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Bismarck’s Reichstag Speech on the Law for Workers’ Compensation (March 15, 1884)

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According to my experience, everyone understands by freedom only the freedom for oneself and not for others, as well as the responsibility of others to refrain absolutely from any limitation of one’s own freedom. In short, by freedom they actually mean domination; by freedom of speech they understand the domination of the speaker; by freedom of the press the predominant and preponderant influence of editorial offices and of newspapers. Indeed gentlemen, and I am not speaking here in confessional terms, in all confessions, by freedom of the church the domination of the priests is very frequently understood [ . . . ] I have no desire to speak of human weakness, but rather of the human custom which establishes the importance of the individual person, the dominance of individual persons and their influence over the general public, precisely on the pretext that freedom demands it. That is indeed more strikingly realized in our own history than in any other. In the centuries of the decay of the German Empire, German freedom was always sharply accentuated. What did this mean? The freedom of the princes from the emperor, and the power of the nobles over the serfs! They wanted for their part to be free; that means, to be free was for them and also for others identical with the concept to dominate. They did not feel themselves to be free unless they dominated. Therefore, whenever I read the word free before another adjective, I become very suspicious.

[ . . . ]

Deputy Bamberger expressed subsequently his regret concerning the “socialist fad.” It is, however, a harsh expression when one characterizes as a “socialist fad” the careful decision of the allied governments in Germany, weighed for three years, which they again, for the third time, propose to you in the hope finally to obtain your approval. Perhaps the whole institution of the state is a socialist fad. If everyone could live on his own, perhaps everyone would be much more free, but also much less protected and guarded. If the Deputy calls the proposal a socialist whim, I reply simply that it is untrue, and my assertion is as justified as his.

He uses further the expression that the old age and disability care “were chimerical plans.” [ . . . ] There is nothing about our proposal that is chimerical. Our proposals are completely genuine; they are the result of an existing need. [ . . . ] The fulfillment of a state responsibility is never a chimera, and as such I recognize it as a legislative responsibility. It is in fact not a pleasant occupation to devote these public cobbler services to a customer like Deputy Bamberger, who treats us with scorn and ingratitude in the face of real exertions, and who characterizes as a “fad” and a “chimera” the proposal that was worked out in order to make it acceptable to you. I would like to suggest in general that we might be somewhat milder in the expressions with which we mutually characterize our efforts.

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