Bismarck and Mitteleuropa
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994 - 623 pages
This study in the genre of political biography is revisionist. Bismarck emerges as a somewhat more conservative traditionalist than much of the national liberal historiography has depicted him. Moreover, the national orientation in much of the literature on the history of Central Europe during the nineteenth century is also implicitly challenged. Downgrading somewhat the founding of the German Reich of 1871, traditionally viewed as Bismarck's greatest achievement, the author treats this episode as but one of many throughout Bismarck's long career wherein his efforts to build a federative, multiethnic Mitteleuropa encountered many setbacks or otherwise necessitated at best the acceptance of many limited achievements that cumulatively produced a quite incomplete Middle-European system stretching from the northern seas to the mideast.
From this perspective, the author sees the limited victory of Bismarck's Prussia over Franz Joseph's Austria in the War of 1866 as the critical event in the entire history of Bismarckian politics. His policy until then was to achieve a restructuring of the German Confederation on the basis of a joint Austro-Prussian leadership in Mitteleuropa. After Franz Joseph decided in early 1866 that a war was preferable to the limited concessions sought by Bismarck, the Prussian armies failed to inflict on the main Habsburg host the Cannae that the general staff planned for 3 July. Thereafter, Bismarck's task became more difficult than ever.
His labors were often fruitless. His own master, Wilhelm I, and the Prussian bureaucrats, diplomats, and courtiers with direct access to this first of Bismarck's Wilhelmian nemeses could be at least as obstructionist in Berlin as Franz Joseph and his minions in Vienna. In fact, all too often Bismarck's lack of control over the Prussian elites was in part responsible for the resistance of the Habsburg ruling circle.
If Bismarck left his neo-Wilhelmian successors an incomplete system upon his retirement from office, the leadership of the Reich after 1890 was incompetent to continue the great chancellor's work. Berlin never again made the Mitteleuropa conception the central theme of its policy until the great war that Bismarck aimed to prevent with his system. In challenging the commonly held notion of Mitteleuropa historians about "continuity" from the Bismarckian Reich to the "New Order" of the Nazis, the author stresses the much older reichisch and Confederate "continuities" that are evident in Bismarckian system-building. Rejecting the "democratic-moralistic" interpretations of Professor Fritz Fischer and others about German Mitteleuropa imperialism, the author focuses on the "structural-functional" processes of Bismarckian decision-making and system-building through the largely prenational mechanisms of a diplomatic-constitutional federative polity that had developed over many centuries but that neither set of his Wilhelmian antagonists understood or appreciated. In truth, no European statesman - not even one in Vienna - rivaled Bismarck in understanding the baroque complexities of Middle-European politics.
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