Psychotic heavy influence on Sybel’s writing. He

Psychotic or sensible? Monster or God? Heroic or heinous? When it comes to how historians view the German political figure Otto von Bismarck, opinions tend to clash. The ideas of who Bismarck was and his significance in the course of history have morphed over decades of intellectual thought and writing in a way that they have for no other individual. In her article “Between Savior and Villain: 100 Years of Bismarck Biographies,” Karina Urbach observes these shifts in sentiments regarding Bismarck through analyzing the pages of several biographies written about him after the year 1898. Urbach’s compelling article painted the picture of a polarizing man who was particularly adept at manipulating the masses.
To begin, Urbach notes that the one thing all “7,000 books, including up to 50 scholarly biographies” (Urbach) published on Bismarck have in common is that they agree on Bismarck’s origins. His tumultuous and hateful relationship with his mother, his blithely ignorant father, his average work ethic in school, and the major turning point in his life in 1847 are all seen to be established truths; but anything beyond that is up for debate. 
The first Bismarck commentator that Urbach references is Bismarck himself. His self-writings contained their own deceiving intentions, meant to manipulate the public’s and the government’s opinions on who he was and what he was capable of. Even the earliest biographies written on Bismarck “show us the extent to which the political Zeitgeist made them distort the picture of Bismarck” (Urbach.) Another early work written by Heinrich v. Sybel was based on primary sources he had obtained from the Prussian state, but Bismarck had a heavy influence on Sybel’s writing. He made sure the resulting biography made Bismarck seem like “simply the good servant who did his duty” (Urbach.) Certain people were told certain aspects of his character depending on what image he wanted to project, as Urbach remarks “the British, for example, were fed with stories in which the German host was portrayed as a dog lover who adored the countryside…German intellectuals who actually ‘lived’ with Bismarck, found him baffling and complex” (Urbach.) It should be no surprise then that controversies over Bismarck’s reputation started amongst his own countrymen, as the kleindeutsche and grobsdeutche, two major groups of German historians who squabbled over Bismarck’s establishment of the Reich. Historians on both conflicting sides saw in him what they wanted to see: for example, the kleindeutsche perceived Bismarck as the man that would lead the Prussians in their construction of the German nation state. Favorable support and appreciation for Bismarck appeared in the biographies of his friends Max Lenz and Max Lehmann, and they highlighted particularly flattering components of his life, such as his religious zeal. However, as the lawyer and economist Max Weber began declaring his opposition to Bismarck’s policies and the Reich, the writings of his friends were being tailored to conform to Weber’s thoughts, new situations, and maybe even to those of Treitschke published earlier than them. 
In 1914, on the brink of the First World War, Bismarck’s reputation altered to one more of propaganda. Adolf Matthias credited Bismarck for embedding patriotic pride in the German people, and that were he still alive, he would have wholeheartedly agreed to Germany’s participation in the war. In the ensuing conflict, the historian Marcks looked to Bismarck’s legacy to shed light on the problems occurring in Germany.
In the 1920’s, confidential files and information were released for public consumption, and this release of information inspired a new wave of Bismarck research. Newly discovered aspects of Bismarck’s life, portrayed in short monographs as to avoid too much disruption, were being commended; such as his “peaceful foreign policy of the 1870s and 1880s…praised as an example of modesty and wisdom” and how “intelligently Bismarck drafted his instructions to German diplomats” (Urbach.) However, with this information there were other uglier details that began to surface regarding Bismarck, specifically his established hatred for “The Poles, the Catholics, the Socialists, the Hohenzollern wives, Hamburg businessmen, and Jews” (Urbach.) Bismarck was deeply anti-semitic, as first pointed out by historian Otto Johlinger. being compared to Hitler by multiple Nazis and historians, and they believed that Hitler’s accomplishments in 1938 were exactly what Bismarck would have aimed to achieve had he been alive. The Nazis utilized Bismarck’s policies and principles to build the standards of their new Nazi regime. Bismarck was also associated with famous figures such as Luther and Wallenstein by other historians of the time. In this era historian Emil Ludwig wrote one of the most well-liked biographies on Bismarck, but shifted his focus from Bismarck’s politics and roles in the military and government to his personality and what he might have been like in an emotional way. Ludwig’s writings portrayed Bismarck and his life as an “ancient Greek drama with a Faustian hero” (Urbach.) 
For a few years in between 1934 to 1938, Bismarck biographies became less prevalent as his influence became less significant. Bismarck’s legacy continued to star in the Nazi propaganda, as two films were produced about him around this time. Not everybody was satirized with Bismarck’s newfound ties to the Nazi party. Diplomat Ulrich von Hassell wrote about the propaganda pieces “it is regrettable what a wrong picture of him we have created in the world…in truth diplomacy and moderation were his greatest gift” (Urbach.) Bismarck was notorious for being able to manipulate and intimidate those around him, but it seems as though throughout the course of history he has been manipulate too. Historians and politicians alike have twisted Bismarck into a figure that supports their cause or their standpoint, an action that Bismarck himself was guilty of in his time.
Bismarck was not always painted in a nice way. There was a strong group of “left-wing liberal humanitarians” (Urbach) who disagreed with his actions. He had strong critics and opposers who wrote biographies, one example being the former lawyer Erich Eyck. Eyck’s opinion of Bismarck was grim and sour, as Urbach says “Eyck despised Bismarck’s lack of respect for the rule of law, and as a liberal he passionately condemned Bismarck’s cynicism towards liberal, democratic, and humanitarian ideals. For him, Bismarck incapacitated the people.” Eyck continues on to further express his feelings on Bismarck’s reign, saying “It was Bismarck’s authoritarian and intolerant style…the brutal means which he used to achieve his ends, that made it impossible for the Germans to develop and grow under him” (Urbach.)  These passages are a stark contrast to the previous time in which Bismarck was praised for his great work and his seemingly genuine interest in international affairs and politics. Eyck’s idea of Bismarck conveys the irrational, erratic, and violent side of who Bismarck was, a side that was not necessarily touched on in earlier historical recounts. It’s also interesting that Eyck saw Bismarck as someone who “incapacitated the people”, as this is drastically different from Heinrich v. Sybel’s earlier publications that made Bismarck out to be “simply the good servant who did his duty.” This contrasting of opinions shows Bismarck’s polarity in the eyes of the people; a man who can range from the humility of a servant to the cruelty of a tyrant. 
When Germany fell in 1945, Bismarck’s reputation was again altered. A famous Bismarck biography originating from this time period was one written by A.J.P Taylor. Taylor’s biography was not perhaps as organized as others were, but he gave a more in-depth analysis of Bismarck’s childhood and how that might have affected him and his politics. Taylor created a theory that Bismarck was particularly adept at harnessing his “female and male sides,” and was very capable of switching between the two when necessary. This theory of Taylor’s shows the manipulative tendencies of Bismarck, that he had a keen awareness of his audience and was able to mold himself around their strengths/weaknesses. Taylor highlighted Bismarck’s “overt combativeness”, but made sure to make it clear to that this was only one perspective of his multifaceted personality, as he also known to be a “great charmer,” in other words his “manipulative emotional intelligence” (Urbach.) While Taylor certainly did not reject Bismarck’s reputation as a militant, pugnacious, he did not see this as being all of Bismarck’s character; rather he saw him as a man who “wanted peace for his country and helped to give Europe such peace for forty years” (Urbach.)
Clearly, as shown in Urbach’s summaries and analyzation of these biographical works, one can see how much Bismarck’s image has been changed under the pen of each historian and intellectual who writes about him. Even in his death Bismarck is still making his mark on the course of history, a significant point that cannot go unnoticed. However, one thing is for certain: Bismarck is man, whatever people’s opinions of him may be, who was skilled at eliciting the emotions and swaying the minds of the people he worked for and alongside.