What about Bismarck?

Reading James Hawes’ “Shortest History of Germany”, which I find pretty entertaining and well written, in the context of the global Black Lives Matter movement as well as the reconsideration of whose statues should stay up and which ones should most definitely not… Otto von Bismarck’s role stands out.

Bismarck (Wikipedia) was, by all accounts, not a particularly nice fellow. A skilled (but ruthless) diplomat, he was instrumental in shaping (“uniting”) what would become modern-day, nation-state Germany from a bunch of minor kingdoms and states; he “kept the peace” in Europe (after securing that “unified” German state with support of his military (and/or militias); he was against colonialization (for the wrong reasons, i.e. mostly financial considerations) but then reversed course and doubled down on German colonialization.

He also was instrumental in introducing a state-run social security system, which is a plus in my book.

He is one of those political figures which loom large — no, huge — in German history. And there are countless statues of him.

As Bret Devereaux demonstrates in this excellent Twitter thread, statues are not of people but of values these people represent. This will be important in a second.

Now, if…

  1. … you don’t take the formation of the German nation-state as a worthy goal in and of itself — if you don’t assign inherent value to the founding of a particular nation;
  2. … we can safely assume, these statues of Bismarck on horseback are not about him introducing a government pension plan;
  3. … if, in other words, we have to assume the values represented by his statues are about brute-forcing the foundation of a nation that dominated Europe for quite some time after, was heavily militaristic, and committed horrible crimes in its colonies (both during and after Bismarck’s reign);

Then why exactly are those statues still up?

This seems a good time to re-evaluate the role of Bismarck in Germany, Europe, the world.

Come on, Germany, you can do better. We can collectively do better. We have to.