(Original post by Brandmon)
Agreed. Uniting 25 separate states, albeit all sharing their common culture and the unification having a sense of inevitability, is no easy feat and is the single event that shaped the 20th Century as much as the Collapse of the USSR did to the 21st.
The nine years leading up to 1871 do indeed constitute the most unlikely achievement of any leader in the last two centuries. For Bismarck accomplished it without commanding a single soldier, without dominating a vast parliamentary majority, without the support of a mass movement, without any previous experience of government, without the charisma of a great orator and in the face of national revulsion at his name and reputation.
But I think there was another dimension to Bismarck's greatness, aside from his achievement. It was Bismarck's ability to instantly comprehend the momentousness of a situation and summarise its probable repercussions in just a few precise words. This ability, as a statesman, raises him above any other.
I recall that he said this in the presence of Disraeli at the Russian ambassador's residence in London:
"I shall soon be compelled to undertake the conduct of the Prussian Government. My first care will be to reorganise the army, with or without the help of the Prussian Parliament. As soon as the army shall have been brought into such a condition as to inspire respect, I shall seize the first best pretext to declare war against Austria, dissolve the German diet, subdue the minor states, and give national unity to Germany under Prussian leadership"
I can think of no other statesman that would have had the audacity or resolution to make these sort of claims, nor one who could fathom the largeness of his ideas. And as Disraeli said at the time "Take care of that man; he means what he says". He was truly the man of blood and iron, but what must have been the genius which so overcame the flaws of heart and mind that its possessor not only owned a continent, but won the love and homage of millions?
The politicians of today pale in comparison. Could you imagine Cameron or Brown having the far-sightedness or intent to make such a speech? Nowadays the English temper has abated to such an extent that it is conditioned only to effect tax rises and spending cuts. And that is the fullest extent of statesmanship today.