Otto von Bismarck – the greatest leader of all time?

7 mins read

Dr Neil Faulkner explains why he believes Otto von Bismarck is the greatest military leader of all time.

When Otto von Bismarck  became its Prime Minister in 1862, Prussia was a second-rate power overshadowed by Russia, Austria, France, and Britain. It was also unstable, its ancient monarchy and traditional Junker landowning class threatened by the rising forces of pan-German nationalism and liberal democratic revolution. When Bismarck retired in 1890, Prussia was the dominant part of a united German Empire which had become the greatest power in Europe. The old monarchy had not only survived, but the Prussian King had been transformed into a German Emperor. The Prussian aristocracy had become the military-bureaucratic masters of a mighty state.


The Iron Chancellor

Instead of the old order being overwhelmed by the revolutionary forces of industrialisation, nationalism, and liberalism, Otto von Bismarck had put them all in harness to the traditional Prussian militarism represented by the King, the Junkers, and the Army. Bismarck had created an extraordinary hybrid: a turret of feudal power resting on a base of modern capitalist industry. Bismarck’s career of extraordinary statesmanship falls into two distinct phases. First,  Bismarck made conservative Prussia the standard-bearer of  German nationalism, waging three blitzkrieg wars in rapid succession – against Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866, and France in 1870. The result was to deflect the minor German states from their orbits around foreign powers, and to bring them into a close relationship with the rising power of Prussia. The consummation was the declaration of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles – France, the traditional enemy, defeated and prostrate, being a fitting setting for this great pageant of reborn Teutonic nationalism. Bismarck had destroyed the entire European balance of power in the space of seven years. Not only that, but the newly-unified German state was soon exploding with industrial energy, outstripping British coal and steel production by the end of the century, and leaping ahead in new industries like chemicals and electricals. In 1873, the Krupp complex of steel and arms factories employed 16,000. By 1912, grown hugely fat on state contracts, its workforce had grown to 70,000.

Otto Von Bismark – the greatest of all time?


Seeking allegiance

Phase two of Otto von Bismarck’s work was to protect the new politico-industrial colossus he had created against hostile combinations of jealous neighbours. So Bismarck rejected ‘Greater German’ expansionism after 1870, and sought instead to win and maintain the allegiance of both Russia and Austria, thus isolating France and securing the German Empire against a war on two fronts. Bismarck held to this line, maintaining the European peace, safeguarding Germany’s position in Europe, until his dismissal from high office by the new, young, thrusting Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890. The subsequent unravelling of Bismarck’s diplomatic web led directly to the disaster of 1914 – a war on two fronts what would bring the German Empire crashing to defeat four years later.

Dr Neil Faulkner is Editor of Military Times
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Why you voted for Otto von Bismarck

I am impressed by Von Bismarck’s diplomatic acumen and cold realism. He was too able to even be succeeded.


The father of modern Germany, having achieved what so many before him have failed to manage.

Otto not only was a great military leader, but also a political one, being responsible for the unification of Germany, influencing all the subsequent generations until after Hitler. Such a figure simply can not be forgotten.

He was a true statesman trying to develop his country for its best.


He united Germany thus creating one of the most powerful nations in Europe, exceeding both France and Great Britain.


His diplomatic and strategic skills was simply the best! He succesfuly ruled German Empire for lot of years.


He was able to unite all of the German states into one powerful empire, making it the most powerful country in Europe at that time. His empire stayed together until it was destroyed in the World Wars. If they’d never happened, his Germany would still be alive today.

Uniting Germany and creating an economic power house while ensuring relations with other nations would lead to stability in the region after.

Well, when it comes down to it, this is the man who did more to shape the modern world than anybody else on this list. We still live in an extension of the Age of Bismarck.

More so than any other leader, Bismark not only was the primary political, diplomatic, and military figure in the creation of the German state, but also his actions let to a sustainable empire in central Europe.

A supreme leader both in foreign and domestic issue, Bismarck was not only a ferocious warrior but also crafted a social insurance system that is still at the heart of many developed countries today

Bismarck’s outstanding ability to form alliances and treaties that enabled him to create the strongest power in the heart of Europe.

From a second-rate European state, he deftly crafted an economic and military powerhouse. His skilled statesmanship gracefully incorporated warfare and diplomacy to achieve his long-range goals. He united the forces of nationalism and liberalism to perpetuate the German monarchy, aristocracy, and army. A genius whose work laid the foundations of modern Europe.

Bringing together the disparate German states – an incredibly difficult accomplishment – required someone with the leadership acumen of the Iron Chancellor.

Bismarck managed to turn a tiny, forgetful nation into a powerhouse that has stood the test of time. He is literally what Civilization, the series, is all about!

Otto von Bismarck
– had to fight major battles
– he won them
– he had to fight long odds and start from almost nothing
– he did not win the war by destroying his country – he not only won, but created an empire that endured

I think otto von bismark is the greatest leader of all time because he built the german empire to greatness. Although he met his match, he still did what no other empire in the history of time could do,unite the german peoples under one banner.

The Iron Chancellor resonsible for forging a nation that would eventually start 2 world wars and dominate Europe for a number of years. Also he is well known as a ruthless military leader “The Iron Chancellor”


Doing the impossible> United Germany


Created Germany, and when he would have been Chancellor until 1945 the World Wars never had started. But sadly the Kaiser didnt understand how valuable he was and so the Kaiser fired him and gone with Leib und Seele in the first World War.


He unified Germany against all odds with his skills in diplomacy and war. He stabilized and modernized Germany after with Realpolitik. He gave (Central) Europe a phase of peace for over 40 years, which seldomly happened before and after. He was the “honest broker” and a master of diplomacy. I could go on, but the place is not here.

He was great

Bismarck was able to take a loose bunch of city states and make it into one of the most powerful countries on Earth – he didn’t inherit it, he didn’t conquer it, he used pure political savvy to create an entire country.

Bismarck unified a number of states to form a military and economic powerhouse that continues to dominate Europe, albeit now on a financial muscle perspective.


Bismark managed to unite disjointed German states into a mighty empire, defeated France and Austria-Hungary and set the stage for the most powerful state Central Europe had ever seen.


United a country that has since its creation, been one of the strongest countries in history. Especially for its size.


Single-handedly managed the diplomatic ‘balance of power’ of Europe from 1860-1890 and accomplished the impossible by unifying the disparate German states into a cohesive (if still monarchical) empire. Waged war against Austria, Denmark and France within diplomatic (and thus acceptable) contexts and, though he upset the balance of power immensely, managed to avoid drawing Britain or Russia into a European imbroglio. Furthermore, he managed (deftly) the Eastern Question of Turkey and the early stages of Europe’s colonization of Africa. All of this, mind you, as Chancellor of a constitutional monarchy, not as an autocrat or tyrant.


Crafted a superpower from a collection of bickering states and thrust it into the world stage. In addition, put into place things like worker’s rights, healthcare and other great steps forward in policy.

My favourite is actually Cyrus the Great but he’s not on here.

Otto is the greatest leader of this particular list, because his achievements – both military and political had a long lasting (and still lasting) impact on both his own country and the whole world. Also his political surrounding of the time was probably the harshest. All of these older historical figures usually were short-lived and they most often had no counterparts to give them real challenge.


“War is diplomacy by other means”

He single handedly created a new nation without making the 30 or so prior nations angry about it. He also created a new european order of alliances that would usher in a golden age of European culture that lasted until WWI.


He made Germany one of the most powerful state of Europe in just a few years and he managed to overrun the others great country such as France.

Bismarck shaped European diplomacy for the 19th century, unifying Germany and being conscious of possible future threats that his followers would avoid. These incapabilities would lead to WWI that Bismarck could have avoided with his policies.

Had Bismark been leader, WW1 would either not have happened, or been a German victory
P Rod

Brought his home from a corrupt decaying backwards irrelevant region and made it the shining beacon of Europe. By his inspiration Germany, went from Greatness in the world, to total destruction (WWI) to greatness, Then again to even lower depths(WWII and the cold war) becoming a plaything of other empires and finally to the seat of A great European union In a single 100 years. With the economy of all Europe at its back and the third largest econ in the world in its own home the modern Germany must thank Otto von Bismark The Greatest Leader of All time for being and making Germany his home.

Because it sure as hell doesn’t belong to Napoleon.


Bismarck was a master of the “Great Game”. Personally repulsed by the realities of war, he nonetheless resorted to diplomacy, war and politics as tools to be used in the forging of Germany. He always knew when he had the high ground and acted when victory was assured. His special greatness was to make others (including his enemies and his social superiors) bend to his iron will and the achievement of his goals.

For centuries the German peoples were separated (counties, bisphorics, prinicipalities). Otto von Bismarck united these peoples and created a nation that withstood great upheavel (some of it of its own doing). To this day Germany is going strong.
Many other leaders took an existing empire (nation) to glory, Otto von Bismarck created a (glorious) nation.

Bismarck made Prussia, despite its small size, have the most powerful land army during his time. He was able to carefully balence alliances, and united Germany for the first time since the Holy Roman Empire.

He created the most powerful nation on earth, that was laid low only due to the later leaders not heeding his advice, and attempting to take on the rest of the world combined (twice).


  1. Germany’s rise as a powerful nation was swift and impressive, large in part, as you say, to Bismarck. However, the greatest leader of all time is a tall order too far for a man who a) was not even the leader of his nation b) was disposed as inadequate much before his legacy could ever be realistically considered amongst utterly great leaders and c) as profiund as his effects were on Germany, he still only held power in a nation clearly second to another in the 19th century (i.e. Britain) – thus bringing up the question of how he can be considered the greatest of all time when he was not even the leader of the greatest in his time?

  2. All the ‘young, thrusting’ brat deserved was a second rate european power. Germany and all her drive and promise was a reflection of the man who created her. A man of ability not fortune. Wilhelm took from Bismarck what was not his to take. Although German foreign policy was always going to be expansionary and Bismarck was the one who discarded the old order, he would have delicately brought the European balance of power to a stable equilibrium. He would have established a new order through statesmenship- Our Kaiser on the other hand was indifferent to the tension and insecurity his actions created, gleefully entering a new era of heightened capacities and risks, hoping someone would simply reward Germany for being loud

  3. I’m evaluating the role of Otto Von Birmarck in the unification of the German states for my historical investigation and i really need help! Thank you

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