Otto von Bismarck

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Politics is not an exact science... but an art.

Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg (1 April 1815 - 30 July 1898) German aristocrat and statesman; Prime Minister of Prussia (1862 -1890), First Chancellor of Germany (1871 - 1890); he is nicknamed the Iron Chancellor and is noted for the laconicity of his statements.

Sourced

  • Nicht durch Reden und Majoritätsbeschlüsse werden die großen Fragen der Zeit entschieden — das ist der große Fehler von 1848 und 1849 gewesen — sondern durch Eisen und Blut.
    • Not by speeches and votes of the majority, are the great questions of the time decided — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood.
    • Speech to the Prussian Diet (30 September 1862). After some objections to his initial speech he returned to the podium and declared: "I must protest that I would never seek foreign conflicts just to go over domestic difficulties; that would be frivolous. I was speaking of conflicts that we could not avoid, even though we do not seek them."
    • Variant translations: The great questions of the time are not decided by speeches and majority decisions — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood.
      The great issues of the day are not decided through speeches and majority resolutions — that was the great error of 1848 and 1849 — but through blood and iron.
      The great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and the resolutions of majorities — that was the great mistake from 1848 to 1849 — but by blood and iron.
      The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions ... but by iron and blood.
  • So clobbeth the Poles so that they despair; they have my deepest sympathy for their situation, but, if we want to exist, we have no choice but to wipe them out ('ausrotten'); the wolf cannot help it that he was created by God the way he is, but one shoots him yet, if one can.
    • Letter to his sister Malwine (March 1861)
A conquering army on the border will not be stopped by eloquence.
  • A conquering army on the border will not be stopped by eloquence.
    • Speech to North German Reichstag (24 September 1867)
  • Setzen wir Deutschland, so zu sagen, in den Sattel! Reiten wird es schon können.
    • Let us lift Germany, so to speak, into the saddle. It will certainly be able to ride.
    • Speech to Parliament of Confederation (1867)
  • He who has his thumb on the purse has the power.
    • Speech to North German Reichstag (21 May 1869)


  • Wir Deutschen fürchten Gott, sonst aber Nichts in der Welt; und diese Gottesfurcht ist es schon, die uns den Frieden lieben und pflegen lässt.
    • We Germans fear God, but nothing else in the world; and already that godliness is it, which let us love and foster peace.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (6 February 1888)
  • Your map of Africa is really quite nice. But my map of Africa lies in Europe. Here is Russia, and here... is France, and we're in the middle — that's my map of Africa.
    • Conversation with a colonial enthusiast revealing his disapproval of Colonialism. (1888)
  • Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann.
    • The old Jew, he is the man.
    • A conversation in 1879 on who was the centre of gravity at the Congress of Berlin, referring to Benjamin Disraeli
  • God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America.
    • Quoted in Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World (2002). pg vii
    • Unsourced variant: There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.

Unsourced

  • Der König herrscht aber regiert nicht.
    • The king reigns but does not govern.
  • Ich bin gewöhnt in der Münze wiederzuzahlen in der man mich bezahlt.
    • I am accustomed to pay men back in their own coin.
  • Lieber Spitzkugeln als Spitzreden.
    • Better pointed bullets than pointed speeches.
  • A government must not waiver once it has chosen its course. It must not look to the left or right but go forward.
  • A journalist is a person who has mistaken their calling.
  • A little caution outflanks a large cavalry.
  • A really great man is known by three signs— generosity in the design, humanity in the execution, moderation in success.
    • Variant: The three signs of great men are— generosity in the design, humanity in the execution, moderation in success.
  • A statesman... must wait until he hears the steps of God sounding through events, then leap up and grasp the hem of His garment.
Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.
  • Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.
  • Be polite; write diplomatically; even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness.
  • Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deeds is the only compensation for noble sacrifices.
  • I have always found the word "Europe" in the mouths of those politicians who wanted from other powers something they did not dare to demand in their own name.
  • I have never lived on principles. When I have had to act, I never first asked myself on what principles I was going to act, but I went at it and did what I thought fit. I have often reproached myself for my want of principle.
  • I have seen three emperors in their nakedness, and the sight was not inspiring.
  • If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans. (almost perfectly describes World War I, which occured well after his death)
  • If the British Army landed in Europe, I'd get the Belgian police to arrest them.
  • Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.
    • Variant: Never believe in anything until it has been officially denied.
  • People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.
    • Variant: People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, and before an election.
  • The main thing is to make history, not to write it.
  • What we learn from history is that no one learns from history.
  • The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Russia.
  • The most noble gentleman works 9 to 5
  • The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.
  • You can't destroy the Poles but if you give them power they'll destroy themselves.
  • When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of putting it into practice.
    • Variants: When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice.
      When you say you agree to a thing in principle you mean that you have not the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice.
  • When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.
  • With a gentleman I am always a gentleman and a half, and with a fraud I try to be a fraud and a half.
  • A Bavarian is halfway between an Austrian and a human being.
  • The most significant event of the 20th century will be that the fact that the North Americans speak English.
  • He who is not a socialist at 19, has no heart. He who is still a socialist at 30, has no brain.
    • exists in different variations, this one by Otto von Bismarck

Disputed

  • I have about made up my mind that laws are like sausages — the less you know about how they are made the more respect you have for them.
    • Attributed to "Old Mr. Hawes" a member of the Illinois legislature, in "The Nation's Capital" — a banquet speech by John W. Ross (9 October 1896) in Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Convention of the National Association of Life Underwriters (1896) p. 133 - 134. This is the earliest published occurrence yet found of a statement regarding the similarity of laws and sausages, such as are most commonly attributed to Bismark, as early as 1958, but also sometimes to Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, Clarence Darrow and Mark Twain. There are many variants that have been published in print or on the internet, but as yet no clear citations as to when or where any figure other than "Old Mr. Hawes" declared it, some time prior to 1896.
    • If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.
    • Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.
    • Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.
    • Laws are like sausages. You should never see them made.
    • Laws are like sausages. You should never watch them being made.
    • Law and sausage are two things are two things you do not want to see being made.
    • No one should see how laws or sausages are made.
    • To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.
    • The making of laws like the making of sausages, is not a pretty sight.
    • Je weniger die Leute darüber wissen, wie Würste und Gesetze gemacht werden, desto besser schlafen sie nachts.
      • The less the people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep in the night.
        • (No citation exists for where this German phrase or this translation originated).

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