There were some similarities between the two brilliant statesmen. Both Bismarck and Hitler were against popular forms of governments such as democracy. Bismarck and Hitler both had similar disdain for socialism, though Hitler was much more tyrannical. Bismarck simply framed the socialists for an assassination attempt on the German emperor while Hitler burned down the Reichstag building to further his anti-socialist propaganda. However, Hitler believed in transforming the world into a Nazi Earth while Bismarck believed that Germany should gain whatever land it deserves.

The German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, mastermind of the German unification, and the charismatic dictator of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, were similar in many respects. Both were brilliant statesman, masters of manipulating the interests of others in order to achieve their goals. Both practiced realpolitik, willing to backstab, connive, and use blatantly illegal methods to gain power and prestige, both for themselves and for their nations. Both were loyal to a fault to their native lands. And both showed their policies to be dominated by a single, overarching goal for the entire time they were in power. (Source)

I am not sure if Hitler ever got to meet Bismarck because when Bismarck died in July 1898, Hitler must have been about 9 years old. But did Bismarck's persona and his role in unifying German states into a powerful German Empire have any influence on Hitler and if yes, how? I would also like to know if Hitler has mentioned anything about Bismarck in Mein Kampf and if he has said anything about Bismarck's vision and ideology?

  • 3
    What makes statesmen "brilliant"?
    – unor
    Feb 16, 2013 at 13:58
  • 2
    I'm not sure that it's correct to say that Hitler burned down the Reichstag. Is that current historic consensus? I was under the impression that it was burned down by Communists, despite the fact that their doing so played directly into the Fuhrer's hands.
    – Shimon bM
    Mar 12, 2017 at 2:02
  • 2
    Hitler made a considerable point of calling himself a socialist. So maybe this "disdain for socialism" would bear more explanation. Mar 12, 2017 at 21:34
  • 2
    Perhaps one of the most obvious differences between Bismarck and Hitler was that the first was a Prussian, the second an Austrian. Bismarck was the well-educated son of a wealthy Junker aristocrat, Hitler the child of a petty-bourgeois customs officer, who dropped out of almost everything it was possible to drop out of, before he was conscripted into the army. Starting from those points might be instructive.
    – WS2
    Nov 3, 2018 at 12:59
  • 2
    I flagged a bunch of comments about OP's avatar as "no longer needed" because OP has apparently changed said avatar in the intervening years.
    – Spencer
    Aug 28, 2021 at 23:00

4 Answers 4


Hitler says early in Mein Kampf

I studied Bismarck's exceptional legislation in its original concept, its operation and its results.

He praises various policies and the diplomacy of Bismarck's government, and towards the end declaims

What miserable pigmies our sham statesmen in Germany appear by comparison with him. And how nauseating it is to witness the conceit and effrontery of these nonentities in criticizing a man who is a thousand times greater than them. And how painful it is to think that this takes place in a country which could point to a Bismarck as its leader as recently as fifty years ago.

However, Bismarck was a hero to nearly all Germans, not just the Nazis, and indeed he is respected by historians as one of the most remarkable figures of his era. Historian Jonathan Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania writes in Bismarck: A Life (2011) writes:

[Bismarck's accomplishments of 1862-1871] constitute the greatest diplomatic and political achievement by any leader in the last two centuries, for Bismarck accomplished all this without commanding a single soldier, without dominating a vast parliamentary majority, without the support of a mass movement, without any previous experience of government, and in the face of national revulsion at his name and reputation.

Every political leader would study Bismarck, just as they would study any other successful leader.

Moreover, every activist and politician tries to surround himself with popular symbols and celebrities. For Hitler, trying to attract a mass movement, Bismarck would have been the obvious figure to claim as the architect of a successful and growing empire as opposed to the humiliated and unstable Weimar Republic. Certainly, there was nothing to be gained from saying his inspiration and ideas were formed under the influence of Anton Drexler and Dietrich Eckart, his actual mentors.

Bismarck did not leave behind any treatise on philosophy of government or political strategy. Hitler never met Bismarck and had no more claim to his mantle than any other leader, then or now.

The essay, if it can be called that, which you linked would never stand muster with academic historians. There is no real thesis, just an exercise in confirmation bias, linking the two as "brilliant statesmen" who "both practice realpolitik," who were "loyal to a fault to their native lands," and who "both showed their policies to be dominated by a single, overarching goal for the entire time they were in power." All of these points, in fact, are problematic. Was Hitler a brilliant statesman? To what extent did he practice realpolitik? Germany wasn't Hitler's native land, and considering his successes, how would Bismarck's patriotism have been a fault?

  • +1 and on the whole, a very good answer. Some remarks, though: (a) While Bismarck left no theoretical works on politics or statecraft, he did publish his memoirs (archive.org/details/bismarckmanstate02bismuoft) which offer a good exposition of his practical technique. As memoirs go, it is of course a rather self-serving view. Still a good and useful read (I can vouch for it, having read them a few years back). (b) I agree with your first three questions at the end, but re:patriotism, the phrase means was just "extremely patriotic, perhaps too much". Arguably, this can apply to Bismarck. Feb 15, 2013 at 20:55
  • Thanks for your answer. The questions you have raised about Bismarck vs. Hitler (idea) quite deserve attention and are fodder for thought. So far I have pursued History out of mere curiosity and I now feel it's time I showed some serious academic interest in it.
    – Elzee
    Feb 16, 2013 at 9:48
  • "No previous experience in government" prior to 1862 is ridiculous. Bismarck as a member of the Landtag helped guide Prussia through the crisis with Austria in 1849-1850.
    – C Monsour
    Dec 8, 2020 at 15:54
  • 1
    In many ways Bismark and Hitler are opposites. Bismark was a Prussian aristocrat, and a protestant who mandated a Kulturkampf against South German Catholics, and forced their acceptance of a secular civil society. Hitler was a Catholic and southerner, child of the petty-bourgeoisie. Hitler was always suspicious of his officer class - mostly Prussian. So much of the nation's socio-cultural history was lost as a result of WW2 that I'm not sure that any historian (certainly not an English one) has ever got to grips with the cross currents of social forces that produced the Third Reich.
    – WS2
    Aug 31, 2021 at 16:44

Hitler wanted to look like Bismarck, but in reality, he wasn't. In contrast to Hitler, Bismarck wasn't keen on war. He thought of war as the last and least favorable diplomatic tool.

He treated the nations he beat in war gently, for example the Austrians he went to war with in the 1860's and integrated into his "Three Emperors Alliance" later. This is a total contrast to Hitler's "Vernichtungskrieg" ("destruction war") which aimed on enslaving whole nations to create "Lebensraum". After the French-German war of 1871 was fought, Bismarck tried to create treaties with other European nations which made France an outlaw in global politics rather than completely deconstructing it.

Bismarck wasn't racist and a lot less brutal in achieving his goal. He hated socialists and Catholics, but not because he thought of them as "Untermenschen" but rather because of himself being a protestant capitalist.

Another interesting aspect of comparison is, how both approached their political enemies: While Hitler used sheer brute force to make them shut up, Bismarck just stole what they were fighting for, for example the social insurance laws he created to demoralize the German Socialist Party.

No, their parallels are over all just a matter of the time they lived in. Bismarck was a smart politician with ambivalent ambitions who tried to avoid wars and used diplomatic tools every time he was able to, while Hitler was just a very brutal, fanatically ideological idiot not being able to achieve anything without force.

  • But as has often been observed by historians - Germany would have had a Hitler, even if the young corporal of that name had been killed in WW1. There were plenty of others of a similar ilk. In my own view they were the product of two factors - 1. The destabilisation of a society that was changing faster than the bourgeoisie could maintain pace, and 2. "Defeat" in a catastrophic war which could be blamed on new forces - like socialism and internationalism, and on traditional scapegoats like Jews. Some of those features are present in the "populist" politics of today's Britain and America.
    – WS2
    Sep 1, 2021 at 6:31

I think it is easier to speak about differences. I was told in school that Bismarck warned against war with Russia, while in Hitler's ideology it was one of the key points. I have no online references though.

  • 2
    In addition, Bismarck favored and implemented the "Kleindeutsche Lösung" (German unification without inclusion of Austrian territories) whereas Hitler pursued the "Anschluss" of his native country.
    – Drux
    Feb 15, 2013 at 21:46
  • 2
    Bismarck started the "Three Emperor's Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and RUSSIA. boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/4197/…
    – Tom Au
    Oct 11, 2014 at 23:05

Here is the relevant quote from William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:

To combat socialism Bismarck put through between 1883 and 1989 a program for social security far beyond anything known in other countries. It included compulsory insurance for workers against old age, sickness, accident and incapacity, and though organized by the State it was financed by employers and employees. It cannot be said that it stopped the rise of the Social Democrats or the trade unions, but it did have a profound influence on the working class that it gradually made them value security over political freedom and caused them to see in the State, however conservative, a benefactor and a protector. Hitler, as we shall see, took full advantage of this state of mind. In this, as in other matters, he learned much from Bismarck.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.