The Historical Debate
The view of Bismarck over the years has changed and it is the historical debate surrounding our perception of him and his intentions that often shapes our interpretation of the German unification. No 19th century figure has attracted the attention and controversy that surround the achievement of Otto von Bismarck, with the exception perhaps of Napoleon Bonaparte. The success of Bismarck's work in unifying Germany has shifted from a determinist to a dialectic approach.
Early historiography had portrayed him as a master statesman, leading Germany to her rightful destiny. However, dissent from this thesis was at first from non-German historians who re-interpreted later events to conclude that there were more sinister implications to the work of the Iron Chancellor', making him a more Machiavellian and immoral politician.
Later historians, after the Second World War adopted a teleological interpretation of Bismarck accusing him of leading the way for the disastrous era of Nazism by crippling the development of democratic institutions in Germany, he laid the country open to future dictatorships however, some historians have argued that Bismarck could not be held for all future developments. They cite his semi-feudal brand of conservatism, arguing that along with his religion and his limited Pan-German view, these factors all distanced him greatly from the principles of Nazism.
Recent developments have tended to move away from the study of Grand Policy', to diminish the role played by great men such as Bismarck, but to stress the wider context in which they operated.
Themes and Problems of 19th century Europe
The collapse of the Napoleonic empire in 1814-15 brought the statesmen of Europe to provide for he political future of France and those territories conquered by France. In addition they had to reestablish the balance of power shattered by the Napoleonic campaigns, and to ensure against any similar...