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Monday, April 4, 2011

A Book Review More Worthwhile Than the Book ?

Until I've read BISMARCK : A Life, by Jonathan Steinber,  I wouldn't venture whether this true of Henry Kissinger's review in the New York TImes,  excerpts of which follow.

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It is a measure of Steinberg’s achievement in “Bismarck: A Life” that the subsequent description of the “political genius of a very unusual kind” becomes far from a panegyric. He describes — in an incisive, if occasionally distracting, psychological approach — a highly complex person who incarnated the duality that later tempted Germany into efforts beyond its capacity. Bismarck was never seen in public without a uniform, yet he had never really served in the military and was generally viewed with suspicion by the military leaders for what they saw as his excessive moderation. The man of “blood and iron” wrote prose of extraordinary directness and lucidity, comparable in distinctiveness to Churchill’s use of the English language. The embodiment of ­realpolitik turned power into an instrument of self-restraint by the agility of his diplomacy. He dominated Germany and European diplomacy from a single power base, the confidence of an aging king, without other institutional backing or great personal following.

Bismarck is often cited as the quintessential realist, relying on power at the expense of ideals. He was, in fact, far more complicated. Power, to be useful, must be understood in its components, including its limits. By the same token, ideals must be brought, at some point, into relationship with the circumstances the leader is seeking to affect. Ignoring that balance threatens policy with either veering toward belligerence from the advocates of power or toward crusades by the idealists.

Bismarck dominated because he understood a wider range of factors relevant to international affairs — some normally identified with power, others generally classified as ideals — than any of his contemporaries.