No statesman has ever enjoyed such an inflated reputation as Otto von Bismarck. His catchphrases still reverberate around the echo-chamber of politics: “Realpolitik,” “honest broker,” “the art of the possible.” He fought three wars and won all of them. He unified Germany and made it a Continental superpower. But he also unleashed the daemonic forces that came close to destroying Western civilization in the twentieth century. If Hitler was the most devilish figure in modern history, Bismarck was the most Faustian. It was this Prussian reactionary whose “blood and iron” smashed the old rules that had hitherto constrained the destructive power of modernity. He probably never said “laws are like sausages: it’s better not to see them being made.” Yet the remark was attributed to him, for he held not only laws but humanity in contempt.

Jonathan Steinberg’s...


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