Front Page Titles (by Subject) PRINCE BISMARCK'S LAST SPEECH. ( From The Economist, 27th March, 1875.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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PRINCE BISMARCK’S LAST SPEECH. ( From “ The Economist, ” 27th March, 1875.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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PRINCE BISMARCK’S LAST SPEECH.
The popularity which Prince Bismarck has gained by his last speech in the Prussian Diet is a little difficult to understand. Even in England we have seen it written of with grotesque enthusiasm as a model of masculine sagacity and statesmanship. Now, the substance of that speech was very simple. Prince Bismarck was defending the series of legislative measures which have had, for their ostensible object at least, to reduce the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church to dependence on the State, and especially the last of this series of measures which is intended to give the State the power of withdrawing at its pleasure all the aid given to the Catholic Church in certain dioceses, without leaving the Clergy of these dioceses at all more at liberty to act according to their own conscience than they were before. One of the old Lutheran Conservatives of Prussia, Dr. von Gerlach, objected strongly in the debate of last week to this series of measures, and especially to the last and final stroke. He thought that the conscience of religious sects should be left at liberty in all religious and ecclesiastical matters to govern their practice, and that the State should only interfere when it comes to a direct infringement of the laws of civil order and liberty. It was to strike a final blow at this view of Dr. von Gerlach’s, that Prince Bismarck made the short speech which has been so enthusiastically received in Prussia and so profoundly admired even in tolerant England. The Prince quite agreed, he said, with Dr. von Gerlach that everybody ought to obey God rather than man; but the question was what obeying God rather than man really means. In his (Prince Bismarck’s) opinion, he was serving God, King, and country alike in guarding the political and religious independence of his nation against Roman oppression and intrigue. If Herr von Gerlach had intimated that the German Chancellor was desirous of introducing a political paganism into Germany, Herr von Gerlach had knowingly told a falsehood. A man of eighty—Dr. von Gerlach’s age—he implied, might deserve deference if he did not strive to pervert the truth, but not when he did. The question was whether they were to bow down to the Pope rather than to the King. The Ultramontanes had made their speeches without any hope of convincing the National Liberal side of the House, and only with a view to reaching the more ignorant masses, who would thus read speeches which in Parliamentary reports could be printed with impunity, though in any other form they would render the publishers liable to legal penalties. He (Prince Bismarck) did not believe that the penal measure before the House would effect its purpose, so far as bringing the Roman Catholics into subjection was concerned, but it was right nevertheless to do all in the power of the Government for the end in view, without regard to consequences. Prince Bismarck and his opponents were quite agreed on the duty of serving God rather than man. Dr. von Gerlach thought he knew what was serving God better than Prince Bismarck, and Prince Bismarck thought he knew what was serving God better than Dr. von Gerlach. “I believe I serve God in serving my King for the protection of the community whose Monarch he is by God’s grace, and in helping to defend the independence of his people against any foreign attack.”
Such was Prince Bismarck’s short and bitter, but, in our opinion, singularly unstatesmanlike speech, which has so deeply impressed Prussia and delighted England. Its essence consists in the strenuous assertion that to Prince Bismarck there is not only no sort of inconsistency between obeying God and obeying the King, in relation to these new ecclesiastical laws, but a real identity of drift in the two acts; and in the implied inference that anyone who thinks otherwise has a perverted conscience which deserves no sort of consideration from the Legislature. The imperiousness of its tone may be gathered from the remark that an old man of eighty who had misconstrued his (Prince Bismarck’s) motives and imputed to him a wish—which we doubt not is quite as far from his mind as Prince Bismarck declares it to be—to introduce a sort of political paganism into Prussia, is a conscious falsifier who deserves no sort of respect or consideration even in consideration of his age. Now, had any such speech as that been spoken in the British Parliament, even at the time of the so-called Papal aggression, would not everybody have called it violent, irrational, and thoroughly unworthy of a great Parliamentary statesman? Of course, we are not finding fault with Prince Bismarck for his own personal belief on the subject of the perfect consistency between loyalty and piety—a belief which is that probably of almost all sensible Englishmen. But could there by any possibility be a more wilful ignoring of the whole problem involved in the conflicting views of various consciences in relation to theology, than this cavalier way of cutting through the difficulty with a mere blow? The question for statesmen is not whether hearty Protestants like Prince Bismarck see anything objectionable in submitting the education of young clergymen to the rules laid down by an ultra-Erastian ministry, and choosing bishops and priests everywhere so as to satisfy the secular government, but whether a very different class of theologians who have been taught to believe in the miraculous permeation of the Church by divine influence, can reasonably be expected to see nothing morally objectionable in this. Yet to this question Prince Bismarck does not devote a single word of consideration. He simply strikes heavily, so to speak, those who differ from him. For him the service of God and the King means the same thing, as much or more now, after the ecclesiastical laws, as before them. Of course they do. But is it common sense to expect that Roman Catholics, or even high Lutherans like Herr von Gerlach, will think so too? All men who have any common sense, Prince Bismarck assumes, will agree with him. Well, if that be so, the world unfortunately contains a great many who have no common sense at all, and the Roman Church is full of them. Nay, even some Lutherans are so little able to follow him that they misjudge his motives, and impute to him sympathy with a sort of Paganism, with which in all probability Prince Bismarck has not the faintest sympathy. But even so, who but a statesman who was accustomed to deal rather in blows than arguments would tell an old man of eighty that in thus misconstruing him he had lied? It seems to us that Parliamentary statesmanship cannot be very fully developed in Germany, and that English criticism on the Parliamentary statesmanship of the Continent is not very likely to be useful, when such a speech as this can be received with unbounded applause in Prussia and with a sort of envious admiration in England.
The truth is that for the moment the nationalism of Germany, and, most of all the States of Germany, of Prussia, is in an unnaturally excitable, and consequently irrational phase. We cannot exempt Prince Bismarck from blame for doing all in his power to stimulate this mood, but it is the mood of Germany and Prussia in the first instance, and of the vigorous but by no means either unobservant or compliant statesman who guides Germany, only in the second instance. Germany is at the present moment absurdly flushed with the new sense of her national importance. The majority of the national party cannot for the time believe that any creed is important enough to come into serious competition with the creed of Germanism. The Empire is the symbol of the new power and unity. Prince Bismarck is its voice. Nothing which runs counter to the national enthusiasm of the moment is regarded as having a moral standing ground at all. Now, of course, none of the genuine believers in any creed which has attempted in any degree to combat the ruling tendencies of secular Germany, can acquiesce in the cry of the day. It is just as impossible for Rome, or even the Lutheran Puseyism of the High Church party in Prussia, to bow down to the genius of Germany, as it is for Mr. Spurgeon to delight in the English establishment, or for Dr. Newman to admire the liberality of the Privy Council in not condemning the Theology of Essays and Reviews. Germany is going through a sort of epidemic of blind and frantic nationalism, a sort of political measles to which great nations in the infancy of their conscious unity and power are very liable. We do not particularly blame the Germans—reflective as they boast to be—for the wildness and inconsiderateness of this phase of opinion. We do not even particularly blame Prince Bismarck for stimulating it, while he would be far wiser, as well as more disinterested, to try to moderate and keep it under control. But surely it is grossly out of place for English politicians who have for centuries been trying to get all political parties to see that they must leave ample verge for the theological convictions, eccentricities, even whims, of their neighbours, to throw up their hats in delight at Prince Bismarck’s narrow and imperious bigotry. It is for us to warn the Germans that they do not really understand what they are about when they try to run down in this overbearing way all opinions which do not fit in with the national pride or vanity of the moment. The difficulties of disagreeing beliefs have worried statesmen for centuries, and only in these latter days has the calm and deliberate tolerance of English and American statesmen at length succeeded in solving, with tolerable success, the question of how to reconcile these bitter theological controversies with the order of a civilised State. In Germany at the present moment this solution is being treated as if it were the mere invention of moral cowardice and weakness. And the result is that fierce passions, which might easily culminate in civil war, are being fanned and fostered. It is not for us to help in this mischievous process. We cannot much diminish the danger, but we need not aggravate it. Prince Bismarck’s latest speech seems to us the speech of a very vigorous, but not too scrupulous statesman, who, in treating national and religious passions, prefers the use of the spur just now to the use of the rein. We believe that his blunder arises partly from real inability to measure moral influences as he measures material forces, but partly also from observing how greatly this one-sidedness of his endears him to the majority of the people. We fear that he is sowing what other men less strong than he will reap, and that the harvest will not be a pleasant one. We are quite sure that no British statesman of the greater days of British statesmanship would have regarded Prince Bismarck’s policy with any other feeling than that of mingled dismay and disapproval; and it is to us as surprising as it is unwelcome to observe the disposition to envy Prince Bismarck’s boldness on the part of English critics who, if they had properly studied English history, would instead have deprecated with the utmost earnestness Prince Bismarck’s rash but too successful appeals to hasty national impulses and prejudices.