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.
Here we have the moral background of Bismarck's internal policy. His monarchism rested not only on his personal allegiance to the hereditary dynasty, although no medieval knight could have been more steadfast in his loyalty to his liege lord than Bismarck was in his unswerving devotion to the Hohenzollern house. His monarchism rested above all on the conviction that, under the present conditions of German political life, no other form of government would insure equally well the fulfilment of the moral obligations of the State.
He was by no means blind to the value of parliamentary institutions. More than once has he described the English Constitution as the necessary outcome and the fit expression of the vital forces of English society. More than once has he eulogized the sterling political qualities of English landlordism, its respect for the law, its common sense, its noble devotion to national interests. More than once has he deplored the absence in Germany of "the class which in England is the main support of the State—the class of wealthy and therefore conservative gentlemen, independent of material interests, whose whole education is directed with a view to their becoming statesmen, and whose only aim in life is to take part in public affairs"; and the absence of "a Parliament, like the English, containing two sharply defined parties whereof one forms a sure and unswerving majority which subjects itself with iron discipline to its ministerial leaders." We may regret that Bismarck himself did not do more to develop parliamentary discipline; that, indeed, he did everything in his power to arrest the healthy growth of German party life. But it is at least perfectly clear that his reasons for refusing to allow the German parties a controlling influence in shaping the policy of the government were not the result of mere despotic caprice, but were founded upon thoroughly German traditions, and upon a thoroughly sober, though one-sided, view of the present state of German public affairs.
To him party government appeared as much of an impossibility as it had appeared to Hegel. The attempt to establish it would, in his opinion, have led to nothing less than chaos. The German parties, as he viewed them, represented, not the State, not the nation, but an infinite variety of private and class interests—the interests of landholders, traders, manufacturers, laborers, politicians, priests, and so on; each particular set of interests desiring the particular consideration of the public treasury, and refusing the same amount of consideration to every other. It seemed highly desirable to him, as it did to Hegel, that all these interests should be heard; that they should be represented in a Parliament based upon as wide and liberal a suffrage as possible. But to intrust any one of these interests with the functions of government would, in his opinion, have been treason to the State; it would have been class tyranny of the worst kind.
The logical outcome of all this was his conviction of the absolute necessity, for Germany, of a strong non-partisan government: a government which should hold all the conflicting class interests in check and force them into continual compromises with one another; a government which should be unrestricted by any class prejudices, pledges, or theories, and have no other guiding star than the welfare of the whole nation. And the only basis for such a government he found in the Prussian monarchy, with its glorious tradition of military discipline, of benevolent paternalism, and of self-sacrificing devotion to national greatness; with its patriotic gentry, its incorruptible courts, its religious freedom, its enlightened educational system, its efficient and highly trained civil service. To bow before such a monarchy, to serve such a State, was indeed something different from submitting to the chance vote of a parliamentary majority; in this bondage even a Bismarck could find his highest freedom.
For nearly forty years he bore this bondage; for twenty-eight he stood in the place nearest to the monarch himself; and not even his enemies dared to assert that his political conduct was guided by other motives than the consideration of public welfare. Indeed, if there is any phrase for which he, the apparent cynic, the sworn despiser of phrases, seems to have had a certain weakness, it is the word salus publica. To it he sacrificed his days and his nights; for it he more than once risked his life; for it he incurred more hatred and slander than perhaps any man of his time; for it he alienated his best friends; for it he turned not once or twice, but one might almost say habitually, against his own cherished prejudices and convictions. The career of few men shows so many apparent inconsistencies and contrasts. One of his earliest speeches in the Prussian Landtag was a fervent protest against the introduction of civil marriage; yet the civil marriage clause in the German constitution is his work. He was by birth and tradition a believer in the divine right of kings; yet the King of Hanover could tell something of the manner in which Bismarck dealt with the divine right of kings if it stood in the way of German unity. He took pride in belonging to the most feudal aristocracy of western Europe, the Prussian Junkerdom; yet he did more to uproot feudal privileges than any other German statesman since 1848. He gloried in defying public opinion, and was wont to say that he felt doubtful about himself whenever he met with popular applause; yet he is the founder of the German Parliament, and he founded it on direct and universal suffrage. He was the sworn enemy of the Socialist party—he attempted to destroy it, root and branch; yet through the nationalization of railways and the obligatory insurance of workmen he infused more Socialism into German legislation than any other statesman before him.
Truly, a man who could thus sacrifice his own wishes and instincts to the common good; who could so completely sink his own personality in the cause of the nation; who with such matchless courage defended this cause against attacks from whatever quarter—against court intrigue no less than against demagogues—such a man had a right to stand above parties; and he spoke the truth when, some years before leaving office, in a moment of gloom and disappointment he wrote under his portrait, Patrice inserviendo consumor.
There is a strange, but after all perfectly natural, antithesis in German national character. The same people that instinctively believes in political paternalism, that willingly submits to restrictions of personal liberty in matters of State such as no Englishman would ever tolerate, is more jealous of its independence than perhaps any other nation in matters pertaining to the intellectual, social, and religious life of the individual. It seems as if the very pressure from without had helped to strengthen and enrich the life within.
Not only all the great men of German thought, from Luther down to the Grimms and the Humboldts, have been conspicuous for their freedom from artificial conventions and for the originality and homeliness of their human intercourse; but even the average German official—wedded as he may be to his rank or his title, anxious as he may be to preserve an outward decorum in exact keeping with the precise shade of his public status—is often the most delightfully unconventional, good-natured, unsophisticated, and even erratic being in the world, as soon as he has left the cares of his office behind him. Germany is the classic land of queer people. It is the land of Quintus Fixlein, Onkel Bräsig, Leberecht Hühnchen, and the host of Fliegende Blatter worthies; it is the land of the beer-garden and the Kaffeekranzchen, of the Christmas-tree and the Whitsuntide merry-making; it is the land of country inns and of student pranks. What more need be said to bring before one's mind the wealth of hearty joyfulness, jolly good-fellowship, boisterous frolic, sturdy humor, simple directness, and genuinely democratic feeling that characterizes social life in Germany.
And still less reason is there for dwelling on the intellectual and religious independence of German character. Absence of constraint in scientific inquiry and religious conduct is indeed the very palladium of German freedom. Nowhere is higher education so entirely removed from class distinction as in the country where the imperial