Otto von Bismarck quotes

Otto von Bismarck photo
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Otto von Bismarck

Birthdate: 1. April 1815
Date of death: 30. July 1898

Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck and Duke of Lauenburg , known as Otto von Bismarck , was a conservative Prussian statesman who dominated German and European affairs from the 1860s until 1890 and was the first Chancellor of the German Empire between 1871 and 1890.

In 1862, King Wilhelm I appointed Bismarck as Minister President of Prussia, a position he would hold until 1890, with the exception of a short break in 1873. He provoked three short, decisive wars against Denmark, Austria, and France. Following the victory against Austria, he abolished the supranational German Confederation and instead formed the North German Confederation as the first German national state in 1867, leading it as Federal Chancellor. This aligned the smaller North German states behind Prussia. Later receiving the support of the independent South German states in the Confederation's defeat of France, he formed the German Empire in 1871, unifying Germany with himself as Imperial Chancellor, while retaining control of Prussia at the same time. The new German nation excluded Austria, which had been Prussia's main opponent for predominance among the German states.

With that accomplished by 1871, he skillfully used balance of power diplomacy to maintain Germany's position in a Europe which, despite many disputes and war scares, remained at peace. For historian Eric Hobsbawm, it was Bismarck who "remained undisputed world champion at the game of multilateral diplomatic chess for almost twenty years after 1871, [and] devoted himself exclusively, and successfully, to maintaining peace between the powers". However, his annexation of Alsace-Lorraine gave new fuel to French nationalism and promoted Germanophobia in France. This helped set the stage for the First World War.

Bismarck's diplomacy of realpolitik and powerful rule at home gained him the nickname the "Iron Chancellor". German unification and its rapid economic growth was the foundation to his foreign policy. He disliked colonialism but reluctantly built an overseas empire when it was demanded by both elite and mass opinion. Juggling a very complex interlocking series of conferences, negotiations and alliances, he used his diplomatic skills to maintain Germany's position and used the balance of power to keep Europe at peace in the 1870s and 1880s.

A master of complex politics at home, Bismarck created the first welfare state in the modern world, with the goal of gaining working class support that might otherwise go to his Socialist enemies. In the 1870s, he allied himself with the Liberals and fought the Catholic Church in what was called the Kulturkampf . He lost that battle as the Catholics responded by forming a powerful Centre party and using universal male suffrage to gain a bloc of seats. Bismarck then reversed himself, ended the Kulturkampf, broke with the Liberals, imposed protective tariffs, and formed a political alliance with the Centre Party to fight the Socialists. A devout Lutheran, he was loyal to his king, who argued with Bismarck but in the end supported him against the advice of his wife and his heir. While the Reichstag, Germany's parliament, was elected by universal male suffrage, it did not have much control of government policy. Bismarck distrusted democracy and ruled through a strong, well-trained bureaucracy with power in the hands of a traditional Junker elite that consisted of the landed nobility in eastern Prussia. Under Wilhelm I, Bismarck largely controlled domestic and foreign affairs, until he was removed by the young Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890, at the age of seventy-five.

Bismarck – a Junker himself – was strong-willed, outspoken and overbearing, but he could also be polite, charming and witty. Occasionally he displayed a violent temper, and he kept his power by melodramatically threatening resignation time and again, which cowed Wilhelm I. He possessed not only a long-term national and international vision but also the short-term ability to juggle complex developments. As the leader of what historians call "revolutionary conservatism", Bismarck became a hero to German nationalists; they built many monuments honoring the founder of the new Reich. Many historians praise him as a visionary who was instrumental in uniting Germany and, once that had been accomplished, kept the peace in Europe through adroit diplomacy.

A 2011 biographer of Bismarck wrote that he was a political genius of a very unusual kind [whose success] rested on several sets of conflicting characteristics among which brutal, disarming honesty mingled with the wiles and deceits of a confidence man. He played his parts with perfect self-confidence, yet mixed them with rage, anxiety, illness, hypochrondria, and irrationality. ... He used democracy when it suited him, negotiated with revolutionaries and the dangerous Ferdinand Lassalle, the socialist who might have contested his authority. He utterly dominated his cabinet ministers with a sovereign contempt and blackened their reputations as soon as he no longer needed them. He outwitted the parliamentary parties, even the strongest of them, and betrayed all those ... who had put him into power. By 1870 even his closest friends ... realized that they had helped put a demonic figure into power.

„We Germans fear God, but nothing else in the world; and it is the fear of God, which lets us love and foster peace.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Wir Deutsche fürchten Gott, aber sonst nichts in der Welt - und die Gottesfurcht ist es schon, die uns den Frieden lieben und pflegen lässt.
Speech to the Reichstag (6 February 1888) reichstagsprotokolle.de 1887/88,2 http://www.reichstagsprotokolle.de/Blatt3_k7_bsb00018648_00043.html p. 733 (D)
1880s

„Who is master of Bohemia is master of Europe.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Reported as frequently quoted but unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989), which states, "it cannot be found in the official writings and pronouncements of Bismarck. It is possible that he said it, and it was passed on orally rather than being recorded, or that he expressed the sentiment in other terms and the idea took this form as others tried to quote him".
Disputed

„Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal … A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all … I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where … Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

No record of this quotation appears to exist in German.
In The World Crisis, Vol I: 1911-1914 https://books.google.com/books?id=6l6Fgnz8fXIC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA96#v=onepage&q&f=false (originally published in 1923), Winston Churchill asserted that during the July Crisis, German shipping magnate and diplomat Albert Ballin told him that Bismarck had said to him, "that one day the great European War would come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans" a year before his death.
The full quote above appears in "European Diary" by Andrei Navrozov, in Chronicles Vol. 32 (2008) as a comment during the Congress of Berlin in 1878. "European Diary" is a series of excerpts from Navrozov's unpublished (as of 2017) novel in English, Earthly Love: A Day in the Life of a Hypocrite.
Disputed

„Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Frequently quoted in online leftist circles. Refers to the split of the First Internationale (between anarchists and socialists). The earliest mention is on page 95 of American radicalism, 1865-1901, essays and documents https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015011722785?urlappend=%3Bseq=111 (1946) by Chester McArthur Destler, but as of now the German original could not be found.
In German political parlance, "black" more often referred to Catholic interests than to anarchism; it is possible that if Bismarck did say this, it referred rather to a union between the Catholic Center and the Socialist "reds" against the German nationalist/Protestant "blues."
Disputed

„Preventive war is like committing suicide for fear of death.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Quoted as a remark of Bismark without quotation marks, in Thinking About the Unthinkable in the 1980s (1984) by Herman Kahn, p. 136, a paraphrase of what Bismarck told the Reichstag on Feb. 9, 1876. Referring to March 1875, when the French National Assembly had decided to strengthen their army by 144,000 additional troops, Bismarck asked the deputies to imagine he had told them a year ago that one had to wage war without having been attacked or humiliated: „Würden Sie da nicht sehr geneigt gewesen sein, zunächst nach dem Arzte zu schicken (Heiterkeit), um untersuchen zu lassen, wie ich dazu käme, dass ich nach meiner langen politischen Erfahrung die kolossale Dummheit begehen könnte, so vor Sie zu treten und zu sagen: Es ist möglich, dass wir in einigen Jahren einmal angegriffen werden, damit wir dem nun zuvorkommen, fallen wir rasch über unsere Nachbarn her und hauen sie zusammen, ehe sie sich vollständig erholen – gewissermaßen Selbstmord aus Besorgniß vor dem Tode" (Would you not have been inclined very much to send for a physician in the first place and let him find out, how I with my long experience in politics could commit the colossal stupidity of [...] telling you: It is possible that in some years we might be attacked; to pre-empt that, let us overrun our neighbors and smash them before they have fully recovered [from the war of 1870/71] - in a way [commit] suicide from fear of death) reichstagsprotokolle.de 1875/76,2 http://www.reichstagsprotokolle.de/Blatt3_k2_bsb00018381_00571.html p. 1329-30
1870s

„They treat me like a fox, a cunning fellow (Schlaukopf) of the first rank. But the truth is that with a gentleman I am always a gentleman and a half, and when I have to do with a pirate, I try to be a pirate and a half.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Talking to Gyula Andrássy in Salzburg on 18 September 1877. As quoted in Disraeli, Gladstone, and the Eastern Question. A Study in Diplomacy and Party Politics (1935) by Robert William Seton-Watson, p. 224 books.google http://books.google.de/books?id=5CPVAAAAMAAJ&q=fox; "Schlaukopf" is translated elsewhere as "clever dick" or "smart aleck."

With deal (instead of do) with a pirate, in Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy's influence on Habsburg foreign policy during the Franco-German War of 1870-1871 (1979) by János Decsy, p. 21 http://books.google.de/books?id=JtUhAAAAMAAJ&q=111

„Man behandelt mich wie einen Fuchs, wie einen Schlaukopf erster Klasse. Die Wahrheit aber ist, qu'avec un gentleman je suis toujours gentleman et demi, et que quand j'ai affaire à un corsaire, je tâche d'etre corsaire et demi"
:Eduard von Wertheimer: Graf Julius Andrássy. Sein Leben und seine Zeit. Vol. III. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt Stuttgart 1914 pp. 42-43 http://books.google.de/books?id=2skhAAAAMAAJ&q=demi
1870s

„Faust complains of having two souls in his breast. I have a whole squabbling crowd. It goes on as in a republic.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

As quoted in Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman (1955) by A. J. P. Taylor, p. 12. Cf. Goethe, Faust, Part I: Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust, / Die eine will sich von der andern trennen ("Two souls, alas! reside within my breast, / and each is eager for a separation").
Faust klagt über die zwei Seelen in seiner Brust; ich beherberge aber eine ganze Menge, die sich zanken. Es geht da zu wie in einer Republik... Das meiste, was sie sagen, teile ich mit. Es sind da aber auch ganze Provinzen, in die ich nie einen andern Menschen werde hineinsehen lassen.
:*Bismarck traveling in an open carriage through the green valley of Hofgastein to Salzburg with Vortragender Rat Robert von Keudell and Geheimrat Heinrich Abeken on 18 August 1865 after the Gastein Convention had been signed on 14 August 1865 (as reported by Keudell). Bismarck: Die gesammelten Werke, Band 7 Gespräche, 1924, p. 101 https://books.google.de/books?id=mMkTAAAAQAAJ&q=seelen
1860s

„Politics is the art of the possible.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Franklin says this line in the HBO miniseries John Adams, but it is actually a quote of Otto von Bismarck.

(de) Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen. Interview (11 August 1867) with Friedrich Meyer von Waldeck of the St. Petersburgische Zeitung: Aus den Erinnerungen eines russischen Publicisten. 2. Ein Stündchen beim Kanzler des norddeutschen Bundes.

In: Die Gartenlaube (1876) p. 858 de.wikisource. Reprinted in Fürst Bismarck: neue Tischgespräche und Interviews, Vol. 1, p. 248 http://books.google.com/books?id=UpUBAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA248&dq=%22die+Politik+ist+die+Lehre+vom+Möglichen%22
Ref: en.wikiquote.org - Otto von Bismarck / Quotes / 1860s
Misattributed

„Politics is not an exact science.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Die Politik ist keine exakte Wissenschaft.
Speech to Prussian upper house (18 December 1863)
Politics is not a science, as the professors are apt to suppose. It is an art.
Expression in the Reichstag (1884), as quoted in The Quote Verifier : Who Said What, Where, and When (2006) by Ralph Keyes
1860s
Variant: Die Politik ist keine Wissenschaft, wie viele der Herren Proffessoren sich einbilden, sondern eine Kunst.

„Hit the Poles so hard that they despair of their life; I have full sympathy with their condition, but if we want to survive, we can only exterminate them; the wolf, too, cannot help having been created by God as he is, but people shoot him for it if they can.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Haut doch die Polen, daß sie am Leben verzagen; ich habe alles Mitgefühl für ihre Lage, aber wir können, wenn wir bestehn wollen, nichts andres tun, als sie ausrotten; der Wolf kann auch nicht dafür, daß er von Gott geschaffen ist, wie er ist, und man schießt ihn doch dafür totd, wenn man kann.
Letter to his sister Malwine (26/14 March 1861), published in Bismarck-Briefe (Second edition Göttingen 1955), edited by Hans Rothfels, p. 276 http://books.google.de/books?id=oIkkkcUIfqMC&pg=PA276; as quoted in Hajo Holborn: A History of Modern Germany 1840-1945 (1969), p. 165 http://books.google.de/books?id=rUgOAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA165
1860s

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„Concerning the blunders which had been made in our foreign policy public opinion is, as a rule, first enlightened when it is in a position to look back upon the history of a generation, and the Achivi qui plectuntur are not always immediately contemporary with the mistaken actions.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

The Kaiser vs. Bismarck. Suppressed Letters by the Kaiser and New Chapters from the Autobiography of the Iron Chancellor. Translated by Bernard Miall. Harper New York & London 1921, p. 183 archive.org http://archive.org/stream/kaiservsbismarck00bismuoft#page/n223. Achivi qui plectuntur refers to the proverbial verse "Quidquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi" from Horace's Epistles Liber I Epistula II la.wikisource http://la.wikisource.org/wiki/Epistulae_(Horatius)_-_Liber_I: Whatever their kings are raging the Achaeans have to pay for.
Ueber die Fehler, welche in der auswärtigen Politik begangen wurden, wird sich die öffentliche Meinung in der Regel erst klar, wenn sie auf die Geschichte eines Menschenalters zurückzublicken im Stande ist, und die Achivi qui plectuntur sind nicht immer die unmittelbaren Zeitgenossen der fehlerhaften Handlungen.
Otto von Bismarck: Gedanken und Erinnerungen chapter 12 zeno.org http://www.zeno.org/nid/20002732971
Undated

„He who has his thumb on the purse has the power.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Wer den Daumen auf dem Beutel hat, der hat die Macht.
Speech to North German Reichstag (21 May 1869), Stenographische Berichte p. 1017 (left) http://books.google.de/books?id=wm9HAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1017
1860s

„The social insecurity of the worker is the real cause of their being a perishable to the state.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Speech to the Landtag (18 October 1849), quoted in Henry E. Sigerist, 'From Bismarck to Beveridge: Developments and Trends in Social Security Legislation', Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol. 20, No. 4 (1999), p. 484
1840s

„Be assured, we shall not go to Canossa, either bodily or spiritually.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Seien Sie außer Sorge, nach Kanossa gehen wir nicht, weder körperlich noch geistig.
Speech to the Reichstag (14 May 1872), Ausgewählte Reden des Fürsten von Bismarck: p. 176 https://books.google.com/books?id=nsjCDgAAQBAJ&pg=PA176&lpg=PA176&dq=Kanossa-rede&source=bl&ots=f3X5xq7raK&sig=Y86H5ZlgredQfpC3Wa_AB2Z-fOM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiIhrCn56zaAhVs3IMKHdBnAWwQ6AEIQTAC#v=onepage&q=Kanossa-rede&f=false, referring to the controversy over the Imperial envoy to the Holy See, Prince Hohenlohe, who had been rejected by Pope Pius IX, which marked the beginning of the Prussian Kulturkampf. The expression highlighted an era of political struggle between the Catholic Church and various secular governments, especially severe throughout the 1870s.
1870s

„Not by speeches and votes of the majority are the great questions of the time decided — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Nicht durch Reden und Majoritätsbeschlüsse werden die großen Fragen der Zeit entschieden — daß ist der große Fehler von 1848 und 1849 gewesen — sondern durch Eisen und Blut.
Variant translations :
: It is not by speeches and majority vote that the great questions of our time will be decided — as that was error of 1848 and 1849 — but rather by iron and blood.
The great questions of the time are not decided by speeches and majority decisions — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood.
The great issues of the day are not decided through speeches and majority resolutions — that was the great error of 1848 and 1849 — but through blood and iron.
The great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and the resolutions of majorities — that was the great mistake from 1848 to 1849 — but by blood and iron.
The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions … but by iron and blood.
Speech to the Budget Commission of the Prussian Diet (30 September 1862), published in Fürst Bismarck als Redner, Vol. 2 (after 1881), edited by Wilhelm Böhm, p. 12 http://books.google.de/books?id=3WsIAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA12); after some objections to his initial speech Bismarck returned to the podium and declared:
::Auswärtige Conflicte zu suchen, um über innere Schwierigkeiten hinwegzukommen, dagegen müsse er sich verwahren; das würde frivol sein; er wolle nicht Händel suchen ; er spreche von Conflicten, denen wir nicht entgehen würden, ohne daß wir sie suchten.
:: I must protest that I would never seek foreign conflicts just to go over domestic difficulties; that would be frivolous. I was speaking of conflicts that we could not avoid, even though we do not seek them.
::* Die Reden des Ministerpräsidenten von Bismarck-Schönhausen im Preußischen Landtage 1862-1865 (1903) edited by Horst Kohl, p. 31
1860s

„In the domain of political economy the abstract doctrines of science leave me perfectly cold, my only standard of judgment being experience.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

As quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1891), p. 54
Undated

„In the development of our tariff I am determined to oppose any modification in the direction of Free Trade, and to use my influence in favour of greater protection and of a higher revenue from frontier duties.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Speech to the Reichstag (28 March 1881), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1891), p. 54
1880s

„I grant that I am full of prejudices; I sucked them in with my mother's milk, and I cannot possibly argue them away.“

—  Otto von Bismarck

Speech to the Prussian United Diet (15 June 1847), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1891), p. 27
1840s

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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