Bismark’s Greatest Error

December 12, 2008

I was taking part in a discussion about the persons that people considered were admirable in history, and someone (not a German but an American, I think) said they admired Bismark because he had brought about the unification of Germany. Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, Count of Bismarck-Schönhausen, Duke of Lauenburg, Prince of Bismarck, nicknamed the Iron Chancellor, did indeed unify Germany, but at what a terrible cost! Because he did it by the exercise of war, and of power, and of dictatorship from above, he caused untold suffering to the ordinary people of that country.

And his actions also paved the way for the imperial expansionist policies that would come later, and which led to the two World Wars of the 20th century.

So while it is true that unification of the country can be seen as a good thing, the way that Bismark did it was the wrong way, and so it must be counted, not as his greatest achievement, but as Bismark’s greatest error. We now know that what he SHOULD have done is the following:

1. Give every man and woman the vote.

2. Institute a High Authority to regulate coal and steel production, thereby creating a “de facto solidarity” among the many small states of Germany.

3. Devolve as much power as possible to the lowest level of government, so that decision-making and policy-making power would be as close as possible to the citizen.

If he had done these things, instead of ruling with a rod of iron and building up powerful armies, the sufferings of Europeans in the 20th century would have been averted.