Tag Archives: Otto von Bismarck

Henry Kissinger: The Idealist?

Review – Kissinger 1923–1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson

Henry Kissinger remains one of the world’s most controversial statesmen. He is a man who is, as Niall Ferguson states at the beginning of this new biography, covering the first 45 years of his subject’s life, both revered and reviled in equal measure. Kissinger is held up by some as a kind of seer, an intellectual without parallel in recent times; others declare – just as fiercely – that he has exercised an entirely corrosive influence on world affairs, that he is a war criminal – and, perhaps most oddly, that he is an agent of the shadowy forces which operate behind supposedly democratic nations to control the way the world really works. (The latter position is obviously ridiculous, but it is worth mentioning – not least because the risible imaginings of David Icke and his ilk can sometimes reflect the more vigorous denunciations of Kissinger which exist in significantly more acceptable circles.) There is one thing, however, on which both sides of this particular debate – which seeks to decide whether Kissinger is a hero or villain, a saint or sinner – appear to agree: that Kissinger was a realist, and a realist par excellence. Ferguson, however, takes a dramatically divergent view, one which is contained within his provocative subtitle. For him, Kissinger is (or at least was) an idealist, which represents the exact opposite of much of the popular and scholarly perception of Kissinger’s life and his work. It appears that everyone else has got the man entirely wrong. Continue reading

Did the System of European Alliances Cause the First World War?

The tangled web of European agreements and alliances has proven a permanent feature of the literature which has sprung up around debating the causes of the First World War. This school of thought gained prominence in the 1920s, when there was a general move towards internationalism and some small regrets about tarring Weimar Germany with the brush of its predecessor’s responsibility for beginning the Great War. Nevertheless, and despite this seeming datedness, the theory attracts a lot of support; tales of systemic failure, it could be argued, diminish individual responsibility and make people and nations feel better about their own role in events. There are other opinions on the matter, however, which range from blaming the actions of a single power – most often Germany – to blaming abstract concepts such as militarism, nationalism and even, as Christopher Clark writes in his book The Sleepwalkers, a ‘crisis of masculinity’, which is held to have caused European diplomatic and political leaders almost to destroy themselves and their nations out of little more than a collective sense of psychological necessity. Continue reading

Who Gained More From the Dual Alliance: Germany or Austria-Hungary?

The 1879 Dual Alliance between Austria-Hungary and Germany proved initially fortuitous for both signatories; Austria-Hungary gained validation and support, and the new German nation gained a vital ally in its ever-complicated quest to isolate the revanchist French and garner international standing. But after the removal of Otto von Bismarck from the Chancellorship in 1890 – commemorated in Punch with the famous illustration entitled ‘dropping the pilot’ – this balance began to go awry. Bismarck’s successor, Caprivi, referred to the alliance as the ‘cornerstone of our foreign policy’ and this state of affairs began to favour Austria-Hungary more than her northern neighbour. Finally, the alliance served to damage and destroy both powers in the European maelstrom of the First World War. Continue reading