismarck's way. He set out to 'beat them all' and did. In a political system where principle stood at the centre of political activity, he had none but the naked exercise of his own power and the preservation of royal absolutism on which the power rested. If politics according to Bismarck were the 'art of the possible', but without compromise, what sort of art or craft was it? And to what end?...The Bismarckian assumption that a master player can 'game' the system worked only to a point at which irrational emotions, violence, confusion, incompetence, began to mix themselves up with his plans. What is the purpose of the art of politics if not to serve some cause, to improve the conditions under which people have to live, to make societies, freer, more just and more humane...? Bismarck practised his wizardry to preserve a semi-absolute monarchy and, when it suited him, he would preserve the rights of a narrow, frugal, fiercely reactionary Junker class, who hated all progress, liberalism, Jews, socialists, Catholics, democrats, and bankers. He differed with them only in his ruhtlessness.
Jonathan Steinberg, Bismarck: A Life, page 472-473.

Bismarck, the living human being; Bismarck, the genius-statesman; Bismarck the Iron Chancellor as icon, make up a complex legacy. Patriotic biographers left out the uncomfortable aspects of his actual life and the editors of documents omitted or censored them. A generation of conservative German historians exalted the wisdom, moderation, and vision of the statesman; the public and propagandists exalted the strong man, the essential German. The real Bismarck, violent, intemperate, hypochondriac, and misogynist, only appeared in biographies late in the twentieth century. What the three Bismarck images have in common as phenomena is the absence of the redeeming human virtues: kindness, generosity, compassion, humility, abstinence, patience, liberality, and tolerance. Bismarck the man, Bismarck the statesman, Bismarck the icon embodied none of these virtues.
Jonathan Steinberg, Bismarck: A Life. page 478.

Bismarck had a plan. Bismarck always had a plan.
Extra Credits, Otto von Bismarck.

Works of fiction

Gerolt laughed. "I am told, through our newspapers, that our new chief of Cabinet very much admires the way that you arrest editors but he dares not do the same in Prussia because he says that, unlike you, he is devoted to freedom of speech."
"Mr Bismarck has a nice wit."
"We think so, privately. Also, privately, he is fascinated by this war of yours."
Gore Vidal, Lincoln (An 1862 conversation between Secretary of State Steward and the Prussian minister Friedrich Baron Gerolt).

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