Reading History: The Bismarck Debate

D.G. Williamson looks at the varied works relating to the 19th-century European statesman.

Despite the current tendency to concentrate on the socio-economic background to German unification, it is impossible to ignore the dominating figure of Bismarck. Few would disagree with Gooch that next to Napoleon I ‘he fills the largest space on the nineteenth-century stage', yet as a principal author of what Disraeli called 'the German Revolution', which was to change the balance of power in Europe and ultimately to lead to two major wars in the first half of the twentieth century, the nature of his achievements is still of immediate importance to us today. Viewed in retrospect from 1918, or still more from 1933 or 1945, the debate on the causes of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the constitutional settlements of 1867 and 1871, the changes of economic policy in 1879 and Bismarck's ceaseless manipulation of the political parties and interest groups take on a direct and sometimes uncomfortable relevance.

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