Review – Bismarck – Man of iron
FEW STATESMEN in modern history have had a more profound impact on European politics than the founder of the German nation state, Otto von Bismarck. As German chancellor between 1871 and 1890 Bismarck established the previously fragmented German Empire as the dominant economic and political power on the European continent.
In the field of domestic politics he was far less cohesive: by persecuting the socialists and the Catholic Centre Party in the 1870s and 1880s he left a legacy of bitterness among those he sought to destroy. Loathed by the political left and venerated by conservatives, Bismarck has remained a controversial and divisive historical figure ever since.
Jonathan SteinbergaE™s new biography of the Iron Chancellor aE" the first to appear in more than 20 years aE" is set to renew the controversy over Bismarck and his political legacies. As Steinberg makes clear from the start, he finds the subject of his well-written book both repulsive and fascinating aE" a judgment shared by many of BismarckaE™s contemporaries.
Unlike BismarckaE™s previous biographers, Steinberg is less concerned with the historical events and social structures that shaped his subjectaE™s life than with how a person as unpleasant as Bismarck came to dominate German politics more totally than anyone before or since Hitler.
Born in 1815, the year the Congress of Vienna reordered the war-torn continent after the fall of Napoleon, Bismarck was in many ways an unlikely candidate to play a prominent role in international politics. A rural aristocrat with a reputation for outrageously undiplomatic statements, reactionary views and a dissolute lifestyle, he nonetheless possessed several talents that marked him out, combining an enormous self-confidence with a rare rhetorical skill that even his bitterest opponents had to acknowledge. But his genius had a darker side, too: a deep-rooted urge to dominate his fellow human beings at any cost and a ruthless determination to achieve his ambitious political objectives.
When, for example, in June 1862, Bismarck visited London he astonished his listeners at a reception also attended by the Austrian ambassador and the future British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli with a blunt statement outlining his plans for EuropeaE™s future: aEoeAs soon as the army has been brought into such a condition as to inspire respect I shall seize the first best pretext to declare war against Austria, dissolve the German Diet, subdue the minor states and give national unity to Germany under Prussian leadership.aE¯ Disraeli was taken aback by such an impudent statement and warned the Austrian ambassador: aEoeTake care of that man; he means what he says.aE¯
Read More at Man of iron – The Irish Times – Sat, Mar 19, 2011.Google+