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20 May 2018


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Shane Doherty

This may be very tangential given we're sticking with Paris for the duration, but I never understood this about Bismarck: Why was he smart enough not to let the Prussians stomp on Austria in 1866, which allowed them to be friends later on, and yet do that stomping to France and instill a permanent sense of Revanchement against them? Was it just confidence that he could maintain the balance of power?


Is there a way you can put a donation button in the fundraiser page? I already have enough stuff and some of it I already have.

Michael Soener

My understanding, and Im sure Mike will provide a better explanation at the end of this series, is that Bismark both saw it as necessary to establishing the German Emprie on the terms they would need for long term security, and it was a part of his larger power-politics strategy. Bismark did not want long term alliance wirh France, he famously said in a 5 power world make sure youre one of 3. He long cultivated the Russians and wound up sort of subordinating the Austrians which shored up the Eastern flank and he went out of his way not to offend the Brittish too much, so I think he saw France as the big bully he could cut down to size for the glory and expansion of Prussia/Germany. Not just in 1870 but going forward. Had the Germans not been dumb enough to drive off Russia prior to WW1 it all may have worked out and Germany may havw wound up taking over much of europe long term but they didnt follow Bismarks advics long term


I'm just making a quick note to tell you that I've listened on delay to all of your podcasts and enjoy them thoroughly. Looks like I've caught up enough to make a note. I said some years ago that if I ever did I would thank you for the Rome podcast (yes it's been awhile). Now back to regular scheduled programming.



This is a matter of some historical debate. I'll sum up the four points that I've come across.

1) Partially, to be fair to Bismarck, pressure from the military played a huge role in what happened, from what I can tell. If Wilhelm decided to side with someone else, then there was little Bismarck could do. Most of time, him threatening resignation was enough, but Bismarck was nothing if not a realist and aware of his limits.

It is very important to stress that Otto von Bismarck wasn't Napoleon: for all his immense influence, he was ultimately-and legally-a servant of the Kaiser, as Wilhelm II would so explicitly show a couple of decades later. And Bismarck was vulnerable from the get-go. Nobody trusted Bismarck in Berlin: the military distrusted him as a pencil-pusher, the royal family hated him, the middle-class and intelligentsia in the Parliament thought he was a coarse reactionary, and his own Junker class thought he was "too intellectual". He managed to beat them all through a personal relationship with the one man who could override them: Wilhelm I. The only reason he was able to govern Germany and European politics so high-handedly for a quarter century was because Wilhelm I was grounded and stable enough (essentially the polar opposite of his grandson, personality-wise) to realize that Bismarck was more important than he was, and let him do his thing for the most part.

2) With that being said, however, Bismarck was never as immune to ideas like pan-German nationalism as he liked to portray himself. French revanchism would have likely been there even without the annexation, and Alsace was long thought of as German land in the German speaking world, and France (not wholly unfairly) as the traditional trouble-maker in Central Europe. This guy explains it better than I can.

Ultimately, Bismarck and his advisors grossly underestimated how long it would take for France to recover from the war through global trade and financial fluidity. It was a very different era from Jena.


3) Another thing that isn't discussed there: domestic German politics. The unification of Germany was still a tricky business. Having a garrisoned border would mean Prussia would not have to station troops in very proudly South German Bavaria and Baden.

4) Lastly: Favre blundered-big time-by publishing the negotiations into the international press. It might have been that Bismarck had in mind using the extortionate demands as a bargaining chip to get the French to behave and keep the military off his back, with the intention of pivoting to something more acceptable to French public opinion later on. #2 notwithstanding, Bismarck was still very much the realist, and would have chosen strategic considerations over nationalist ideals any day of the week.

But any chance of that went out the window when Favre made the discussion public. Whatever the impact in France, the impact in Germany was very clear: it committed Bismarck to the terms that he stated. Public opinion-to say nothing of court opinion-demanded no less.

Stephen Weinberg

The way I was taught it, oh so long ago, was that Bismarck actively opposed insisting on Alsace-Lorraine because he knew it would make France an implacable foe, and that after he lost that one he had to spend the rest of his career maneuvering to keep France isolated diplomatically.

I’m hoping Mike will discuss this issue in the next podcast.

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