Self-Portrait of Otto von Bismarck as an Atheistic Young Hegelian


Otto von Bismarck's self-portrait of himself as—like Karl Marx—an Atheistic Young Hegelian. How much Bismarck believed what he wrote, and how much Bismarck's beliefs were accurate, are things that I must leave to the judgment of those more expert than I. From The German Classics: Masterpieces of German Literature Translated Into English: Volume X: Prince Otto Von Bismarck, Count Helmuth Von Moltke, Ferdinand Lassalle:

Otto von Bismarck: "Hotel de Prusse, Stettin. (Not dated: written about the end of December, 1846.) "TO Herr von Puttkamer:

Most Honored Sir:

I begin this communication by indicating its content in the first sentence—it is a request for the highest thing you can dispose of in this world, the hand of your daughter. I do not conceal from myself the fact that I appear presumptuous when I, whom you have come to know only recently and through a few meetings, claim the strongest proof of confidence which you can give to any man. I know, however, that even irrespective of all obstacles in space and time which can increase your difficulty in forming an opinion of me, through my own efforts I can never be in a position to give you such guaranties for the future that they would, from your point of view, justify intrusting me with an object so precious, unless you supplement by trust in God that which trust in human beings can not supply. All that I can do is to give you information about myself with absolute candor, so far as I have come to understand myself. It will be easy for you to get reports from others in regard to my public conduct; I content myself, therefore, with an account of what underlay that—my inner life, and especially my relations to Christianity. To do that I must take a start far back...

...In earliest childhood I was estranged from my parents' house, and at no time became entirely at home there again ; and my education from the beginning was conducted on the assumption that everything is subordinate to the cultivation of the intelligence and the early acquisition of positive sciences. After a course of religious teaching, irregularly attended and not comprehended, I had at the time of my confirmation by Schleiermacher, on my sixteenth birthday, no belief other than a bare deism, which was not long free from pantheistic elements. It was at about this time that I, not through indifference, but after mature consideration, ceased to pray every evening, as I had been in the habit of doing since childhood; because prayer seemed in consistent with my view of God's nature; saying to my self: either God himself, being omnipresent, is the cause of everything—even of every thought and volition of mine—and so in a sense offers prayers to himself through me, or, if my will is independent of God's will, it implies arrogance and a doubt as to the inflexibility as well as the perfection of the divine determination to believe that it can be influenced by human appeals. When not quite seventeen years old I went to Gottingen University. During the next eight years I seldom saw the home of my parents; my father indulgently refrained from interference; my mother censured me from far away when I neglected my studies and professional work, probably in the conviction that she must leave the rest to guidance from above: with this exception I was literally cut off from the counsel and instruction of others. In this period, when studies which ambition at times led me to prosecute zealously—or emptiness and satiety, the inevitable companions of my way of living—brought me nearer to the real meaning of life and eternity, it was in old-world philosophies, uncomprehended writings of Hegel, and particularly in Spinoza's seeming mathematical clearness, that I sought for peace of mind in that which the human understanding cannot comprehend. But it was loneliness that first led me to reflect on these things persistently, when I went to Kniephof, after my mother's death, five or six years ago. Though at first my views did not materially change at Kniephof, yet conscience began to be more audible in the solitude, and to represent that many a thing was wrong which I had before regarded as permissible. Yet my struggle for insight was still con fined to the circle of the understanding, and led me, while reading such writings as those of Strauss, Feuerbach, and Bruno Bauer, only deeper into the blind alley of doubt. I was firmly convinced that God has denied to man the possibility of true knowledge; that it is presumption to claim to understand the will and plans of the Lord of the World; that the individual must await in submission the judgment that his Creator will pass upon him in death, and that the will of God becomes known to us on earth solely through conscience, which He has given us as a special organ for feeling our way through the gloom of the world. That I found no peace in these views I need not say. Many an hour have I spent in disconsolate depression, thinking that my existence and that of others is purposeless and unprofitable—perchance only a casual product of creation, coming and going like dust from rolling wheels.

About four years ago I came into close companionship, for the first time since my school-days, with Moritz Blankenburg, and found in him, what I had never had till then in my life, a friend ; but the warm zeal of his love strove in vain to give me by persuasion and discussion what I lacked — faith. But through Moritz I made acquaintance with the Triglaf family and the social circle around it, and found in it people who made me ashamed that, with the scanty light of my understanding, I had undertaken to investigate things which such superior intellects accepted as true and holy with childlike trust. I saw that the members of this circle were, in their outward life, almost perfect models of what I wished to be. That confidence and peace dwelt in them did not surprise me, for I had never doubted that these were companions of belief; but belief cannot be had for the asking, and I thought I must wait submissively to see whether it would come to me. I soon felt at home in that circle, and was conscious of a satisfaction that I had not before experienced—a family life that included me, al most a home.

I was meanwhile brought into contact with certain events in which I was not an active participant, and which, as other people's secrets, I cannot communicate to you, but which stirred me deeply. Their practical result was that the consciousness of the shallowness and worthlessness of my aim in life became more vivid than ever. Through the advice of others, and through my own impulse, I was brought to the point of reading the Scriptures more consecutively and with resolute restraint, sometimes, of my own judgment. That which stirred within me came to life when the news of the fatal illness of our late friend in Cardemin tore the first ardent prayer from my heart, without subtle questionings as to its reasonableness. God did not grant my prayer on that occasion ; neither did He utterly reject it, for I have never again lost the capacity to bring my requests to Him, and I feel within me, if not peace, at least confidence and courage such as I never knew before...

#noted #2019-12-10