Whatever one may think of the worth of the cause for which Bismarck battled all his life—the unity and greatness of Germany—it is impossible not to admire the policy of moderation and self-restraint pursued by him after every one of his most decisive victories. And here again we note in him the peculiarly German military temper. German war-songs do not glorify foreign conquest and brilliant adventure; they glorify dogged resistance and bitter fight for house and home, for kith and kin. The German army, composed as it is of millions of peaceful citizens, is essentially a weapon of defense. And it can truly be said that Bismarck, with all his natural aggressiveness and ferocity, was in the main a defender, not a conqueror. He defended Prussia against the intolerable arrogance and un-German policy of Austria; he defended Germany against French interference in the work of national consolidation; he defended the principle of State sovereignty against the encroachments of the Papacy; he defended the monarchy against the republicanism of the Liberals and Socialists; and the supreme aim of his foreign policy after the establishment of the German Empire was to guard the peace of Europe.
The third predominant trait of Bismarck’s character that stamps him as a soldier—his unquestioning obedience to monarchical discipline—is so closely bound up with the peculiarly German conceptions of the functions and the Purpose of the State, that it will be better to approach this Part of his nature from the political instead of the military side.
In no other of the leading countries of the world has the laissez faire doctrine had as little influence in political matters as in Germany. Luther, the fearless champion of religious individualism, was, in questions of government, the most pronounced advocate of paternalism. Kant, the cool dissector of the human intellect, was at the same time the most rigid upholder of corporate morality. It was Fichte, the ecstatic proclaimer of the glory of the individual will, who wrote this dithyramb on the necessity of the constant surrender of private interests to the common welfare: “Nothing can live by itself or for itself; everything lives in the whole; and the whole continually sacrifices itself to itself in order to live anew. This is the law of life. Whatever has come to the consciousness of existence must fall a victim to the progress of all existence. Only there is a difference whether you are dragged to the shambles like a beast with bandaged eyes, or whether, in full and joyous presentiment of the life which will spring forth from your sacrifice, you offer yourself freely on the altar of eternity.”
Not even Plato and Aristotle went so far in the deification of the State as Hegel. And if Hegel declared that the real office of the State is not to further individual interests, to protect private property, but to be an embodiment of the organic unity of public life; if he saw the highest task and the real freedom of the individual in making himself a part of this organic unity of public life, he voiced a sentiment which was fully shared by the leading classes of the Prussia of his time, and which has since become a part of the political creed of the Socialist masses all over Germany.