How to Get a Breakthrough in Ukraine
The Case Against Incrementalism
MAKERS of history from Julius Caesar to Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill have felt an urge to write about themselves, to explain to posterity what they have done and tried to do, to justify the use they have made of their power, to cast the blame on others for what went wrong. Bismarck's apologia stands at the top of the list of political autobiographies, not merely because he is the greatest man who ever wrote a full-length narrative of his public career, and not merely owing to the earth-shaking events it describes, but because its utility as a manual of statesmanship is unsurpassed. It produces an almost overwhelming sense of power. So long as rulers desire guidance on the discharge of their perilous duties, and so long as students seek to unravel the tangled skein of European diplomacy, his volumes are likely to be read. Compared with their dynamic force and their majestic sweep, the lengthy narratives of Guizot and Bülow seem commonplace enough. Is it an exaggeration to describe the Iron Chancellor's political testament as the most authoritative treatise on the art of government since the "Prince" of Machiavelli? As a factual record and interpretation of events it is as open to criticism as any other work of its class. Its unique significance lies not only in the visualization of the greatest figure of the nineteenth century except Napoleon, but in the maxims it enunciates and the warnings it suggests.
Some of the most celebrated books in the world owe their origin to the accident of their authors' fall from power. It is unusual for a superman such as Frederick the Great to compile a large-scale record of his achievements amid the turmoil of the daily task. Clarendon's two masterpieces were the fruits of his earlier and later exile. Napoleon needed the boredom of St. Helena to dictate his fragmentary reminiscences. Émile Ollivier compiled the 16 volumes of "L'Empire Libéral" when the débâcle of 1870 terminated his brief political career. Differing widely in their importance, these and other writings of the same class have a family resemblance in their pose of superiority and injured innocence.
When the most famous and powerful performer on the world stage found himself at the age of 75 in the ranks of the unemployed, he determined to fight his battles over again. "I cannot lie down like a hibernating bear," he exclaimed in the bitterness of his heart. It was no sudden resolve, for when he was contemplating retirement in 1877 he planned to write his memoirs and determined that Lothar Bucher should lend his aid. When the blow fell in the spring of 1890 no time was lost. Accepting a tempting offer from Cotta of 100,000 marks per volume, he summoned his veteran associate of the Foreign Office, who, unlike the crafty Holstein, had remained loyal when the shadows began to fall. Busch and Poschinger coveted the job, but Bucher was clearly the better man. Encouraged not only by his indefatigable collaborator, who resided for long periods at Friedrichsruh and Varzin and sorted out the available materials, but also by his son Herbert, the old warrior dictated fragmentary reminiscences and musings when he felt in the mood, which "the pearl," as his employer called him, arranged in chapters. It was uphill work, for he kept irregular hours and--in his secretary's view--wasted a great deal of time over the newspapers. Since he trusted to memory and possessed few works of reference, the first draft swarmed with errors which it was Bucher's task to rectify by visits to the libraries of Berlin. When Buchlein, as the faithful old scribe was named by Princess Bismarck, passed away in October 1892, the foundations of the massive edifice had been laid. In the following year the first section was set up in type and served as a basis for the revisions which continued till the end.
The circumstances of its composition are reflected in the character of the work. It bears little resemblance to the comprehensive apologias whose authors possessed ample documentary materials and told their tale in orderly sequence from beginning to end. The original title "Erinnerungen und Gedanken" was restored in the critical edition published in 1937 as Volume XV of the "Gesammelte Werke," edited by Gerhard Ritter. The first two volumes, which appeared immediately after his death in 1898 under the auspices of Horst Kohl, the editor of his collected speeches, close with the brief reign of the Emperor Frederick, and are immeasurably superior to the scolding supplement which could not emerge till the Hohenzollern Empire was swept away in 1918. The narrative of his fall, which forms its exclusive theme, was dictated in 1891 when the smart of the wound was fresh, and, like the later performance of Bülow, damages the author at least as much as the ruler whom both of them had served and despised.
William II is far from being Bismarck's only bête noire. Though the picture of his modest old master William I is painted with affectionate gratitude and is essentially true to life, and that of the Crown Prince Frederick is friendlier than was expected, his comments on rivals and enemies, among them the Empress Augusta, Count Harry Arnim and Gortchakoff, are vitiated by the exasperation of Prometheus chained to his rock. His vendettas had always been too violent to be hidden, and the self-portrait would have been unconvincing had the tiger's claws been kept out of sight. The faults of temperament which impair the authority of the book as a contribution to history and compel us to check every verdict by independent evidence enhance its value as a revelation of personality. Here is the whole authentic superman of blood and iron, fighting with the gloves off as he had fought all his life, hating and thundering to the last. In Meinecke's phrase the work is a wood of natural growth, not a well laid out park. No effort is made to cover the whole of the ground, for the main theme is foreign affairs. Domestic issues play a subordinate rôle, and economic problems are almost entirely ignored. Though on the whole he has been fortunate in his biographers, from Lenz and Marcks to Arnold Oskar Meyer and Erich Eyck, none of them--not even Busch--brings the reader so close to his innermost heart as his own dictated record, and none of them leaves such an impression of elemental greatness of brain and will. "Not a work of art," is the verdict of Marcks, "but it is Bismarck."
Political apologias are not history but contributions to history. The least arresting portion of the narrative is the analysis of home affairs, which is largely a running fight with his foes. Such major controversies and achievements of his later years as the nationalization of railways, the tariff of 1879, the duel with the Socialists and the foundation of the Welfare State are described with tantalizing brevity, and their lowly place indicates that foreign affairs dominated his thoughts till the end. The only domestic issue which receives fairly extensive treatment is the Kulturkampf, which is partially explained by the fact that his campaign against the Vatican was primarily a drive against the Poles. The first half of his public life was spent in founding the Reich, the second in combating disruptive elements--and their friends beyond the frontier--which seemed to threaten its cohesion. His methods in the later period were as ruthless as in the former. Political foes became personal foes. Throughout the book there are more broadsides than bouquets. When the failure of the Kulturkampf became obvious he made his peace with Leo XIII and drove his Kultus-Minister Falk like a scapegoat into the wilderness. Few would include magnanimity among the virtues of the founder of the German Empire.
The author skims lightly over his early years, and the narrative becomes dramatic only with his election to the United Landtag of 1847, when he emerged as the spokesman of the extreme Right. It was the era of Frederick William IV, the Hohenzollern Hamlet --more nerves than muscle, it was said--who is always mentioned with political disapproval and personal respect. During the first four years of his public life Bismarck's aim was to preserve the royal authority against the encroachments of the March revolution and the timidity of the ruler himself, not because he believed, like his master, in Divine Right, but because he regarded the dynasty as the core of the national strength. "The unlimited authority of the old Prussian Monarchy was not, and is not, the final word of my convictions," he wrote at the close of his life. "Absolutism primarily demands impartiality, honesty, devotion to duty, energy, and inward humility in the ruler. These may be present, and yet male and female favorites (in the best case the wife), the monarch's own vanity and accessibility to flattery will nevertheless diminish the fruits of his good intentions, since he is not omniscient and cannot have an equal understanding of all branches of his office. My ideal has always been a monarchy so far controlled by an independent national representation, preferably of classes or professions, so that neither Monarch nor Parliament could separately alter the position." Though a Junker by birth and tradition, his political ideology was much more modern than that of his old friend Roon and his neighbors in the Mark.
In the second or Frankfurt period Bismarck's task as Prussian envoy to the Diet was to establish the equality of Prussia with Austria in the Deutscher Bund. A meeting between the aged Metternich, returning to Austria from exile in 1851, and the newly appointed Prussian envoy to the Diet symbolizes the coming shift of power in the second half of the century from Vienna to Berlin. In the emotional reaction against Germany engendered by two world wars there has been a tendency to discover virtues in the Bund which were scarcely perceptible in the exhilarating era of unification. It would have been wiser, it is argued, to continue the Austro-Prussian partnership established after the fall of Napoleon than to unleash a series of wars and to Prussianize Germany. This partial revival of the Grossdeutsch doctrine of Constantine Frantz ignores the hunger for a nation-state which was felt with equal intensity during the same era in Italy and the Balkans. Bismarck's dispatches from Frankfurt, published by himself with some omissions in the later years of his Chancellorship, record his slow conversion to the belief that the Bund was an empty shell which barred the way to nationhood. "I had come to Frankfurt well disposed towards Austria. The insight into Schwarzenberg's policy of avilir puis démolir, which I there obtained by documentary evidence, dispelled my youthful illusions. The Gordian knot was not to be untied by the gentle methods of dual policy, and could only be cut by the sword." In Germany, he declared, there was no room for both. It was equally clear that far-reaching changes were impracticable so long as Frederick William IV sat on the throne, since in his eyes the predominance of the Hapsburgs in the Bund was as axiomatic as the Christian creeds. Part of Bismarck's intellectual equipment for the tasks of diplomacy was his sense of timing. In his own expressive phrase, it is no good putting forward the hands of the clock for it will not go faster at your bidding.
The most notable lesson he learned during his third phase-- in the Embassy at St. Petersburg--was the necessity of covering the Prussian flank in the event of a conflict in central or western Europe. "It was not, and it is not, in our interest to stand in the way of Russia turning her surplus forces towards the East. In our position we ought to rejoice whenever we find Powers in whom we encounter no sort of competition of political interests, as in this case, so far, with us and Russia. With France we shall never have peace, with Russia never the necessity for war, unless Liberal stupidities or dynastic blunders spoil the situation."
When Bismarck was called to the helm by King William in 1862 at the age of 47 his program was ready: to challenge the status quo in central Europe, if necessary at the price of war with the Hapsburg Empire and its friends in the Bund; to create a nation-state under the Hohenzollerns as Cavour had just accomplished for the House of Savoy; to prepare for all eventualities by strengthening the Army; to avoid trouble with Russia by tolerating her plans in the Balkans. England hardly came into the picture, for her ambitions were oversea. The pregnant chapter entitled "Retrospect of Prussian Policy" is a dirge on lost opportunities. Frederick the Great left behind him a rich inheritance and a belief in Prussian policy and power. "Since his death our policy had either lacked definite aims or chosen or pursued them unskilfully." In the words of Queen Luise, Prussia had gone to sleep on the laurels of her greatest king. At last, just a century after the close of the Seven Years War, a man was found to stretch the bow of Ulysses. "Real responsibility in high politics can only be undertaken by a single directing Minister, not by numerous boards with majority voting." The King's assent to a spirited program was secured during a conversation in the train between Jüterbog and Berlin after the "blood and iron" speech in the Budget Commission had echoed round the globe. Bismarck's hour was about to strike with the synchronization of a resolute monarch on the throne, his old friend Roon at the War Office, and Moltke, the "battle-thinker," waiting in the wings.
The narrative of the wars of unification forms the kernel of the book. Before 1866, we are assured, Prussia could claim the title of a Great Power only cum grano salis. Why should such humiliation continue when the balance of forces had changed? "To reach my goal--North Germany under Prussian leadership," he informed a French journalist on the eve of the struggle, "I would face anything, exile, even the scaffold." The stricken field of Königgrätz shattered the Bund, created a North German Confederation under Prussian leadership, and pointed towards a united Reich. He had staked his physical as well as his political survival on a throw of the iron dice, for defeat would have involved his suicide. A crucial factor was Francis Joseph's decision for dynastic reasons to entrust the command in Bohemia, where victory was problematical, to Benedek, who was ignorant of the terrain, while the command in Italy, where victory was reasonably certain, was given to the Archduke Charles.
If luck aided the Prussian cause on the battlefield, it was due to Bismarck alone that the fruits of victory could be gathered in. The chapter entitled "Nikolsburg" describes his desperate struggle for a generous peace. Difficult though he had found it to persuade his master to fight Austria for the leadership of Germany, it proved still harder to hold him back when the fumes of victory mounted to his head. For three days he wrestled with the old monarch, and so painful was the scene that the man of iron nerve left the room and burst into a paroxysm of tears. The ruler's opposition was only overcome with the aid of the Crown Prince, and he grudgingly consented to what he denounced as a disgraceful peace. Bismarck's finest hour was not the proclamation of the Empire in the Galérie des Glaces, but his decision not to turn a defeated rival into an irreconcilable foe. No annexations, no triumphal parade through the streets of Vienna, no crushing indemnity! Austria had been expelled from the Bund. The paralyzing dualism was over. "All we wanted was a free hand in Germany." Why should he encourage the Hapsburgs to look towards Paris or St. Petersburg by imposing needless humiliations? Austria's feelings were further spared by his refusal to punish her South German allies by merging them in Prussia as urged by the fiery young Treitschke, "the Bismarck of the Chair." Thirteen years later his foresight was vindicated by the conclusion of the Dual Alliance.
In a striking little book, "Bismarcks Friedensschlüsse," Johannes Haller, best known as the biographer of Eulenburg, pronounces the Treaty of Prague not only the wisest of his settlements but as the perfect model for statesmen. Magnanimity played no part in it for the Chancellor was the least sentimental of men; his moderation was the result of the coolest calculation. "It was already quite clear to me that we should have to defend the conquests of the campaign in future wars. I did not doubt that a Franco-German war must take place before a United Germany could be achieved." His next task was to postpone the conflict till Germany became strong enough to meet the challenge. Among other steps was the inclusion of adult male suffrage in the constitution for the new North German Confederation. "Put the German people in the saddle and they will show they can ride," he exclaimed. The autobiography confesses that it was a war measure designed to deter foreign monarchs from sticking their fingers into the German pie.
If the "Nikolsburg" chapter exhibits the master of statecraft, the story of the Ems telegram reveals the cunning of the fox. France, he declares with truth, had no title to interfere with Spain's choice of a Hohenzollern for the vacant throne. "Politically I was tolerably indifferent to the whole question." That she would object to a Francophil Hohenzollern he could not anticipate. As a matter of fact she did not really object, for Spain in her irrevocable decline could never again be a danger, and the Emperor, jealous of the growing might of Prussia since 1866, seized the pretext to unleash a war. This version sounded plausible till the diaries of King Carol of Rumania and other publications revealed that he had dispatched a secret agent to Madrid to encourage the project, the probable consequences of which he foresaw and designed. "A trap for Napoleon," commented Lothar Bucher, who knew the truth. Whether the author was deliberately lying or his usually tenacious memory had failed is anybody's guess.
After securing the withdrawal of the Hohenzollern candidature Napoleon III demanded a promise that it would never be renewed, thereby presenting his antagonist with the winning card. Abeken's report of the interview between Benedetti, the French Ambassador, and the King at Ems reached the Chancellor when Roon and Moltke were his guests at dinner, and the narrative of the "editing" of the telegram forms the most thrilling episode in the book. "Now it has a different ring," commented Moltke; "it sounded like a parley; now it is like a flourish in answer to a challenge." No alteration of the text had been made, but skilful abbreviation had changed its tone. Bismarck's action is defended by Marcks as a legitimate reply to a challenge which ought never to have been made, but foreign opinion has almost unanimously condemned it as a discreditable trick. He was proud of his handiwork, which was promptly published and produced the desired result of a French declaration of war. In a celebrated passage he describes the change of mood from gloom to gaiety produced on his guests. They knew that the Prussian army was ready and that the South German states would help; and the Chancellor had arranged that France should find no allies. Austria's defeat was too recent for her to burn her fingers again, and Russia had been squared by encouraging her to denounce the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris. England, connected with Germany by close dynastic ties, had no reason to keep Napoleon III on his throne. Italy had received Venetia from her Prussian ally in 1866, and a Franco-German war would ensure the evacuation of Rome by the French garrison and the end of the temporal power of the Pope. Diplomatically the road was clear, and the military conflict proceeded according to plan. The chapter on Versailles is disappointing, with growls at the Generals for conspiring to exclude the Chancellor from military decisions, at his master for reluctance to accept the Imperial title, and at "the royal ladies" for striving to influence their husbands to be lenient to France.
When the nation-state was founded it had to be maintained. Wir sind satt, declared the master-builder; but other Powers were not, and he had to reckon with the resentments of the states which had felt his heavy hand. His system of insurance was as consummate an achievement as the creation of the Reich. His task would have been easier had not his desire to content himself with Alsace been overruled by his master and the Generals on the ground that a portion of Lorraine was essential to national defense. Here was his one major error as a diplomatist. "I do not want too many Frenchmen in my house," he remarked, and French-speaking Lorraine was to prove as indigestible as Polish Prussia. It is arguable that French sentiment might gradually have been reconciled to the loss of Alsace, all the more since she was allowed to retain Belfort; but the Chancellor realized that the annexation of Lorraine inflicted a wound too deep to heal. His excuse is that he had stood up to his master and the Generals in 1866 and could not face an even sterner ordeal. Moreover the danger of France finding an ally, he believed, would be less under a Republic than under a Catholic Monarchy which might perhaps attract the support of the Austrian Emperor and count on the sympathy of the Vatican, the incurable hostility of which to the new Protestant Empire is repeatedly proclaimed. Accordingly he endeavored to distract the gaze of Frenchmen from "the gap in the Vosges" by encouraging them to seek compensation in a colonial empire.
Since France could never launch another attack without an ally she had to be kept in quarantine, which was only possible if no other Great Power needed her help. The rumor that Bismarck was ready to fall on her in 1875 when she was beginning to recover her breath is angrily dismissed as a lie invented by Gortchakoff, who resented German hegemony in Europe. The soldiers, it is true, favored a preventive war, and the Chancellor himself was momentarily alarmed by certain military measures beyond the Rhine, but neither he nor his master had the slightest intention to draw the German sword. With England there would be no difficulty, for she did not make alliances and Bismarck craved neither colonies nor a fleet. The new Kingdom of Italy, weak as it was, had no reason to quarrel with Berlin. Austria, smarting under the humiliation of 1866, required watching, but her rivalry with Russia in the Near East placed a brake on her ambitions in Central Europe. For the remainder of his official life the Chancellor's chief anxiety was to prevent Russia and Austria flying at each other's throats. When Alexander II inquired what Germany would do in the event of an Austro-Russian conflict, he was informed that it was Germany's interest that neither combatant should be so weakened as to endanger its status as a Great Power: in other words, he refused a promise of neutrality. This was not enough for the Tsar, and Bismarck's detached attitude as "honest broker" at and after the Congress of Berlin increased his resentment. So menacing indeed was his language that in 1879 the Chancellor found Austria willing to make the defensive alliance of which he had dreamed. At last the feud between Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs which began with the seizure of Silesia in 1740 was closed. Andrassy's refusal to extend the promise of mutual assistance to cover an attack by France was a disappointment though hardly a surprise. The Dual Alliance was transformed into the Triple Alliance in 1882 by the adhesion of Italy who dreaded a clash with France over African colonies.
Confronted with an Austro-German bastion stretching from the Baltic to the Adriatic, the Tsar changed his tune, and in 1881 Bismarck's loftiest aim was realized in the Three Emperors League which was renewed in 1884 for a further three years. When it broke down in 1887 over Austro-Russian friction about Bulgaria the old chess-player concluded a secret treaty of neutrality with Russia for three years. Nothing scared him except "the nightmare of coalitions," and it was an axiom of his diplomacy to have only one potential enemy at a time. In these delicate manœuvres, on which the security first of Prussia and then of the Reich depended, he was a virtuoso. "In Egypt I am English," he declared; "in Bulgaria I am Russian." The Balkans were "not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier." So anxious was he to avert a collision with Russia that he would not grudge her Constantinople, which had been her dream ever since Catherine the Great. That the first symptoms of a Franco-Russian rapprochement were already visible on the eve of his fall is true enough, but they materialized only when his Reinsurance Treaty of 1887 was scrapped. When the Franco-Russian alliance was announced in 1895 he fired a broadside at the Emperor and his advisers by revealing the pact of 1887 and its lapse on the morrow of his fall. His death in 1898, the year of the first Navy Law, spared him the grief of witnessing the estrangement of England which paved the way to the Triple Entente.
The lessons of Bismarck's political testament and unique career fall into two classes: those which concern statesmen of all times, and those specifically addressed to his own countrymen. The most important in the first category is enshrined in his celebrated aphorism: "Politics are the art of the possible," by which he meant the meticulous adjustment of ends to means. Qui trop embrasse mal étreint. Though nothing appears so obvious as the need for horse sense on the stony paths of haute politique, no maxim has proved more difficult to apply by those who scale the giddy summits of power. The difference between practicable aims and Caesarenwahnsin was sharply illustrated by the careers of Frederick the Great and Napoleon. The former staked his fortunes on the seizure of Silesia, which events were to prove within his capacity to accomplish and retain. Though he cherished and fulfilled other territorial ambitions, he never dreamed of fighting for them. Napoleon, on the other hand, intoxicated by his early victories in Italy, followed his delusive star and ended at St. Helena. The contrasted experiences of Bismarck and Hitler tell a similar tale. The former set out with a bold but limited resolve and when he reached his goal he sheathed the sword. It was not a case of the Prussian eagle borrowing the silky plumes of a dove, but a clear-eyed perception that there were limits to the strength of the Reich. Preventive wars he repudiated on the ground that no mortal could read the cards of Providence. The outstanding figure of the era of nationalism was neither an imperialist, for he never desired to impose German rule on alien races, nor a Pan-German, since he never aspired to bring all Germans into one fold. So long as he remained at the helm it could not be seriously argued that the new Reich had misused its strength. Hitler, on the other hand, neurotic, inexperienced, and trusting to his intuitions, was spurred forward by ambition as insatiable as that of Napoleon, and even before his appointment as Chancellor he confided to Rauschning his fantastic dreams. Like Napoleon he never--in Byron's words--learned "that tempted fate will leave the loftiest star."
From this general principle of limiting risks stemmed a salutary exhortation to his countrymen, whose recurring temptation, located at the center of the European chessboard without natural frontiers, has been to hit out in all directions. During the medieval Kaiserzeit it was an urge to the south, in the twentieth century the call of East and West. A weak and divided Germany has always been a tempting bait to greedy neighbors, a united and powerful Germany a potential threat. Though Bismarck solemnly adjured her rulers to avoid the simultaneous estrangement of East and West, the warning was in vain. In that well-organized state, it has been remarked, there was anarchy at the top. While Tirpitz, bent on challenging Britain's naval predominance, urged the covering of the German flank through an understanding with Russia, Bethmann advocated friendly relations with England as a condition of forward moves in the Middle East. Both policies had their advantages and their risks, and a choice should have been made between them, but there was no Bismarck to make it. Had he revisited the scenes of his triumphs in the opening decade of the twentieth century, he would have been appalled by the transformation of a friendly England and a neutral Russia into potential foes. Had he returned for a second time at the close of the second decade, he would have pointed in grief and anger to the result of a policy of uninsurable risks. Like the Emperor Augustus after the defeat of Varus in the battle of the Teutoburger Wald, he might have murmured: "Give me back my legions."
Statesmen can learn much of their trade in Bismarck's school but not the whole. Raison d'état is a polite name for an ugly thing--the divorce of politics from morals. This gospel of anarchy, formulated though not invented by Machiavelli, has been practised, if not always professed, by men of all races, all creeds, by good and bad alike. "If I see my opportunity," exclaimed Frederick the Great when the sudden death of the Emperor Charles VI opened the road to Breslau, "shall I not take it?" Napoleon dismissed as idéologues men who, as he believed, refused to look facts in the face. In the latter half of the nineteenth century Cavour and Bismarck played the familiar game with complete lack of moral scruple and with consummate skill. "If we did for ourselves what we do for our country," remarked the maker of United Italy, "what rascals we should be." Among the most successful of his stratagems was the dispatch of a beautiful countess to win the support of Napoleon III in expelling the Austrians from Lombardy. Though Bismarck stressed the importance of imponderabilia, when the right hour struck he acted and let the world say what it liked. It is an error to regard Prussia as more of an aggressor than Piedmont and Bismarck as morally inferior to Cavour. It was not till the shattering experience of the First World War revealed the insufficiency of the sovereign state in an increasingly interdependent world that Woodrow Wilson, General Smuts, Lord Cecil and other practical idealists launched a crusade for a system which seemed to promise less tragic results.
A second weakness in Bismarckian statesmanship was his neglect to train his countrymen for self-government. His grant of adult male suffrage suggested confidence in their wisdom and patriotism; but the Reichstag proved--and was intended to prove--little more than a fig-leaf, to use Liebknecht's drastic expression, to cover the nakedness of autocracy. That the power of the purse might have been put to better use is true enough, but the core of the constitution was the retention of final decisions in non-elective hands. A further bar to the democratization of Germany was the maintenance of the Three Class voting system invented by Frederick William IV for Prussia, which contained two-thirds of the population of the Reich and in which the rapidly growing army of urban workers did not count. So obsessed was Bismarck by the principle of undivided responsibility that, though he was prepared to admit to office Bennigsen, the trusty leader of the National Liberals, he declined the request to bring two of his Parliamentary colleagues with him, and the project of broadening the basis of government was dropped. When the Hohenzollern Empire fell with a crash in 1918 the problems of Weimar Germany had to be faced by amateurs.
It was not solely the fault of the Chancellor, for there was little demand for parliamentary government except among the Socialists and the Radicals. Collaboration worked well enough in South Germany, but the Emperor, the army chief, the Junkers and the great industrialists of the Rhineland objected to entrusting the proletariat with a substantial share of power. Conservative historians such as Hans Delbrück and Adalbert Wahl regarded the Bismarckian Constitution as a model blending of popular representation with an irremovable executive, thus ensuring continuity in foreign policy and national defense. Liberal scholars, on the other hand, such as Ziekursch and Erich Eyck, censure him for ignoring the world-wide demand for parliamentary government. He could not live forever, and no other superman was in sight. Officials nominated or dominated by the ruler are as liable to make mistakes as Ministers responsible to Parliament.
Bismarck bequeathed to his grateful countrymen a superb inheritance: a nation-state, a Triple Alliance to ensure its safety, a federal constitution which satisfied the rulers of the component states, the beginnings of social security, colonial territory, and a prestige unknown since the Emperor Barbarossa. Almost all these assets were thrown away by the shortsighted successors who forgot that politics are the art of the possible. It is one of the ironies of history that his most enduring monument should be a book which would never have been written but for the accident of his dismissal. The action of a young ruler, so hotly resented by his victim, unwittingly set the seal on his immeasurable renown.
Bismarck spoke disdainfully of "Professor Gladstone," but are the practitioners of Realpolitik as much wiser as they believe? Their weakness is to think too much of immediate returns and too little of the long-range results of their hammer strokes. Vast and splendid as was his intellect, he could see nothing and imagine nothing beyond the sovereign state pursuing exclusively its own supposed interests. Europe was only a geographical expression. The vision of an organized world, an international order resting on a willing partnership of self-governing national units, was beyond his ken. The presupposition of all profitable political and economic planning is a firm grasp of the unity of civilization. To the shaping of the human spirit for that supreme adventure of the human spirit he contributed nothing. He labored exclusively for his countrymen--first for Prussia and later for a Prussianized Reich--and was satisfied with their applause. In a word, he dates, for we have learned by bitter experience that nationalism is not enough. Yet the twentieth century will have little right to throw stones at the nineteenth until all the Great Powers begin to operate a system more conducive to human welfare than that which the Iron Chancellor practised and preached.