The Bismarck Myth

The Bismarck Myth
The Bismarck Myth

Oxford University Press: Oxford and New York

Few statesmen in history have inspired the imagination of generations of Germans more than the founder of the Kaiserreich, Otto von Bismarck. The archetype of charismatic leadership, the Iron Chancellor maintained his pre-eminent position in the pantheon of Germany’s political iconography for much of the twentieth century. 

Based on a large selection of primary sources, this book provides an insightful analysis of the Bismarck myth’s profound impact on Germany’s political culture. In particular, it investigates the ways in which that myth was used to undermine parliamentary democracy in Germany after the Great War, paving the way for its replacement by authoritarian rule under an allegedly ‘Bismarckian’ charismatic leader, Adolf Hitler. 

As one of the most powerful weapons of nationalist agitation against the Weimar Republic, the Bismarck myth was never contested. The nationalists’ ideologically charged interpretation of Bismarck as the father of the German nation-state and model for future political decision-making clashed with rivalling – and thoroughly critical – democratic and communist perceptions of the Iron Chancellor. The quarrel over Bismarck’s legacy demonstrates how the clash of ideologies, particularly between 1918 and 1933, resulted in a highly political fight for the ‘correct’ and universal interpretation of the German past. 

Essential reading for anyone interested in modern German history, this award-winning book sheds new light on the Weimar Republic’s struggle for survival and the reasons for its failure.

Link to the publisher’s website

The book has also been translated into German.


“…an astutely conceived and solidly grounded contribution to the historiography of German political culture in the early twentieth century.” – Geoff Eley The English Historical Review

“The history of Weimar Germany’s failure has never been told more accurately, convincingly, and vividly than in Robert Gerwarth’s Bismarck Myth.” – Johannes Willms, Deutschland Radio

“Gerwarth’s book makes an outstanding contribution to our understanding of modern Germany’s political culture.” – Heinrich August Winkler

“Robert Gerwarth’s study on Otto von Bismarck and the role of the Bismarck myth in the rise of Hitler sets new standards for the historiography of Weimar Germany (and) improves our understanding of the fatal turn which German history took in 1933.” – Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Weltwoche