Otto Von Bismarck and the Rise of the German Empire

When Otto von Bismarck became its Prime Minister in 1862, Prussia was a second-rate power overshadowed by Russia, Austria, France, and Britain.

It was also unstable; its ancient monarchy and traditional Junker landowning class was threatened by rising forces of pan-German nationalism and liberal democratic revolution. 

Bismarck turned the situation upside down with extraordinary statesmanship and in two distinct phases.

First, Bismarck made conservative Prussia the standard-bearer of German nationalism, waging three blitzkrieg wars in rapid succession – against Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866, and France in 1870.

The result was to deflect the minor German states from their orbits around foreign powers, and to bring them into a close relationship with the rising power of Prussia.

Bismarck had destroyed the entire European balance of power in the space of seven years and united 39 independent German states under Prussian Leadership.

Not only that, but the newly-unified German state was soon exploding with industrial energy, outstripping British coal and steel production by the end of the century, and leaping ahead in new industries like chemicals and electricals.

1912, grown hugely fat on state contracts, its workforce had grown to 70,000.

Phase two of Otto von Bismarck’s work was to protect the new politico-industrial colossus he had created against hostile combinations of jealous neighbours.

So Bismarck rejected ‘Greater German’ expansionism after 1870, and sought instead to win and maintain the allegiance of both Russia and Austria, thus isolating France and securing the German Empire against a war on two fronts.

Bismarck held to this line, maintaining the European peace, safeguarding Germany’s position in Europe, until his dismissal from high office by the new, young, thrusting Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890.

The subsequent unravelling of Bismarck’s diplomatic web led directly to the disaster of 1914 a war on two fronts what would bring the German Empire crashing to defeat four years later.

When Bismarck retired in 1890, Prussia was the dominant part of a united German Empire which had become the greatest power in Europe.

The old monarchy had not only survived, but the Prussian King had been transformed into a German Emperor.

The Prussian aristocracy had become the military-bureaucratic masters of a mighty state.

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