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Otto Von Bismarck And His Policies Essay

Otto Von Bismarck And His Policies- Essay, Research Paper Otto von Bismarck and his Policies- Otto von Bismarck or Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince von Bismarck,

Otto Von Bismarck And His Policies- Essay, Research Paper

Otto von Bismarck and his Policies-

Otto von Bismarck or Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince von Bismarck,

Count von Bismarck-Sch nhausen, Duke von Lauenburg–was a Prussian

statesman who in 1871 founded the German Empire and served as its

first chancellor for 19 years. Once the empire was established, he

actively and skillfully pursued pacific policies in foreign affairs,

succeeding in preserving the peace in Europe for about two decades.

But in domestic policies his patrimony was less benign, for he failed

to rise above the authoritarian proclivities of the landed squirearchy

to which he was born (Britannica, 1997).

Foreign policy

Until his resignation in 1890, Bismarck had a relatively free

hand in conduct of foreign policy. After three successful wars, he saw

his task as promoting peace and gaining time so that the powerful

German Empire would come to be accepted as natural. Bismarck’s two

areas of concern were the Balkans, where the disintegration of the

Turkish empire could easily lead to conflict between the Habsburg

monarchy and Russia, and France, where the desire to avenge the defeat

at Sedan was strong. In each area a general European conflagration

could flare up and involve Germany. In 1873 he embraced a pacific

foreign policy when he negotiated the Dreikaiserbund (Three Emperors’

League) with Russia and Austria-Hungary. But the alliance did not

survive the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. When the Austrians and British

threatened war over a Carthaginian peace imposed on Turkey by the

Russian victors, Bismarck called for a peace congress in Berlin. The

German chancellor succeeded in getting the Russians to moderate their

gains, and peace was preserved.

But a European conflagration had barely been averted. Soon

after the conference, Bismarck negotiated a defensive alliance with

Austria-Hungary, which remained in effect through World War I.

Although in the mid-1860s he had rejected such an alliance as harmful,

he now considered it advantageous. Because he feared that the

dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy would lead to Russian expansion

into central Europe, he sought the alliance to gain leverage in

Vienna. He steadfastly used it to prevent a war in the Balkans. In

addition, he did not want seven million Austro-German Catholics

seeking admission to the empire.

Having a solid ally, Bismarck demonstrated his virtuosity by

negotiating a revived Dreikaiserbund in 1881. He now had influence in

St. Petersburg as well as in Vienna to prevent a Balkan war. In 1882,

Italy, fearing French hostility, joined the Dual Alliance, making it

into the Triple Alliance. On the surface Bismarck had triumphed.

France had no allies for a war of revenge, and, for the moment, a

Balkan war seemed unlikely.

But the ephemeral nature of all these alliances soon became

apparent. A crisis in Bulgaria inflamed Russo-Austrian relations,

leading to a breakup the revived league. Once again a war was avoided

with Bismarck’s intervention, but his efforts could not reconstitute

the league. He then negotiated a separate secret treaty with Russia,

while maintaining the 1879 accord with Austria-Hungary.

Between 1870 and 1890 Bismarck earned the respect of European

leaders for his earnest efforts in behalf of peace. Apart from a few

colonial acquisitions in the mid-1880s, Germany had acted as a satiate

power. All of Bismarck’s considerable tactical skills had been

successful in creating a powerful German Empire in his first decade in

power. For the next two decades these same skills maintained the

peace.

Domestic Policy

From the defeat of Austria in 1866 until 1878 Bismarck was

allied primarily with the National Liberals. Together they created a

civil and criminal code for the new empire and accomplished Germany’s

adoption of the gold standard and move toward free trade. Just as they

had earlier written off Bismarck as an archconservative, liberals now

viewed him as a comrade–a man who had rejected his conservative

roots. Many conservative leaders agreed with this assessment. Bismarck

had cashiered kings, gone to war against conservative regimes, and

adopted policies that promoted rapid industrialization. Their fears

were further enhanced when he joined liberals in a campaign against

political Catholicism (Kulturkampf) in 1873.

Bismarck had not counted on the emergence of new parties such

as the Catholic Centre or the Social Democrats, both of whom began

participating in imperial and Prussian elections in the early 1870s.

Along with the left liberal Progressive Party, he labeled them all

enemies of the empire (Reichsfeinde). Each in its own way rejected his

vision of a united Germany. The Progressives found the empire too

conservative and its elite essentially feudal; the socialists

questioned its capitalist character; and for the Centre the empire was

Protestant and too centralized.

Bismarck’s aim was clearly to destroy the Catholic Centre

Party. He and the liberals feared the appeal of a clerical party to

the one-third of Germans who professed Roman Catholicism. In Prussia

the minister of public worship and education, Adalbert Falk, with

Bismarck’s blessing, introduced a series of bills establishing civil

marriage, limiting the movement of the clergy, and dissolving

religious orders. All church appointments were to be approved by the

state. Clerical civil servants were purged from the Prussian

administration. Hundreds of parishes and several bishoprics were left

without incumbents.

The Kulturkampf failed to achieve its goals and, if anything,

convinced the Catholic minority that their fear of persecution was

real. Bismark gradually relented in his campaign, especially after the

death of the activist pope, Pius IX, in 1878. But he never relented in

his hatred for the Centre leader, Ludwig Windthorst, a Hanoverian who

had earlier experienced Bismarck’s methods in the annexation of his

kingdom. Bismarck’s speeches continued to be barbed with

anticlericalism until his fall in 1890.

In 1878-79 Bismarck initiated a significant change in economic

policy, which coincided with his new alliance with the conservative

parties at the expense of the liberals. Tariffs were introduced on

iron as well as on major grains. The new policy was a result of the

“great depression” that had swept Europe and the United States in the

mid-1870s. Bismarck’s shift had serious political implications: it

signified his opposition to any further evolution in the direction of

political democracy. The liberal ministers Falk and Rudolph von

Delbr ck resigned, and Robert von Puttkamer became minister of public

worship and education in 1879 and minister of interior in 1881. The

grain tariffs provided the Junker estate owners of Prussia, who

constituted the main opposition to political reform, subventions that

isolated them somewhat from the world market. From 1879 onward, the

landed elite, major industrialists, the military, and higher civil

servants formed an alliance to forestall the rise of social democracy.

Ever since the Commune of Paris of 1871, Bismarck had

developed an uncompromising hatred for socialists and anarchists. His

attacks on them were egregious. At one point he wrote, “They are this

country’s rats and should be exterminated.” Another time he called

them “a host of enemies bent on pillage and murder.” He thus

introduced a crude and unsavory discourse into everyday German

politics that was to be long-lived. Although only two socialists sat

in the Reichstag in 1871, their number and support grew with each

election, until they had 35 seats in 1890. As early as 1876 Bismarck

had sought legislation to outlaw the party but failed to get a

majority. After two assassination attempts against William I he

prorogued Parliament and ran a campaign in which the socialists (quite

unjustly) were blamed for the failed efforts to kill the emperor. The

conservative parties triumphed and the Social Democratic Party was

banned in 1878. The ban was renewed until 1890.

The second part of Bismarck’s strategy to destroy social

democracy was the introduction of social legislation to woo the

workers away from political radicalism. During the 1880s, accident and

old-age insurance as well as a form of socialized medicine were

introduced and implemented by the government. But Bismarck’s

two-pronged strategy to win the workers for the conservative regime

did not succeed. Support for the Social Democrats increased with each

election. The election of 1890 was a disaster for Bismarck. The

Centre, the Social Democrats, and the Progressives, the parties that

he had termed enemies of the empire, gained more than half of the

seats in the new Reichstag. The new young emperor William II (b. 1859;

emperor and king of Prussia from 1888 to 1918) did not want to begin

his reign with a bloodbath or a coup d’ tat by the state. Seventy-five

years old in 1890, Bismarck resigned with a sense of having failed.

The antisocialist law was not revived, and the new government set out

to win the workers to the regime. Bismarck retired to his estate an

embittered man. That he was now a prince and extremely wealthy did not

ease his retirement. For the next eight years (he died July 30, 1898)

he issued sharp critiques of his successors. Elected to the Reichstag,

he chose not to take his seat. He wrote his memoirs, which became

best-sellers. To some extent he orchestrated the Bismarck legend that

was to dominate German historical writing for the next half century.

Assessment

Bismarck was a towering figure who put his stamp on his age,

as Luther and Metternich had done earlier (Britannica, 1997). When

Bismarck became prime minister of Prussia in 1862, the kingdom was

universally considered the weakest of the five European powers. Less

than nine years later Prussia had been victorious in three wars, and a

unified German Empire had emerged in the heart of Europe, arousing

envy and fear among its rivals. When Bismarck left office in 1890,

after 28 years as prime minister of Prussia and 19 as chancellor of

the German Empire, the map of Europe had been changed beyond measure.

The European centre, characterized by a weak conglomeration of small

and medium-sized states for centuries, was now home to the foremost

military and industrial power on the Continent.

Bismarck’s legacy to the next generation, however, was a mixed

one. In foreign affairs his skill had led to 20 years of peace in

Europe, which had gained him a deserved reputation for moderation and

a sense of limits. Bismarck’s greatest achievement, the German Empire,

only survived him by 20 years. Although he had united Germany in one

sense, he had failed to create an internally unified people. In

domestic affairs–as in foreign policy–he sought to freeze the status

quo after 1871. His empire was designed to be conservative. Thus he

opposed the Catholic Centre in the 1870s and the socialists in the

1880s because both constituted unforeseen threats to his authoritarian

creation. He also introduced a vicious rhetoric into German politics

that forestalled a sense of common destiny. While German industry

developed rapidly during his decades in power, he would allow no

evolution in the political system toward greater participation. In

this sense, Bismarck was a last representative of the world of the

ancient r gime and cabinet diplomacy.

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