Introduction to Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman
Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman by A.J.P. Taylor is a book that I probably wouldn’t have read had two things not happened. The first is that my dad prodded me to read it. His book recommendations, such as Lee’s Lieutenants and The Israel Lobby, are usually excellent, so I figured I should probably read it at some point. The second catalyst was the book I read before Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman, Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg.
In that book, Goldberg brings up Otto von Bismarck quite frequently as an example of liberalism‘s drift towards progressivism and the fascism so closely intertwined with it. Of course, Bismarck came a few decades before Mussolini’s invention of fascism, but still many of the basic ideas were there. After reading Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman, I have conflicting views as to whether Goldberg was right in that or not. Read the rest of the review to find out why!
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Summary of Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman
Few men have single-handedly shaped global politics in the same way that Otto von Bismarck did. After coming of age in Prussia as it charted its path towards greatness, Bismarck leveraged his friendship with William I and his absurdly effective ability to manipulate those around him to ascend to the Chancellorship after a lackluster previous career.
From there, he was able to transform Europe. He defeated radicals in Germany, broke down the barriers between the principalities of the old Holy Roman Empire, and led Prussia to its domination of Central Europe.
Additionally, Bismarck was able to lead Germany to victory against both Austria and France while still keeping friendly terms with those nations after Germany’s respective wars with them.
He united the German states into a united German Empire, successfully preserved Germany’s strong position on the world stage, created and destroyed alliances as he saw fit, and managed to keep Germany out of any disastrous situations for his decades-long career as Chancellor.
Furthermore, Bismarck waged a successful “kulturkampf,” or culture war, of the type that America is now fighting. Although he did support welfare policies, such as one that resembles our Social Security system, he also allowed industry to flourish and develop at a rapid pace in Germany, turning it into an industrial behemoth.
Despite his many flaws, such as his tendency to resort to emotion, retreat to his estate at crucial moments, or lash out at everyone close to him, Bismarck was still a remarkably powerful and successful politician that achieved feats on an order of magnitude that few others have. In Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman, Taylor thoroughly explains how Bismarck was able to do so. It’s a book that is well worth the read.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman. Although I don’t really read too frequently about the politics of other nations, I still thought it was interesting and thought-provoking.
More importantly, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman is full of important lessons for every aspiring politician in the same way that The Israel Lobby is a book that every aspiring lobbyist should read. Even if one disagrees with the ends discussed in the book, the means are well-worth emulating or, at least, understanding.
Bismarck was a master of manipulation. Despite its being written well after his passing, it is as if he had every single passage of 48 Laws of Power imprinted into his brain. Throughout reading about his life, I was impressed by how Bismarck was able to shape events to his prejudices and control others so that they’d also conform to his vision for events and how things should turn out. That ability is what let him achieve so much, so there is a lot to learn from it.
As a history, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman is somewhat lacking. Its brevity means that much is left out and the details presented are generally only presented at a high level so that the reader can understand how Bismarck shaped the world around him and created Germany. But, as a book about a politician, it is an excellent handbook. Anyone who wants to shape the world or be a successful politician needs to read it; Bismarck’s “realpolitik” is an ideology and tactic that more of our politicians need to learn.
Finally, one word in the title, “statesman” is crucial to this book. Despite my having called Bismarck a “politician” for simplicity’s sake throughout this review, he really was a statesman. That’s why, despite his proclivity for lying, his quotation on lying politicians is well worth listening too. He achieved greatness because he knew what he was talking about, and as such is a statesman that we should try to understand, if not always emulate.
Finally coming back to the introduction, I’m still conflicted as to whether Goldberg’s assertion about Bismarck was really a precursor to fascism. On one hand, his ruthless realpolitik and manipulative statements and personality are certainly reminiscent of some fascists. Additionally, his support for social welfare is something that progressives, fascists and Bismarck all had in common. However, he was usually opposed to war, hated socialism, supported capitalism rather than corporatism (generally), and wasn’t interested in conquest once he had built Germany. Fascists, on the other hand, are.
So, I see Goldberg’s point, but disagree more than I agree.
In any case, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman is a book that you need to read. It will teach you how to influence others and you’ll get to learn more about the life of one of history’s greatest statesmen.
By: Gen Z Conservative