3 DECEMBER 1948, Page 22

Prussia Triumphant

B:smarck and the Creation of the Second Reich. By F. Darnistaedter. (Methuen. 21s.)

FOR close on ten years out of the forty-eight of this century we have been at war with Germany. As a result of these two wars the economic and political position of this country has been radically transformed. At the present time we are, with the United States, responsible for the administration of the greater part of Germany, and we have become involved in a dangerous dispute with the Soviet Union (and now with France) over our policy towards Germany. The history of Europe in the past seventy years, whatever may be true of the future, has been dominated by the rise of German power. Even if this is now overshadowed by the rise of Russian power, it is still true that the most critical and intractable problem in our relations with Russia (not to mention our relations with Poland, Czecho- slovakia, Austria, France and Holland) is the future of Germany. For some odd reason, however, these facts have made much less impression on us than anyone would suppose, and English efforts to understand the character of the German problem in Europe have been half-hearted, spasmodic and as often as not wrong-headed and ill-informed. ,Dr. Darmstaedter's book is another attempt to dispel our invincible and insular indifference to what happens in Europe, by dekribing in some detail the great set-piece of German history, the foundation of Bismarck's Reich.

Dr. Darmstaedter's book is limited to Bismarck's career up to 1871, but this is well justified, for it was Bismarck's policy in the 'sixties which not only determined the development of the Reich after that date but which also, by its extraordinary success, exercised a dominant influence on the assumptions and preconceptions of German thinking about politics. Dr. Darmstaedter admits that it is only now, when the spell of success has been shattered by the destruction of Bismarck's work, that Germans can begin to see some of the flaws in his achievement. It is something to have in English for the first time since Grant:Robertson's Bismarck was published in 1917 so full a narrative of German history in these years, the years of the Crimean War, the Franco-Austrian War, the "New Era" in Prussia, the

dispute over the Duchies, the war with Austria, the Hohenzollern candidature for the Spanish throne and the war with France. These are decisive events, making one of the great watersheds in European history, on the far side of which we enter the period of German hegemony in Europe, beginning at Sadowa in I866 and ending on the Luneburg Heath in 1945. The author, if he largely follows the conventional account of Bismarck's policy, does not draw his narrative too rigidly and allows that Bismarck frequently changed his mind, recognising, for instance, that the decision to settle with Austria by war was not finally taken until late in the- Danish negotiations. The style, often reminiscent of German construction and idiom, makes heavy going in parts, yet the author has clearly taken great pains to be just both to Bismarck and his critics, and to avoid the special pleading characteristic of many earlier German biographies.

But the results of this revaluation of Bismarck's work are dis- appointing, if they are to serve for a re-interpretation of German history. For to put the blame on Bismarck is no more plausible than to put it on Hitler. , Bismarck was prepared to lie, to cheat and to exploit every advantage without scruple. He was capable of astonish- ing meanness ; despite his charm, he could be raucous and spiteful ; his egotism was insatiable and his arrogance insufferable. But he was a man of genius unequalled in political history ; he knew both what he was doing and what he meant to do, and he did it. -Deceit was in the nature of the game, but he never deceived himself, and there is less cant and pretence in his letters and autobiography than in those of almost any other statesman in modem history. Bismarck did not give a tinker's curse for either the unity of Germany or the unity of Europe' his purpose was to secure the dominant power. of Prussia, first in Germany, then in Europe. If German ,Liberalism capitulated to Bismarck—as Dr. Darmstaedter admits—the blame does not lie with Bismarck, who never bothered to disguise his contempt and hostility for the Liberals and their ideas. To reproach Bismarck, as Dr. Darmstaedter tends to do, with failing to carry out the Liberal programme for uniting Germany on a liberal basis is to miss the point that Bismarck's whole policy was directed to avoiding precisely this.

What needs to be explained is, not Bismarck's attitude to the German Liberals (that, at least, is clear), but the Liberals' attitude to Bismarck, why so many of them were prepared to abandon their opposition and join the nationalist band-waggon, whether there was not in German Liberalism from the first some fundamental weak- ness, which accounts both for their collapse in 1848-49 and their capitulation in 1866. In short, it is not the sins of the " wicked " Germans, but the weakness and gullibility of the "good" Germans that need illumination.

Dr. Darmstaedter spends a good deal of time in analysing very clearly the constitution of the Bismarckian Reich and showing how the camouflage of a Reichstag elected by universal suffrage was barely sufficient to disguise the autocratic character of the power reserved to the monarchy and its servants. It is certainly legitimate to argue that Bismarck, by thwarting the development of the German people towards self-government, thereby robbed them of their charke to achieve political maturity. But it is dangerous to go too far in confusing the question of Germany's autocratic constitution with the question of the Germans' aggressive and intolerant attitude towards their neighbours. For the argument of Germany's neigh- bours has always been that the autocratic or democratic character of Germany's internal Government is largely irrelevant, and that the real issue is the tendency of the Germans, under whatever regime (Kaiser, Weimar Republic or Hitler) to exhibit the same arrogant attitude towards other peoples and the Same refusal to live with them on equal terms. Once-again Bismarck's attitude is crystal-clear ; he could only conceive of the relations between nations as always based upon force and fear, on the model of Hobbes's "State of Nature." The puzzle is not Bismarck's view, but the failure of any effective alternative to emerge in Germany.

A new account in English of these years is well worth having, especially when it is dbrie with the care and honesty of Dr. Darmstaedter's narrative. But it still leaves the English reader, trying to understand Germany history, much where he was. For, to an Englishman, who has never, been under the spell of Bismarck, the great Chancellor emerges from the pages more or less the same as before, perhaps one of the least ‘difficult of Germans to understand. What remains as perplexing as ever about the creation of the Second Reich (as about the creation of the Third) is not the success of a Bismarck, or even a Hitler, but the capitulation of his opponents without a fight, the illusions and the blindness of German Liberalism