Cavour and Bismarck


THE seeds of birth lie so mysteriously hidden in death that historians are still disputing whether the French Revolution and Napoleon’s régime mark the close of one epoch, or the beginning of another; but there can be no doubt that the twenty-five years between the meeting of the States-General and the battle of Waterloo had to precede the transformation which Europe has undergone.

On the Continent the major constructive works of the nineteenth century were the Kingdom of Italy and the German Empire. To these achievements many forces, many men, many parties contributed ; but, as always happens in historical crises of deepest human significance, the struggle in each country was directed, and in a fashion embodied, by a mighty personality. For convenience’ sake, we depersonalize history, assume that we are watching abstract movements, talk of the Zeitgeist, reduce the course of a nation’s growth to a few formulas. Destiny, however, takes care to remind us ever and anon that human history is the product of men and women. Passions are not abstract, motives are not abstract, deeds are not abstract: they are the manifestations of human will, — the most concrete thing of which we have any knowledge. And throughout the course of man’s evolution we come upon a few commanding personages — Cæsar, Mahomet, Hildebrand, Cromwell, Napoleon, Washington — each of whom seems to collect and unite the vital forces of his time or nation, and to transmit them, modified and energized by his individuality. So light streams colorless into a prism, and pours out from it, perhaps broken up into iridescent rays, perhaps focused into burning intensity. The unification of Italy and the creation of Imperial Germany had each its symbolic man, Cavour and Bismarck, who appear to have pursued similar ends; in fact, however, they used different means, and arrived at different goals. Let us first look briefly at their personal equipment.


Through his father, who was a marquis, Camillo Benso di Cavour, born in 1810, came of the ancient Piedmontese aristocracy. Legend gave him a Crusading ancestor, a Teutonic companion of Frederick Barbarossa; records show that for six centuries at least the Bensi lived the life of the Subalpine people, neither French nor Italian, but a blend which both Frenchmen and Italians regarded as an inferior strain. Piedmont was the only corner of Italy that had escaped the wonderful flowering of the Renaissance, and its appalling decay. Cavour’s mother was born Swiss and brought up Protestant, and one of his aunts married the French Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre. Thus from his childhood, which he passed in the city of Turin at its time of most hopeless reaction, he had cosmopolitan contacts: at home, his kinsfolk came and went, and brought with them tidings of the great world beyond the horizon; or he paid visits to his mother’s people at Geneva, where dwelt an enlightened libertyloving community, somewhat puritanical, perhaps, but staunch in character and friendly to progress.

Being a younger son, he was placed in the Military Academy at Turin. At sixteen he was graduated, most proficient in mathematics, into the Engineer Corps; at twenty, he resigned, apparently under a cloud of royal displeasure, for he had already earned the reputation of detesting despotic reaction in Church and State, and of speaking his mind without prudence. Shut out from a career under the crown, he took charge of a remote farm which had run down through neglect. Having made the farm pay, in a few years he was managing a great estate at Leri, where he learned every detail of agriculture. He traveled often, — to Switzerland, to France, to England, — and with wonderful ease passed from his peasantry at Leri into the company of the cosmopolitan frequenters of the first salons of Paris.

Having a passion for contemporary politics, he studied the questions that were agitating society, sought the principles behind them, observed the personal quality of men leading or going to lead, and confirmed the faith, which seems in some strange way to have been born in him, that Liberty was the key to the new age. But, as his Liberalism made him hateful to King Charles Albert and the Retrogrades, the only outlet for his intellectual ferment was in essays, political and economical, which had to be printed in foreign reviews because Piedmont was garroted by five sets of censors.

Otto von Bismarck, born in 1815, belonged to the Prussian landed gentry. He sprang from a family which in old days had helped to defend the Eastern marches against heathen invaders, men who loved fighting better than thinking, voracious eaters and unquenchable drinkers, who passed on from sire to son a mastiff’s fidelity to their sovereign. On both his father’s and his mother’s side, Bismarck’s roots struck deep into the army and into the bureaucracy,—typical Prussian soil. He grew up to be the despair of his stiff kinsfolk. At the university, which he quitted without a degree, he distinguished himself by his capacity for beer-drinking rather than for scholarship; and afterwards, he soon found both the law and a bureaucratic position too irksome for his independent nature. He figured as a boisterous rural knight, — “ mad Bismarck,” — whose horse-play and pranks shocked his conventional neighbors. “ His wine-cellar was his first care. . . . He quailed huge cups of mixed champagne and porter, he awoke his guests in the morning by firing off pistols close to their ears, and he terrified his lady-cousins by turning foxes into the drawing-room.” He too had a small country-place thrust upon him after his father’s death, and he plunged into the life of country gentleman with all the zeal of a nature that could do nothing by halves. He “ attended fairs, sold wood, inspected timber, handled grain, drove hard bargains, gathered rents, and sat as deputy in a local diet.” It is recorded that “ his first speech in the annual assembly treated of the ' excessive consumption of tallow in the workhouse.’ ”

Occasionally, his biographer says, revels gave way to reflection; and there is plenty of evidence to show that he was a promiscuous reader. His position as magistrate and as captain of the dikes put upon him certain small duties, but he spent most of his time in hunting or idleness, with one or two trips to France and England. Very few who saw the tall, blond Junker in those days, suspected that beneath his Borussian roughness — a roughness which was the natural trait of a race that had never been really softened by culture — there lay the strength of genius. In his narrow political creed, which glorified the Prussian system of despotism and made no pretense of sugarcoating it for the sake of popularity, and in his apparent scorn of erudition, in which Germany had recently come to the front, he seemed simply to reflect the prejudices of the rural nobility among whom he ranked in the lowest class.

In 1847, when Cavour founded Il Risorgimento newspaper at Turin, and Bismarck was chosen an alternate deputy to the Landtag, nobody foresaw that these two were the predestined creators of Italian and of German unity.


Very different problems confronted them. Never in modern times had Italy been either united or free. Her brilliant medieval republics, torn by the worldconflict of Pope and Emperor, and lacking, as in that age they were fated to lack, a sufficient basis of democracy, sank inevitably into despotisms. Venice alone pursued her imperial way, age after age; but Venice was an oligarchy. The amazing unfettering of the intellect and of conduct which distinguished the Renaissance produced a people among whom individualism ran riot. It was individualism without moral restraints or religious ideals. Degeneracy followed. The Italians seemed only too clearly a played-out race, far gone in fossilization. They were practicing a sort of ancestor-worship — a languidly-boastful telling over of the glories of their past — when Napoleon I awakened them.

But after Waterloo, although again reduced to political servitude, and split up into seven states, over which, except in Piedmont, Austria lorded it, the Italians could not be coerced into acquiescence. The urge to become a nation, free and independent, gave them no rest. They groped for liberty; they made many sacrifices; they plotted; they dared — and after tragic failures, which showed the futility of such attempts, they understood that liberty, based on a constitutional government, could not be secured without independence. Then other heroic sacrifices, and other tragic defeats, taught them that independence itself could be achieved through unity only. But what sort of unity — federal, monarchical, or republican ? If federal, what should serve as the common bond ? If monarchical, who should be king ? If republican, who should be president ? Each of these alternatives had many supporters and many opponents. Individualism, which rulers and circumstances had always aggravated, blocked the way to harmony. One thing, however, fixed itself in the minds of all patriots — unity, of whatever form, could be reached only through the previous expulsion of the Austrians.

Germany also was granulated into many political units — more than forty independent states and autonomous cities — and fierce was the rivalry, not to say hatred, among them. Nevertheless, material interests led them to maintain a customs union, which strengthened the national sentiment; and behind this there was the memory of the old Empire which, in spite of its imperfections, lived in imagination as the symbol of the oneness of the Germans, — of a people who had a common heritage of glory, and a common destiny. Still, the pettiest German state or free city clung to its independence.

This German Particularism was the fruit of Feudalism, that is, of a system which is the negation of individual liberty; whereas Italian Individualism was derived from the municipal practices of the Homan Empire, practices which, revived by the medieval republics and abused by them, ended in license, but which in their origin had established some sort of fair compromise between that craving for local liberties and those demands of the central powers, which are the contradictions that every government must deal with.

One cardinal difference to be noted between the Italians and the Germans was their relative prestige. The Italians, I have just said, seemed an exhausted stock. The Germans, on the contrary, had not yet reached their prime. Civilization had penetrated to them comparatively late; if they had not yet adopted its graces, they had also been saved from its accompanying vices. Since about 1760 the German genius had taken a marvelous flight. In poetry, in letters, in history, in science, in philosophy, in music, Germany was leading the world. Her soldiers enjoyed a high reputation. Her men and women were robust, sober, patient, persevering, industrious; they possessed the Teutonic instinct for hard facts, and the Teutonic preference for truthtelling; and a magnificent system of education, the masterpiece of Stein and Wilhelm von Humboldt, was carrying enlightenment into every hamlet. The Italians, on the other hand, had known for centuries the heel of Frenchmen and Spaniards, of Germans and Austrians. With too much reason, they were supposed to be incapable of governing themselves. The Jesuits had devitalized their schools. The world wrote them down as effeminate, ignorant, superstitious, the dupes of an effete priestcraft, or the victims of a shallow and sterile atheism.

Politically, the most important difference between the two countries lay in the fact that Germany was independent. Since the War of Liberation in 1813 no foreigner had ruled over a foot of her soil, or even dictated the policy of her feeblest prince. So the first aim of the Germans was unity, not independence. Among their states, Austria held first place. Prussia could hope to unify Germany only after Austria had been excluded. As to liberty, although among the compatriots of Schiller and of Fichte many yearned for it, the majority, saturated in feudal tradition, did not look upon it as essential.

Most Germans found in Goethe, rather than in Schiller, their spokesman. “ Freedom is an odd thing,” said Goethe to Eckermann, “ and every man has enough of it, if he can only satisfy himself. What avails a superfluity of freedom which we cannot use ? ... If a man has freedom enough to live healthy, and work at his craft, he has enough: and so much all can easily obtain. Then, all of us are free only under certain conditions, which we must fulfill. The citizen is as free as the nobleman, when he restrains himself within the limits which God has appointed by placing him in that rank. The nobleman is as free as the prince; for, if he will but observe a few ceremonies at court, he may feel himself his equal. Freedom consists, not in refusing to recognize anything above us, but in respecting something which is above us; for, by respecting it, we raise ourselves to it, and by our very acknowledgment make manifest that we bear within ourselves “what is higher, and are worthy to be on a level with it.”

Bred in their bone and distilled in their marrow, Feudalism is the chief political contribution of the Teutons to civilization — a system which expresses the Teutonic nature as exactly as the oligarchic patriciate expressed that of the Venetians, or constitutionalism embodies that of the Anglo-Saxons. Now, the ideal of Feudalism was not liberty, but privilege — the dependence of class on class by a graduated scale; always the servitude of the weaker, who by their service bought the protection of the stronger. The love of liberty which meant independence of foreign domination was ancient in the German heart; intellectual liberty, typified in Luther and in Kant, was the breath of life to her literature and her philosophy; but the theory of political liberty, which comes at last to the granting of equal rights to all citizens, had never strongly appealed to the German mind, with its feudal obsession.

Now, the problem agitating Europe for more than a century has been how to effect the transformation from Feudalism to Democracy. The supreme modern instrument, whether in politics, in social interests, or in morals, is Liberty ; the supreme feudal instrument was Authority. The special conditions of the first half of the nineteenth century gave further to the principle of Nationality an extraordinary potency. After Napoleon broke up feudal Europe, the fragments instinctively felt kinship to be the logical basis of statehood. Thenceforward, the centripetal virtues of race, of language, of environment, of common interests, and manifest destiny, were magnified, until the principle of Nationality came to be regarded as if it were an inalienable right and a cosmic law. In Italy and Germany alike it operated to stimulate the craving for Unity.


Granting that these are the main lines which political evolution was following, although, like all generalizations, these also would need to be qualified in certain applications, let us see how Cavour and Bismarck dealt with them. Italy and Germany both sought Unity, as the fulfillment of their national instinct; they both realized that Austria must be got rid of before Unity could be attained; but Italy had to win also Liberty and Independence. First, as to Liberty, the instrument of the new order: how did the future creators of United Italy and Germany regard it ?

From boyhood, Cavour had a passion for Liberty which cannot be explained by his bringing up. As soon as he could reason, he welcomed it as the master principle which could solve every difficulty. His was no passing enthusiasm, but a conviction planted in the depths of his moral nature, and nourished by whatever he read or observed. He believed that Liberty should be applied to trade, to education, to politics and government, and to the Church. Nor was he blind to its dangers. He knew that the perfect fruits of Liberty can ripen only when men are educated, moral, and civilized — and that no people had yet reached that state of excellence. He knew that half-liberty may lead either to anarchy or to license — but the risk did not frighten him. He held that the best way, the only way to fit men for freedom, is to make them free. So, for Cavour, the drawbacks of even incomplete freedom were preferable to the utmost benefits of Feudalism.

There was no wavering in Cavour’s allegiance to Liberalism. Once, when some one told him that under an absolute régime, he could already have carried out a measure which he deemed most important, he replied, “ You forget that under such an absolute government I would neither have cared to be minister nor could I have been. I am what I am because I have the chance of being a constitutional minister. . . . Parliamentary government, like other governments, has its inconveniences; yet, with its inconveniences it’s better than all the others. I may get impatient at certain oppositions, and repel them vigorously; and then, on thinking it over, I congratulate myself on these oppositions, because they force me to explain my ideas better, to redouble my efforts to win over public opinion.

. . . An absolute minister orders; a constitutional minister, to be obeyed, needs to persuade, and I desire to persuade that I am right. . . . Believe me, the worst of chambers is still preferable to the most brilliant of antechambers.”

At another time, when a Jesuit candidate was reported elected to the Chamber, he said, that if there were Jesuits in Piedmont it was right that they should be represented in Parliament. These were his principles, declared at prime. On his death-bed, almost his last coherent words were: “ Above all, no martial law [at Naples], none of those measures of absolute governments! Everybody can govern by martial law. I will govern them with liberty, and will show what ten years of liberty can do for those fine provinces.”

Bismarck, on the contrary, regarded Liberty as a chimera, almost as a madness. In every walk of life, he maintained, the expert should control, — above all, in government, one of the most intricate tasks man has to undertake. He withered with sarcasm, of which he was master, the pretense that the opinion of the masses, whether they are counted by thousands or by millions, could have any value. As well appeal to the dice-box as to the ballot-box to decide a problem in government. Stretch a line of ciphers as far as you choose, their sum is still zero. Liberty, he was fond of declaring, is the demagogue’s watchword. With great adroitness, Bismarck would have us believe that liberty and tyranny are identical, and that the worst times for Germany were the free times. I do not recall that he ever, in speech or writing, acknowledged that Liberty had a bright side. He habitually showed up its weaknesses, follies, and excesses, or imputed base motives even to its heroes and martyrs. Contrast this with Cavour’s maxim: “ There is no great man who is not a Liberal. The love of Liberty in every one is proportioned to the moral altitude to which he has climbed.”

During the last century Liberty diffused itself by two principal channels — by constitutional government, and by the press. Cavour accepted the constitutional system without reserve. He looked upon Parliament, elections, discussions in the journals, and debates, as so many organs for the political uplifting of the nation. If in the modern world a system is to be sought in which all classes shall come to their own, and no class shall be allowed to enrich itself at the expense of the others, then it follows that all classes must be admitted to political rights and taught the intelligent practice of citizenship. Cavour took for his model English constitutionalism, then passing from the aristocratic to the democratic stage. In his speeches, not less than in his acts as politician and as minister, he aimed always at training his countrymen in parliamentary life. But here, too, he was at the opposite pole from the doctrinaire. He knew only too well that this organ of political progress, being human, must have its defects.

Bismarck, on the other hand, halfhated and half-despised constitutionalism, as a system which would curtail the power of the monarch and the privilege of the aristocracy. In the first years of his ministry he showed his contempt for the constitution by proceeding to reorganize the army, and incur debts, without the consent of the Prussian Diet. Many years after, when the Empire was complete, and the Chancellor’s autocratic position secure, he declared that he had tolerated, nay, had even preferred the constitution in those days; but that if he had found it an impediment, he would have smashed it to pieces, and chosen even a dictatorship instead.

This is not exactly the state of mind of a believer in constitutionalism. But we can understand why Bismarck so often professed his respect for the Prussian constitution if we remember that, in certain circumstances, it practically annulled the liberty of the Diet, by making the King supreme in fact. Now Bismarck controlled the King, therefore he could cheerfully proclaim himself a constitutionalist, although he and the King might be defying the Diet. The constitution, as he understood it, was a warrant for authority, and not a safeguard of individual rights.

He naturally detested Parliament, which simply opened a free field for wheedlers, demagogues, “professional deputies,” as he called them opprobriously, and intriguers. A bottle of ink, a pen, some paper — and unlimited brass: behold their qualifications! As they are not obliged to own property, they have no tangible interest in the State, but are irresponsible as well as incompetent. And yet this rabble enjoyed in Parliament the right of criticising, of prodding, of opposing him, — Bismarck, the Chief Minister, the Chancellor, who knew so much better than all of them put together how to run the administration. When they harassed him, he never wearied in casting back at them the errors which they had championed, — errors which, but for his veto, would have wrecked the country. Where would United Germany be, he constantly asked, but for him ? If these speech-mongers and “ phrase-sprinklers ” could be proved so palpably wrong throughout the past, why should he respect their judgment in the present ? “Up to my last breath,” he said solemnly in the Reichstag, in 1884, “ I will combat this phantasmagoria of the possibility of parliamentary domination.” And in his old age he expressed the doubt, perhaps with a malign chuckle, whether the parliamentary system would hold out fifty years longer.

For Bismarck, we see, modern constitutionalism, instead of being a beneficent organ of progress, was a stumbling-block, an antagonist, almost a form of insanity. Far from him any idea of teaching parliamentary practice. He tolerated the system, and when it pressed him too close he never hesitated to circumvent it. He did not listen willingly to the speeches of his critics, but poured upon them sarcasm, petulance, wrath; nor did he refrain from personal abuse. He bullied Mommsen, he bullied Virchow, he bullied Lasker, and all the other heads of the Liberal party. Now, Mommsen was the greatest historian Germany has ever produced, and Virchow was then the foremost German man of science, and Lasker a politician of serious views and sterling character; and it ill-became the real head of the German Empire to blackguard such men. It was easy to raise a laugh by asking how any one who had spent his life among old archives, or in a laboratory, could know anything about practical government; it was easy, when Virchow accused him of willfully misrepresenting facts, to challenge Virchow to a duel instead of producing evidence to confound him; but such behavior bespoke the political demagogue, and not the parliamentary statesman. Even more dangerous was his habit of prosecuting his opponents in the courts, and of adding the crime of lèse-Bismarck to the already over-burdened criminal statutes of Germany.

Still, we must not misjudge him by inferring that he felt any obligation to argue or persuade. In all he did, he lived up to his ideals. He had no party : he was himself party and platform. His sole duty, as he saw it, was to clear the track, by any means whatsoever, for his own policy. To secure the passage of a measure, he would purchase the temporary support of any parliamentary group: a practice which did much to demoralize party government in the Reichstag, and to give to the various groups the character of mercenaries. Persons who see in representative government the way of progress, must deplore those thirty years of the anti-parliamentary influence of Bismarck; they retarded by so much the political education of the Germans. They set up many false ideals of parliamentary procedure, and false views of the very scope of parliamentary government. This was particularly grievous as happening to the Germans, the people whose blood is so saturated with feudal instincts that they are less accessible to modern political ideals than are the English, the French, or the Italians.

The Press, the second powerful instrument of progress, Cavour welcomed with enthusiasm. In 1847, he founded Il Risorgimenio, and for several years was its chief editor. He contributed to it leading articles which, for durable qualities, have rarely been surpassed. In the midst of the uproar of a ministerial crisis, or of the hysterics of an impending invasion, they may have seemed too sober : but, after sixty years, it is to them, and not to the ebullitions of the moment, that we turn for the best witness to that courage, tenacity of purpose, foresight, and sound sense that brought Piedmont through the great gulfs of revolution, and made her the ark of Italian independence. For Cavour, the profession of editor was a mission. He wished to teach, to enlighten, to guide, to convince. He put his conscience and his principles into every line. Other editors have been more brilliant, more fiery, more fascinating; others have known better than he how to inebriate: but we should have to go back to the writers of the Federalist to find a match for Cavour as a presenter of vital principles. “ I too have been a journalist, and I am proud of it,” he told the Chamber, as minister, when some one attacked the newspapers.

Nevertheless, although he held a free press to be indispensable to liberty, he knew well the abuses it may commit. Not being a doctrinaire, he discriminated between the substance and the shadow, and after the French coup d’état he forbade the Piedmontese journals to vilify Louis Napoleon. They cried “ Tyranny,” and easily proved Cavour inconsistent, but they could not shake him. It would be insensate, he replied, to allow irresponsible journalists to hurl insults at a foreign ruler whose friendship might be of incalculable service to Piedmont. “ Abuse me all you choose,” he said over and over again, and they needed no urging. Being a practical man, persuaded of the power of the press, he maintained official and officious newspapers, and caused to be prepared articles which were printed at Paris and London, in Germany, Switzerland, and even in Spain.

Bismarck was one of the main props of Die Kreuz-Zeitung, the most reactionary of the Prussian journals in the Revolutionary time; but, then and later, he never tired of denouncing the press. In his estimation, journalists and editors were a perverse, irresponsible crew, now venal, now frivolous, now lying, now sanctimonious, now fawning, now arrogant — and always corrupting. If sincere, they were zealots, capable of doing as much harm by their fanaticism as the unprincipled did by their intentionally wicked propaganda. Journalists and deputies by profession were two phases of the same evil, often of the same person : for in Germany, as elsewhere, journalists glided easily into Parliament, or self-seeking deputies found means to set up newspapers of their own. Where else shall we find a criticism of the press more pungent, — or more just, —served up with unfailing sarcasms, than that which overflowed from Bismarck? And yet, in his editorial articles, and especially in his private dispatches from Frankfort, he showed himself a publicist of great ability. Bismarck, in the pessimism of his old age, used to prophesy that the Empire which blood and iron created would be ruined by journalism. But scold as he might, he, too, like a practical man, subsidized a reptile press of great proportions, and, after his fall from power, he availed himself of newspapers—even of French newspapers ! — to pour out his rage and scorn, or to justify himself before the world. Has the power of the press ever been paid a greater tribute, — for this was the involuntary tribute of an inveterate and remorseless enemy ?


In parliamentary eloquence, Cavour and Bismarck belonged to the new school of orators. Rejecting flowery periods and Ciceronian flights, they spoke simply, like men of affairs, usually more intent on making statements than on stirring the emotions. Some of Cavour’s speeches, however, — for example, that of March 7, 1850, on the abolition of the ecclesiastical courts, and that on “Rome, the Capital,”—are models of a lofty eloquence which appeals to the reason and the conscience, and sets the heart throbbing. In their fundamental simplicity and in their instinctive trust that certain truths need only to be stated, they remind us of Lincoln’s utterances; but Cavour lacked Lincoln’s apparently unpremeditated felicity of phrase. Although Bismarck has left little or nothing in this vein, he had a remarkable talent for summing up in an epigram an entire political transaction, or for hitting off a personality in half a dozen words. These sayings of his have passed into proverbs among the Germans, who do not come racially by the terse, dartlike phrase, or the humorous touch (Heine, be it remembered, was Jew by race, and French by wit). Beer, and not champagne, is the German’s national drink, and their humor has a beery quality.

Cavour said, “ Remember that I never harm any one, not even my enemies. ... I am accustomed to forget injuries, perhaps even too much; but services rendered me are never canceled from either my memory or my heart.” Bismarck, on the contrary, never forgot an injury; he hounded his enemies into the grave, and then persecuted their memory. “ I am a Christian,” he said, “ but when anybody smites me on one cheek, I assuredly don’t turn the other to him.” This is not precisely the Christianity which Jesus of Nazareth preached.

In statecraft, both Cavour and Bismarck were opportunists of the first rank, children of the brood in which Cæsar and Napoleon were elder brothers. Their opportunism was not a vulpine prowling to and fro, not a cringing to public opinion, nor a demagogic parade of wisdom and virtue, — the characteristics of the mere politicians of all times and tongues; it was, instead, an unlimited capacity for conceiving vast purposes, indefectible patience to wait, address in shaping or in coercing men and means to the desired end, a sure instinct for seizing the favorable moment, and audacity to dare the utmost when men would not bend and conditions remained stubborn. Cavour said that when he encountered an insuperable obstacle, he did not beat out his brains against it, —he went round it. Bismarck said, “ I have been too long in practical politics to busy myself much with conjectural politics.” And later he added, “ Politics is not a science, — as many of these professors imagine, — but an art. It is as little of a science as are sculpture and painting.” Such opportunism, needless to say, depends for its successful use on the statesman who employs it. It perpetually contradicts those doctrinaires who assert that in history men count for nothing, and that the abstract course of events is everything. The same move proved a masterpiece of statesmanship in Cavour’s hands, and an ignominious and foolish blunder in Rattazzi’s. It was Bismarck’s insight that detected when events warranted Prussia’s onslaught upon Austria; it was not those events that created Bismarck’s insight.

Cavour’s opportunism was much more closely attached to his fundamental principles than Bismarck’s. There were certain things he would never do, certain compromises he would never make. But Bismarck, in the course of his long career, took up with as strange bedfellows as any pot-house politician. In order to pass a bill, he would unblushingly purchase the support of Catholics, Jews, or other groups, against whom at the nest emergency he might turn without compunction. If he adopted some of the agents of the modern régime, it was not because he preferred them, but because he believed in fighting fire with fire. Equally alert in seizing an advantage, Cavour often employed methods which the moralist may question, but he refused to sacrifice his principles. He fought the Reds, he fought the Blacks, but he never yielded a hair’s breadth to either.


As to the Machiavellism with which Bismarck and Cavour have both been charged, there would be much to say, but to say it would require an examination of the concept of the State, with its duties, privileges, and immunities from age to age. Such a survey might lead us to conclude that governmental or collective morality no more represents the morality of the average man, than the mob spirit, which explodes in panic or in hysteria, represents the nervous stability of the average man. This at least seems indisputable, that the standard of morals which individuals try to live up to in their mutual relations, was not applied to international affairs in that generation, nor is it so applied in ours.

Cavour and Bismarck are to be judged, primarily, by the usage of their time; were they better or worse, more scrupulous or less, than their contemporaries ? Cavour has been criticised for equipping the Crimean expedition against a nation which had not overtly injured Piedmont; he has been censured for the way in which, by amazing exertions, he brought about the War of 1859, and for his lack of candor towards the King of Naples in 1860. Against Bismarck stand the black records of the brutal dismemberment of Denmark, of the trickery that led to the conflict of 1866, and of the Mephistophelian adroitness with which, having forced France to fight, he made her seem to be the guilty provoker. If we are to credit the revelations published since Bismarck’s death, he reached, during the last twenty-five years of his life, such a pitch of cynicism and misanthropy that he believed that neither men nor governments are actuated by any save the basest motives, and he was ready at a moment’s notice to plunge Europe into war, if he could persuade himself that Germany might thereby win a fleeting advantage.

Cavour used to remark, smiling, “ Now I know the art of deceiving the diplomats: I speak the truth, and I am certain that they do not believe me.” This saying, borrowed by Bismarck, now passes current as his. The extent to which it is true measures the moral advance of Cavour’s diplomacy over that of his immediate predecessors — the Metternichs, the Talleyrands, and the Nesselrodes; and much more over that of such shameless masters of guile and force as Frederick and Napoleon. The instinct of self-preservation which permits states, through their rulers and governments, to practice every crime, has been hallowed from time immemorial by patriotism, the noblest of the civic virtues. Evidently, the blame should not fall wholly on the “ Machiavellian” agents, and not at all on the populations, which smugly benefit by their agents’ iniquities. The receiver of stolen goods and the thief belong in the same family.


Thus did Cavour, employing the agents of Liberty, and trusting them, strive to construct Italy on a modern plan. But no epoch can shake itself wholly free from the past. Cavour found Italy, hypnotized into inanition by her past, lying like a beautiful woman in a trance. Religion could not arouse her; she mumbled from time to time in her sleep the names of her mighty artists dead, but her arts still slumbered on; the appeals of philanthropy and enterprise did not awaken her; patriotism alone, the winning of a political soul, independent, integral, and free, caused her to open her eyes, and to arise.

Bismarck, on the contrary, created the German Empire with the intent of preserving all that he could of feudalism and of medieval tradition. He planted his feet irremovably on the rock of Authority. He resisted “ to his last breath ” the champions of modernity. Hesaw — none more clearly—how the instruments of the new age might be perverted to serve the adherents of the old. When he fell back on Authority, he knew that he had the strongest instinct of his race, the momentum of ten centuries, behind him. Artfully using the spirit of Nationality, while relying on the conservative elements and on the army, he created the Empire. Although there were many Liberals in Germany, and a constantly increasing group of Radicals, Bismarck took care that German unity should rest under no obligation to them. He went so far in this that the unification of the Fatherland appears less and less a national undertaking, to which all Germany contributed, than a Prussian undertaking for the aggrandizement of Prussia, and the glory of the Hohenzollerns. In his later years he declared himself an All-German and not a Prussian; but earlier he thwarted every attempt in the direction of German unity until the paramountcy of Prussia was assured.

More than a third of the Germans very reluctantly accepted Prussia’s hegemony, some, in fact, only under compulsion. During the reaction after 1848 the German states were purged of Liberals; and as Prussia rose toward the zenith, thousands and scores of thousands of freedom-loving Germans emigrated to America, to become sterling republicans. Who can say how much the cause of liberty in Germany has suffered by being deprived of the most progressive section of her yeoman population ? We are reminded of the forcible expulsion of the Huguenots from France. No nation is to be envied which secures uniformity by getting rid of the very element which is most accessible to new ideas, and best adapted to resist the tendency toward despotism that every government develops unless it be checked by a courageous opposition.

Having made Prussia strong enough to smash any coalition of German states, Bismarck imposed the Empire upon them. But German Particularism would neither bend nor break before even his iron will. The best that he could do was to establish an imperial federation, in which the constituent parts preserved their own governments and sovereigns. The unification of Italy, however, resulted in one nation, wholly fused in its political nature, acknowledging only one sovereign and one parliament.

In nothing does the difference between the two achievements show more strikingly than in the heroes honored in each country. In Italy there is universal reverence for the four supreme leaders, — Cavour, Mazzini, Garibaldi, and Victor Emmanuel. After them there follow many popular heroes: every province, almost every city, has its special sons of glory. But Germany raises statues only to William I, to Bismarck, to Moltke, and perhaps to a few generals. No popular representatives emerge to wear the laurel of national gratitude. The monuments are official; unification seems to have been a bureaucratic-military enterprise.

On the scale of historic evolution, the unification of Italy represents a much more advanced process than that of Germany, in which the fusion of the constituent parts is not yet complete. The German Empire stands where France and Spain stood before their respective kings had absorbed the independent princes in their kingdoms. Analogies are not laws; and it may turn out that the German federal Empire, commandeered by the House of Hohenzollern, will never become politically fused. Yet for Germans the federal Empire may prove itself to be the form best fitted to hold together the Particularist elements, with a tendency towards Absolutism. But the student of government must be impressed by the fact that German unity was accomplished on a lower level than the Italian. Cavour had the skill to enroll all parties — except the violent Reds and irreconcilable Blacks — under the Italian flag. So, republicans and monarchists, moderates, radicals, and patriotic clericals, all contributed to the great revival. The historic Individualism which had sundered Italians for centuries, proved more plastic than the German Particularism; perhaps because, since the Italians had a much harder task than the Germans, they consented the more willingly that everything should be made over on new models; perhaps because Cavour was so much more supple, patient, and affable than Bismarck in manipulating every one, — even his adversaries. Cavour, having very little brute force at his command, was compelled to use ingenuity and persuasion; Bismarck’s methods were blood and iron.


How shall we measure the relative greatness of these men ? Cavour, with means far inferior, overcame greater difficulties, and reached the goal he set out for. At the outset he could count only on Piedmont, a state of four million inhabitants, utterly beaten in two recent wars, to serve as fulcrum to his lever. He had to struggle, not only with political, but with clerical enemies, who masked the decrepitude of the Papacy behind a show of arrogance. He was obliged in almost everything to begin at the beginning, — even to teach the alphabet to two-thirds of the people who were to help him make Italy. Bismarck counted from the start on eighteen million Prussians, every one of whom was educated. Cavour, coming first, showed the Prussian the way. Bismarck’s audacity in 1866 did not require so much courage as Cavour s audacity in 1859; for Bismarck, studying Cavour’s victories, read clearly in the Prussian sky. In hoc signo vinces.

Cavour died before he could lay the key-stone of the national structure, but he left plans for his successors to follow, and he built with such foresight that none of the parts which he designed have had to be altered. The claims of Liberty do not rest on sentiment. Democracy is the ideal toward which humanity gravitates, because it is the only system which requires for its realization the highest development of all the faculties of every man and woman. And Liberty is its way, — just as sunlight is the way of Nature’s renascence in spring.

Bismarck’s empire is stupendous; but, unless Europe is to retrograde to medievalism, all the medieval survivals he built into it will crumble. Time will inevitably destroy much which only the overwhelming will of the Iron Chancellor was able to save temporarily. German unity will probably endure, because modern conditions demand that the vast political, commercial, and social forces which men have organized shall function through the medium of great nations, and not through a large number of little states. Posterity will find Bismarck’s prototype in Richelieu, but will note this striking difference: Richelieu succeeded where Bismarck failed, —he not only unified and consolidated France, but he made his king the sole and absolute monarch of the nation. Bismarck had to be content to see the kings of the Hohenzollern dynasty the heads of a federal empire, and not of a fused nation. If the comparison seem slighting to the Titan vdio has filled so large a space during the past fifty years, we must reflect that Richelieu played relatively as imposing a part among his contemporaries. When Bismarck has been dead two hundred and sixty years, he will be fortunate if he still looms as large as Richelieu does now; and the German Empire can hardly expect so long a career of primacy as the France which Richelieu centralized. Nevertheless, if the German Emperors have enjoyed a position almost autocratic, and certainly paradoxical, in a state that pretends to be constitutional, they owe this to Bismarck. He established the norm. Had he been less masterful in genius or less devoted to autocracy, the Emperor in Germany since 1871 would not have grown so swollen, and parliamentary life would have expanded more healthily.

By one of the most tragic sarcasms in history, Bismarck, after laboring forty years to create this prodigious sort of sovereign, became his victim. A stripling autocrat, with the arrogance of inexperience and of boundless self-conceit, discharged like a lackey the aged Chancellor, but for whom the Hohenzollerns might still be merely kings of a second-rate realm. Time was when, if Bismarck smote, the Emperor of Austria fell down in the dust; or if Bismarck tightened his grasp, the Erench Empire collapsed and perished; and now the hand of a ’prentice Emperor swept him into disgrace. So Frankenstein succumbed to the monster he had spent years in constructing.

The true parallel between Cavour and Bismarck should stop just previous to the war of 1870. Cavour died in the midst of his state-building, whereas Bismarck lived nearly thirty years after German unity was achieved, to see himself a legendary personage, a blending of Hector and Ulysses. Had Bismarck died in 1867, how would his reputation stand to-day ? He would probably be regarded as a reactionary statesman of unusual ability, fearless, unscrupulous, and unyielding, who succeeded in setting Prussia, instead of Austria, at the head of the German federation. It required the victory over France, and the creation of the Empire, to show the world Bismarck’s real magnitude.

Cavour died young, with his task still uncrowned; had he lived until 1880, when he would have been only seventy years old (Bismarck lived to be eightythree), how greatly the history of Italy and of Europe might have changed! But perhaps he too, like Pericles and Lincoln, is to be regarded as happy in the opportuneness of his death. Like them, he left a void unfilled and unfillable. Of him, as of them, posterity has gone on thinking that, had he only lived, he would have saved his country from many disasters.

To Bismarck was allotted the opposite fate. As Chancellor, he had forced upon him many economic problems, which he could not solve; he became entangled in a long quarrel with the Pope, which, although he was technically the winner, brought him only vexation. His inveterate reliance on Authority showTed more and more clearly in his rejection of modern ideals. He magnified the Emperor and the army, raising militarism to such a height that for thirty years past Germany has seemed to exist for the army, and not the army for Germany. The military ring there controls budgets, foreign relations, and society. We are reminded of Machiavelli’s description of the later Iloman emperors who sacrificed everything to “ the cruelty and the avarice of the soldiers; ” although the cruelty in Germany is less open, and the avarice has been carefully legalized.

Bismarck’s twenty-five years as administrator darkened his magnificent reputation as state-builder. As soon as the Empire was founded, men came to take its founding as a matter of course; but they chafed at arbitrary interference in their daily affairs, and they learned that he was not infallible. He was, in truth, one of the most powerful dynamic statesmen of whom we have any record, a very Thor in international transactions; but neither as an economist, nor as a financier, nor as a social reformer, entitled to rank with several of his contemporaries. After 1870, however, it was in these very fields of economics and social reform that most of his activity had to lie, and so his inferiority showed itself the more clearly.

As Foreign Minister he encountered and overcame his country’s enemies; as Chancellor, he had his own countrymen for his adversaries. Two instances will illustrate. Bismarck framed laws against the Social Democrats comparable in their ruthlessness to those of the Spanish Inquisition against heretics. What was the result? At the elections in 1871 to the first German Parliament, the Socialist votes numbered only about 100,000; in 1893, the Socialist vote was nearly 1,800,000, or more than a quarter of the total, and the number of deputies had risen from 2 to 42. These figures simply proved that Bismarck had failed. He had not stamped out Socialism; he had not even checked it; he had relied on measures as antiquated as the thumbscrew or the boot, and they would not work. Again, Bismarck framed restrictive press laws which the Czar might have envied; and these laws enabled Bismarck (and the neurotic Kaiser after him) to keep a thousand or fifteen hundred persons in prison on the charge of lèse-majesté: but these very imprisonments attest the impotence, and not the efficacy, of the laws through an entire generation.

The primacy of United Germany since 1870, like that of Austria between 1815 and 1848, has meant a general reaction, marked by the recrudescence of autocracy, by the mounting insolence of militarism, and by the widespread casting of doubts and suspicions on the Liberal System. The evangel of this epoch, proclaimed by a German madman, Nietszche, is summed up in two words — Egoism and Megalomania. The Germans who rebel against such a consummation seek refuge in Socialism — in a system which, like Feudalism, aims at stifling individual liberty. After ten centuries the Teutonic instinct breeds true.

I am aware that, in this Plutarchian parallel, I may be accused of painting Bismarck too dark; but Bismarck himself would certainly not complain. What some readers may regard as his defects, he gloried in as proofs of his strength and acumen. Coming on the scene when the flood-tide of Liberalism seemed to be sweeping everything before it, — when multitudes were inspired by the thought of human brotherhood, when philosophers and poets were announcing the perfectibility of man, when dreamers stood rapt in ecstasy before the mirage of universal peace, when downtrodden peoples saw in the principle of Nationality the secret of liberty and union, when the expansion of industry was bringing comfort even to the peasant in his cottage, when among white peoples the serf became an anomaly and the slave a reproach, — Bismarck prided himself on keeping a cool head. Enthusiasms, spiritual yearnings, visions, were all very well, but they were not the everyday stuff by which states were permanently held together. Inequality, and not equality, is the adamantine fact in human nature. Providence sends the many into the world saddled and bridled, and the few with whip and spurs to ride them. Authority, and not Liberty, is the final word in political and social relations. Thus he would interpret all history as a confirmation of his creed; and he would predict that, under varying forms, the future must reproduce the past, because human nature will remain essentially the same.

What hope, then, for genuine Democracy, which presupposes a human nature completely transfigured, capable of producing men with the unselfishness of saints, with the brotherly love of angels, with the wisdom of seraphs, and with the practicalness of a Bismarck ?

His sarcasms on Democracy are tonic reading, especially for optimists. The most thorough-going democrat will frankly admit that parliaments and newspapers and politicians and cabinets, under Democracy, have grievously fallen short; he would grant that, until these evils are cured, Democracy can never function ideally; but he would declare, as Mill declared of De Tocqueville, that Bismarck attributes to Democracy many defects which really belong to Civilization. There are moods in which we get from Bismarck the same sort of sardonic satisfaction that Goethe’s Mephistopheles gives us — he is so witty, so penetrating, so plausible! he shows up so remorselessly the foibles and sins, the mean ambitions, gullibility, and worthlessness of men!

But though the world cannot live by sarcasm alone, Bismarck performs a great service in standing at the parting of the ways to prick the bubbles of easy optimism, to challenge almost every hope, every ideal, every method, every reform, by which the partisans of the New plan to raise mankind to a higher plane. He stands there, a grim, Titanic figure, the counterpart of the mitred hierarch who denounces modernism in religion, and bids the world turn back for salvation to the medieval worship of Authority. Napoleon, modern at heart and lifted into power by the Revolution, tried to reconcile the New Régime and the Old, to unite Liberty and Authority: hence his bastard empire, and his fall. Bismarck worked consistently for Authority, Cavour worked consistently for Liberty, and thus each of them carried to its highest expression one half of Napoleon’s divided nature. Metternich, who came in between Napoleon and the later statesmen, relied wholly on Authority; but he had only talents, though they were talents of unusual range and ductility, employed by him with unusual address. Truly, the fortunes of men ebb and flow like the tides of the sea!

To reach their full potency, principles must be embodied in a human being. The second half of the nineteenth century in Europe had the rare distinction of seeing Liberty and Authority embodied in two colossal exemplars. Of these principles, Liberty serves equally to measure the nobility of an individual, and the collective civilization of a people. Up to the present, it has had only a partial exploiting in government; but it rests on the assumption of the worth and meliorability of the individual. Authority deduces from the shortcomings, inequalities, and failures of human nature, that only a handful of men are to be trusted to use their free-will; that the salvation of the masses lies in obedience to the few; and that the few have a right to special powers and privileges as a compensation for their labor in keeping society from chaos.

Liberty trusts instinctively in growth, evolution, progress; Authority relies on custom, revelation, immutability. Since human error seems as long-lived as human hope, the champions of Authority will not be routed soon; but they will more and more regard Bismarck, as we now regard Richelieu, with astonishment for his genius, and for his large measure of success, while they recognize that his principles, intended for a single undertaking and a particular epoch, have no universal applicability. Cavour’s principles, like the fundamental laws of health, will inevitably tend, wherever they are put in force, to rejuvenate, to uplift, and to liberate citizens, peoples, and humanity itself, which

Goes seeking liberty, that is so dear.