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rej)resented different interests, pursued different ob-
jects; but they only argued on practical grounds and
rarely touched on such high matters as the conception
of the Universe. We Germans really are not differ-
entiated from the matter-of-fact Englishmen on this
point, by greater depth and thoroughness, but by a
mistaken estimate of political ideas. When we try
to make of party principles a system by which to
judge all political and non-political life, we harm our-
selves politically and intellectually. Politically, we
only intensify the differences which in any case we feel
particularly keenly, because we attribute a special in-
tellectual value to them, and we reduce more and more
the number of those tasks in public life which really
can be carried out much better without the bias of
party politics. But if we drag questions of intellec-
tual life into the realm of party politics, that will mean
the loss of that intellectual versatility and magnanim-
ity which have won for German culture the first place
in the civilised world.

l6o Imperial Germany

In Germany a politician or a statesman is very
quickly reproached with lack of principle if, under
pressure of shifting conditions, he changes an opinion
he used to hold, or approves of the views of more than
one party. But development takes place without ref-
erence to party platforms or principles. If forced
to choose between sacrificing an opinion and doing a
foolish thing, the practical man will prefer the former
alternative. At any rate, no ISIinister, who is re-
sponsible to the nation for his decisions, can afford to
indulge in the luxury of a preconceived opinion, when
it is a question of fulfilling a legitimate demand of the
times. And if, then, it is pointed out that there is a
contradiction between his present view and his earlier
expressions of opinion, I can only advise him to pro-
tect himself against the reproach of being inconsist-
ent, a turncoat, a weathercock, and whatever the
other catchwords of vulgar polemics may be, by ac-
quiring a thick skin, which is in any case a useful
thing to have in modern public life. It is a fact con-
firmed by all experience that the true interests of the
nation have never been found in the course of one par-
ticular party alone. They always lie midway be-
tween the courses pursued by various parties. We
must draw the diagonal of the parallelogram of forces.

Party Platforms 161

It will sometimes tend more in the direction of one
party and sometimes in that of another. A Minister,
whatever party he may incline to personally, must
try to find a compromise between all the legitimate
demands made by the various parties. In the course
of a fairly long term of office little by little, and as his
tasks vary, he will, of course, be attacked by all par-
ties. But that does not matter so long as the coun-
try prospers. I never took the reproach of lack of
political principle tragically; I have even, at times,
felt it to savour of praise, for I saw in it appreciation
of the fact that I was guided by reasons of State.
The political principles which a Minister has to live
up to are very different in character from the prin-
ciples recognised by a party man; they belong to the
sphere of State policy, not of party politics. A Mki-
ister must be loyal to the general interests of the State
and of the people which are entrusted to his care, and
this without considering party platforms, and, if
necessary, in opposition to all parties, even to that
with which the majority of his political views are in
accordance. In a Minister, firm principles and im-
partiality are not only compatible, they are interde-
pendent. Bismarck was a man of iron principles,
and by being true to them he led our country to unity.

i62 Imperial Germany

glory and greatness. As a Member of Parliament
he was a party man, and as Minister he was re-
proached by his party for a pohtical change of front.
He was accused ten years later of again changing his
opinions. As a matter of fact, he never swerved
from the path which led to his goal, for his goal was
nothing less than to secure prosperity and every pos-
sible advantage for the German nation and the Em-
pire. This goal could not be attained on party lines,
for the interests of the cormnunity in general seldom,
if ever, coincide with those of a single party.

Universally applicable rules for the best possible
policy cannot well be drawn up. Political ends and
political means vary with circumstances, and one must
not slavishly imitate any model, not even the greatest.
In as far as varied and chequered life can be summed
up in a formula, for politics it would run as follows:
Fanatical where the welfare and interests of the coun-
try and where reasons of State are in question, ideal-
istic in aim, realistic in political practice, sceptical, as
far as men, their trustworthiness and gratitude are



I HAVE never concealed the fact, even from Liberals,
that in many great questions of politics I share the
views of the Conservatives. In the same way I have
never denied the fact that I am not a Conservative
party man. As a responsible Minister I could not be
that, given the character of my office and our German
conditions. I discuss here what my personal reasons
are for not being a party man, although I consider
myself a Conservative in all essentials, because the
consideration of these reasons leads to concrete ques-
tions of German politics at the present time and in
the immediate past.


There is a distinct difference between State Con-
servatism that the Government can pursue and party
Conservatism that no Government in Germany can
adhere to without falling into a state of partisanship
which, in all circumstances, must prove fatal. In
other words: The policy of the Government can go


164 Imperial Germany

hand in hand with the policy of the Conservatives, so
long as the latter is in accordance with the true inter-
ests of the State. That was, and is, not seldom the
case. But the ways of the Government and the Con-
servatives must diverge, if the policy of the party is
not in accordance with the interests of the community
which the Government must protect. At the same
time, the Government can be more conservative to-
wards the party than the party towards the Govern-
ment. More conservative in the sense that it fulfils
more perfectly the special task of upholding the State.
In such situations Prince Bismarck, too, who was a
Conservative consciously and by conviction, came
into bitter conflict with his former party friends. It
is well known that he dealt in detail with this very
point, both in his "Gedanken and Erinnerungen"
("Thoughts and Recollections") and in the conversa-
tions which Poschinger has transmitted to us.

The task of Conservative policy was once aptly
defined by Count Posadowsky in the following way:
That Conservatives must maintain the State in such
a way that the people are content in it. Such a main-
tenance of the State is often unimaginable without the
alteration of existing institutions. The State must
adjust itself to modern conditions of life, in order

Conservatism 165

to remain habitable and consequently vigorous.

It would be very unjust to deny that the Conserv-
ative party has often assisted in introducing innova-
tions; sometimes, indeed, with a better grace than
those parties which have "Progress" inscribed on their
banner. This was the case in the year 1878, when
industrial conditions necessitated the great revolution
in tariffs and industrial policy. Again, at the inau-
guration of the social policy which took into account
the changed conditions of the labouring classes. But
at times the interests represented by the Conservative
party were opposed to the interests which the Govern-
ment defended, in order to preserve the community's
satisfaction in the State. Owing to the intensifica-
tion of economic differences, the Conservative party,
like all others, has, in a certain sense, come to repre-
sent special interests. I will not discuss the point
whether this is the case to such an extent as to be bad
for the party. But no one who has sat on the Front
Bench during the last decades will be prepared to
deny that it is true to a greater extent than is favour-
able to the course of the Government's affairs.

I had to withdraw further from the Conservative
party in proportion as it represented certain interests,
and I could not reconcile these with those of the com-

i66 Imperial Germany

munity. In the fight over the Tariff the interests of
the nation in general were identical with those of the
Conservative party; but in the reform of the Imperial
finances they were not. The subsequent development
in both cases proved this to be true. Nothing in the
fundamental views of the Conservative party in re-
spect of the organisation of society, industries and,
above all, of the State ever separated me from it, nor
does it do so to-day.


We must never fail to appreciate what the Con-
servative element has achieved for the political life of
Prussia and Germany. It would be a sad loss to the
nation if Conservative views ceased to be a living and
effective force among the Germans, and if the party
ceased to occupy a position in parliamentary and po-
litical life which is worthy of its past. The forces
which animate the Conservative party are those which
made Germany great, and which our country must
preserve in order to remain great and grow greater;
they are forces which never become out of date. We
Germans must not lose the ideals of the best Conserv-
atism; manly loyalty without servility to the King

Prusso-German Conservative Element 167

and the reigning family, and tenacious attachment to
home and country.

If, nowadays, the opponents of the Conservative
party are not content to fight them on the ground of
party differences, but manifest class-hatred, always
so objectionable in political life, against those classes
of the nation which are chiefly represented in the Con-
servative party, we must not forget what those very
classes did in the service of Prussia and Germany. It
was the noblemen and peasants east of the Elbe who,
under the HohenzoUern princes, primarily achieved
greatness for Brandenburg and Prussia. The throne
of the Prussian Kings is cemented with the blood of
the Prussian nobihty. The Great King (Frederick
the Great) expressed emphatically more than once
how well his nobles had served him.

The praise which the Prussian nobility demand,
and which they have a perfect right to expect, is not
meant to detract from the achievements and merits of
other classes. Without the self-sacrificing loyalty of
the middle classes, the peasants and the poor people,
the nobility would have accomplished little. It is
quite true, too, that the nobles were able to distinguish
themselves particularly in earlier times, because the
conditions at that period gave them exceptional oppor-

i68 Imperial Germany

tunities. But it was when they occupied posts of
responsibility and danger in the service of the Prus-
sian State that they achieved most — more than the
aristocracy of any other modern State. Nothing but
injustice can fail to recognise this.

It is altogether preposterous, nowadays, still to
contrast the nobility and tlie bourgeoisie as separate
castes. Professional and social life have so fused the
old classes that they can no longer be distinguished
from each other.

But if one appreciates at its true value the effi-
ciency of the old classes in the past, one must be just
and concede the merits of each. The Prussian nobles
have a right to be proud of their past. If they keep
the sentiments of their ancestors alive in the ideals of
the Conservative party, they deserve thanks for so
doing. And it must not be forgotten that such old
Prussian sentiments guided the policy of the Conserv-
ative party in the most difficult timj2S of our old Em-
peror and his great JNIinister, in the years of conflict.
So far as one can speak of a right to gratitude in pol-
itics — and one ought to be able to do so — we owe the
Conservatives a debt of gratitude for the support they
afforded Bismarck in the year 1862. I lay particular
stress on this, because at the time my official career

Conservatism and Liberalism 169

was nearing its close I was forced to oppose the Con-
servative party, and because I am absolutely con-
vinced that the Conservative faction went astray in
the year 1909. I should like to make a clear distinc-
tion between my general attitude towards Conserva-
tive views, my sentiments towards the Conservative
party, and my opinion of individual phases of Con-
servative party politics.

Even a man who esteems the fundamental views of
the Conservatives as highly as I do, who, like me,
hopes that sound Conservative thought will have a
far-reaching influence on legislation, and who has
often furthered such influence, must be of opinion
that disastrous consequences will result from the fact
that in 1909 the bridges between the Right and Left
were broken down. The really fruitful periods of
our home policy were those when the Right and the
Left co-operated. In saying this I refer, not only to
the time of the so-called "Block Policy," but also to
earlier, well-known and significant phases of Bis-
marck's time.


Conservatism and Liberalism are not only both
justified, but are both necessary for our political life.

lyo Imperial Germany

How difficult it is to rule in our country is made clear
by the facts that one cannot rule in Prussia for any
length of time without the support of the Conserva-
tives, nor in the Empire without that of the Liberals.
Neither must Liberal ideas disappear from us as a
people. Moreover, the formation of strong Liberal
parties is indispensable to us. If Conservatism is
rooted in the administrative talent of the old Prus-
sians, Liberahsm is rooted in the intellectual peculiar-
ities of the German nation. Its best ideals, too, are
of permanent value. We Germans do not want to
be deprived of the lusty defence of individual free-
dom against State coercion, and this Liberalism has
always represented.

Liberalism, too, has earned its historic rights and
its right to gratituda It was the Liberals who first
expressed the idea of German Unity, and spread it
through the people. They carried out the indispen-
sable preliminary work. The goal could not be
reached by the course which they followed. Then
Conservative policy had to step in, in order, as Bis-
marck expressed it, to realise the Liberal idea by
means of a Conservative action. The German Em-
pire itself may well be regarded as the first, the great-
est, and the most successful piece of work accom-

Conservatism and Liberalism 171

plished by the co-operation of the Conservatives and

It is at present customary in both camps to look
upon Conservatism and Liberalism as two fundamen-
tally opposed conceptions of the State, and to assert
that each lives on its antagonism to the other. That
does not, however, correctly interpret the relationship
between German Conservatives and Liberals. If it
were true, the two parties, and the groups which are
attached to them, would have to gain in strength the
stronger became the contrast between them, and the
more hostile the attitude they adopted towards each

But the exact opposite is the case. With the ex-
ception of a few extraordinary situations, the Con-
servatives and Liberals have been strongest as parties
and most influential in Parliament when they co-
operated. The two parties were strongest in the
Cartel and in the Block. And the periods of their
co-operation were always those when the temper of
the nation as a whole was most cheerful and hopeful.

No doubt we must not expect all political salvation,
or the solution of all legislative problems, to result
from co-operation between Conservatives and Liber-
als. It will happen again and again that their ways

172 Imperial Germany

part as regards individual, and also important, ques-
tions. For the antagonism exists, and rightly so.
It would also be quite wrong to credit the co-operation
of Conservatives and Liberals with all great achieve-
ments in the sphere of home politics. The Centre
played a distinguished and often a decisive part in our
social legislation, in many of our Armament Bills,
and, above all, in granting us the Navy. But strife
between the Conservatives and the Liberals has al-
ways been disastrous — for the two parties themselves,
for the course of our home policy, and, last but not
least, for the temper of the nation.

The antagonism between Liberals and Conserva-
tives will never disappear. It has an historical and a
practical significance. This friction is a part of our
political life. But the antagonism in their views
should not be exaggerated unnecessarily, nor made
to involve such great matters as utterly irreconcilable
conceptions of the Universe. In so doing one departs
from sober political reahty. Even religious antago-
nism which has been amongst us for four centuries,
and which the nation, in accordance with its disposi-
tion, has always taken very seriously, makes way for
the demands of the moment. In Socialism we really
have a series of ideas, so different from our homeh"

Conservatism and Liberalism 173

conceptions of Law and Custom, Religion, Society
and State that it may indeed be termed a different
conception of the Universe. I myself, in this connec-
tion, once spoke of a difference in the conception of
the Universe. But that a middle-class Liberal differs
from a middle-class Conservative in his conception of
the Universe no one seriously believes. They have
too many common ideas and ideals, especially in na-
tional matters, and the wide kingdom of German in-
tellectual life in Science and in Art belongs to them
both. How many Liberals there are who incline to
individual Conservative views! How many Con-
servatives who are by no means opposed to all Liberal
ideas and demands! All these people do not con-
sider themselves politically neutral, nor are they.
And what about the Ministers? The party papers
quarrel at regular intervals whether this Minister or
that other is to be stamped as a Conservative or as a
Liberal, and as a rule each party tries to foist the ma-
jority of Ministers on to the opposing party. The
fact is that, if asked to state precisely to which party
platform they give their support, most Ministers
would be at a loss.

It is not only unjustifiable, but also unpractical, to
emphasise unduly the differences between the parties.

174 Imperial Germany

■ They do not, as a rule, go hand in hand for any length
of time, and the bonds that unite them are anything
but permanent. So if they break with their friends
of yesterday, and become reconciled to their enemies
of yesterday, they are placed in the awkward position
of having to break down the carefully constructed
fabric of fundamental party differences, with as much
trouble as they expended in building it up. This has
happened just about as often as the composition of
the majority changed.

If party differences reaUy went so deep, and per-
meated so completely every detail of political life as is
represented in party quarrels, then, considering the
number of our parties, none of which has hitherto ob-
tained an absolute majoritj^ it would be impossible
to accomplish any legislative work.

But, as a matter of fact, much valuable work of
different kinds has been done in almost every depart-
ment of home politics during the last decades. One
after the other, the parties have placed themselves
at each other's disposal, and have often, with astound-
ing suddenness, overcome the differences they em-
phasised so strongly before. No doubt other differ-
ences are emphasised all the more strongly. And it
only lasts until the formation of a new majority, so

The Government and the Parties 175

that really there is no occasion to take the antagonism
between the parties so tragically.


The Government must also look upon party an-
tagonism as a variable quantity. Not only as a quan-
tity variable in itself, but as one whose variability can
and must be influenced if the interests of the Empire
and the State demand it. It is not sufficient to take
majorities wherever they are to be found and as occa-
sion offers. The Government must try to create ma-
jorities for its tasks.

To govern with a majority which varies in each
case is no doubt advantageous and convenient, but
there are great dangers attached to it. It is certainly
not a panacea for all political situations.

Bismarck is usually cited as having taken his ma-
jorities where he could get them. But in this, as in
most references to the time of Bismarck, the point is
missing — Bismarck himself at the head of the Gov-
ernment. He held the reins of Government with such
an iron grip that he never ran any risk of letting the
least scrap of power slip into the hands of Parlia-
ment through the influence he conceded to a majority,
when he happened to find one at his disposal. Above

176 Imperial Germany

all, he never dreamt of considering the wishes of a
majority unless they tallied with his own. He made
use of existing majorities, but he never let them make
use of him. Bismarck in particular excelled in rid-
ding himself of antagonistic majorities and in pro-
curing such as would acquiesce in the aims of his pol-
icy. If his choice lay between allowing an important
law to be blocked or mangled by an existing majority
and engaging in a troublesome fight to effect a change
of majority, he never hesitated to choose the latter.
He profited by the possibility of getting casual ma-
jorities, but he was the last to yield to such.

In this respect Bismarck's name should not be idly
cited. His rule can only serve as a precedent for a
strong, determined and even ruthless Government,
not for an accommodating and yielding one that con-
cedes greater rights to the parties than they are enti-
tled to claim.

It is certainly less trouble to look on and see how a
majority can be got together for a Bill, than to see
that the Bill is passed in the way the Government
thinks proper and profitable.

If the Government allows itself to be led, then it
may easily happen that, what with the feuds of the
parties and the haggling between the sections which

The Government and the Parties 177

make up the majority, the Bill will become unrecog-
nisable and something quite different will result — at
times even just the contrary to what the Government
wanted. In this way the majorities are not put at
the disposal of the Bills that the Government intro-
duces as opportunity affords, but the Government
give their Bills up to the majorities to pass and
amend as they see best. While the Government pre-
tends to be above the parties, in reality it slips under
their heel.

The very necessity for changing the majorities, in
view of the state of the parties in Germany, demands
a strong hand to direct the affairs of the Govern-
ment. No Government can work for ever with one
and the same majority. That is rendered impossible
by the relations which the parties bear to one an-
other, by the dogmatism of most parties, by their
tendency to go over to the opposition from time
to time in order to gain popularity, and, finally,
by the manifold nature of the Government's tasks,
which can only in part be accomplished by one
particular majority. In the interests of a policy
which as far as possible does justice to all sec-
tions of the nation, it is not desirable that any one
of the parties, with whose assistance positive work

178 Imperial Germany

for t-he good of the State can be done, should never
co-operate. It is good for the parties if they have a
share in legislative work. Parties which always pre-
serve an attitude of opposition and negation, and are
left alone by the Government, grow pedantic in the
items of their programmes, and, if they do not die out
altogether, at best deprive our public life of valuable
forces. In the course of the last decades the Left
Wing of our Liberalism had fallen into this condition,
even with regard to vital questions of national im-
portance. The problem of enrolling Ultra-Liberal-
ism in the forces useful to the nation had to be tackled.
It was solved by the "Block Policy," and this solution

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Online LibraryBernhard BülowImperial Germany → online text (page 9 of 18)