Otto von Bismarck

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"Politics is the art of the possible."

Otto von Bismarck, in full Otto Eduard Leopold, Fürst (prince) von Bismarck, Graf (count) von Bismarck-Schönhausen, Herzog (duke) von Lauenburg (born 1 April 1815, Schönhausen, Altmark, Prussia Germany—died 30 July 1898, Friedrichsruh, near Hamburg) was the prime minister of Prussia (1862–73, 1873–90) and founder and first chancellor (1871–90) of the German Empire. Once the empire was established, he actively and skillfully pursued pacific policies in foreign affairs, succeeding in preserving the peace in Europe for about two decades.[1]

Welfare state in Germany

The first system of compulsory state health insurance and old age pensions was introduced in Germany. The aim of Bismarck's social insurance legislation, as he himself put it in 1880, was ‘to engender in the great mass of the unpropertied the conservative state of mind that springs from the feeling of entitlement to a pension.’ In Bismarck’s view, ‘A man who has a pension for his old age is . . . much easier to deal with than a man without that prospect.’ To the surprise of his liberal opponents, Bismarck openly acknowledged that this was ‘a state-socialist idea! The generality must undertake to assist the unpropertied.’ But his motives were far from altruistic. ‘Whoever embraces this idea’, he observed, ‘will come to power.’[2]

Bismarck waged a lengthy political war on the free-trade classical liberals in Germany; they preferred peaceful means for the creation of a prosperous nation, as well as peace with Germany’s neighbors, rather than war, colonization, and militarism. As a part of his state-building program in Central Europe, Bismarck pioneered the welfare state, which has since come to colonize much of the political space of the globe. Bismarck ushered in the German welfare state through a series of compulsory insurance schemes for accidents, health, disability, and old age, which he promoted and enacted in the 1880s. The militaristic Chancellor Bismarck called his measures "State Socialism," and stated in 1882 that "Many of the measures which we have adopted to the great blessing of the country are Socialistic, and the State will have to accustom itself to a little more Socialism yet."

The historian A. J. P. Taylor explained that, "Bismarck wanted to make the workers feel more dependent on the state, and therefore on him." It was, above all, a political stratagem to create a dependent population imbued with an ideology of national collectivism. Bismarck confirmed that the purpose of his "State Socialism" was to generate the dependency, and thus loyalty, that a powerful Germany needed to dominate Europe:[3]

Whoever has a pension for his old age is far more content and far easier to handle than one who has no such prospect. Look at the difference between a private servant and a servant in the chancellery or at court; the latter will put up with much more, because he has a pension to look forward to.


I will consider it a great advantage when we have 700,000 small pensioners drawing their annuities from the state, especially if they belong to those classes who otherwise do not have so much to lose by an upheaval and erroneously believe they can actually gain much by it.


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. "Otto von Bismarck. 2012.", referenced 2012-08-05.
  2. Niall Ferguson. The Ascent of Money, Chapter 4, p. 200-208. Published 2008, ISBN 9780141035482. Referenced 2012-06-23.
  3. Tom G. Palmer. "After the Welfare State" (pdf). "Bismarck's Legacy", p. 35. Referenced 2013-01-15.