The Bismarck family is outraged: Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has renamed the Bismarck area in the Federal Foreign Office. In retrospect, we no longer have to fight Bismarck.

Tabula rasa is being made in the German Foreign Ministry. Otto von Bismarck, the founder of the empire, has to leave the house in an argument. His pictures and his name are undesirable. The “Bismarck Room” is renamed the “Hall of German Unity”. From now on, the Iron Chancellor and first foreign minister of the German Reich is no longer regarded as a great personality in history, but as persona non grata.

Under the leadership of Annalena Baerbock, the Kulturkampf that Bismarck had begun in his time is being continued. Only the political precedent has changed and the methods – which cannot be disputed – have become more humane.

Posthumously, the conservative monarchist enjoys a feminist foreign policy, so that even in his rejection he enjoys a gentleness that he had always denied his opponents. His specialty was a well-staged lack of self-control – or as he wrote to his wife in 1871: “I have an urgent need to be a bomb and to burst. “

Bismarck worked – when he passed his “law against the publicly dangerous efforts of social democracy” – with censorship, harassment and imprisonment, although he left the immunity of the freely elected SPD Reichstag deputies untouched. For her part, Annalena Baerbock has pictures and name tags removed, but no people.

Perhaps it is precisely this disparity in the choice of weapons that creates the need for belated revenge. Annalena Baerbock also wants to feel herself – and sometimes like to be a bomb.

But we should not give in to the desire for revenge. Especially in historical distance, we could be more generous and reflective than our contemporaries. Of course, the ambivalence towards a historical figure like Bismarck will never go away: at that time, a modern, liberal-minded freethinker would have found himself in opposition to Bismarck out of necessity. Or to put it more personally: No bridge would have led from him to me.

In retrospect, however, we no longer have to fight Bismarck. History has built us a great bridge that leads to understanding and from there to Bismarck.

His anti-socialist laws, with which he declared the emerging social democracy fair game, were ethically reprehensible and politically unwise. He was not able to prevent the rise of the SPD. His successes, the beneficial effects of which extend to the present day, can be put into perspective by this failure, but not destroyed.

They identify him as an oversized statesman whose achievement comes with some sort of perpetual guarantee. He deserves what Olaf Scholz promised every minimum wage earner during the election campaign: respect.

1. The founding of the empire in 1870/71 was his work. Finally, the many principalities and kingdoms were compressed into a single state. After all other nation states in Europe, Germany emerged, “the belated nation”, as Helmuth Plessner called it.

The European world was impressed and concerned. Sebastian Haffner knew why: “In a way, a large concrete block had taken the place of a large sponge – a terrifying concrete block from which a large number of cannon barrels protruded.”

A territory was created with soon uniform customs and tax legislation, the German civil service and the largest single market that Europe has seen to date. In a nutshell: Bismarck paid in for them the pound that today’s politicians in Brussels and Washington have at their disposal.

2. Otto von Bismarck – and not Hubertus Heil – is the founder of the German welfare state. He founded health insurance in 1883, accident insurance in 1884, disability insurance in 1889 and pension insurance financed by contributions. He had Social Democrats and Socialists persecuted. But he wanted to persuade their supporters and voters to cooperate in the new German state:

My idea was to win over, or shall I say bribe, the working classes to see the state as a social institution that exists for their sake and seeks to provide for their welfare.

He wanted the inner reconciliation of the old powers of clergy and nobility with the newly emerging working class. He wanted, as he put it, the “alliance between manor and blast furnace”.

3. But he delivered his masterpiece in foreign policy, which was driven by states of fear and not lust for power. Bismarck was afraid of the socialist world revolution. He was afraid of being overrun by Tsarist Russia. He was afraid of France, which he described as a “hereditary enemy”. He feared nothing more than that the other powers might unite against the German Reich.

Out of this fear, he developed a diplomacy centered on stability and balance. Unlike the later Kaiser Wilhelm II, he was not looking for “a place in the sun”. Chancellor Bismarck sought a place in the shadows for Germany.

“We belong,” he said in his Reichstag speech of January 11, 1887, “to the saturated states. We have no needs to fight by the sword.” So he created a complex system of alliances made up of pacts of friendship, treaties of reinsurance, and commitments of neutrality.

The German Reich, founded in 1871, sought a compromise with its neighbors under Bismarck, who remained Chancellor until 1890. He, who had founded the Foreign Office before the Reich and moved there as the first foreign minister, was the great peacemaker of his time – even if he allowed himself to be tempted into a brief excursion into colonialism. The true brutalists, Kaiser Wilhelm II and later Adolf Hitler, followed after he abdicated

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Bismarck, who was not a dictator but a Prussian prime minister and German chancellor who could be called by the emperor at any time, reigned for almost twenty years and kept Europe in balance. He did it, as Haffner enthusiastically stated, “with an art that in the end turned into acrobatics”.

Conclusion: Perhaps Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock would like to take the time over Christmas to delve deeper into the life and thinking of Otto von Bismarck. Perhaps he will then speak to her with moderating intentions. For example this sentence: “A large state does not govern itself according to party views.”

Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.