Confessions of Frederick the Great - H. Treitschke




Fifth Morning—On Politics of the State

These politics may be reduced to three heads, or principles. The first, self-preservation, and aggrandizement, according to circumstances. Second, alliances never to be made but for one's own advantage. And the third, to make one's self respected and feared in the most difficult times.


Self-Preservation and Aggrandizement


On my ascending to the throne, I visited the coffers of my father. His great economy, I found, had put me in a condition of conceiving great projects. Soon afterwards I made a review of my troops, and fine ones they appeared to me: upon which I returned to my coffers, and took out of them wherewith to double my military force.

As I had then just rendered my power twice as great as it was before, it was natural for me not to be contented with only preserving what I had, so that I was quickly determined to avail myself of the first opportunity that should offer. In the meanwhile I exercised my troops, and used my best endeavors to draw the eyes of all Europe on my maneuvers; I renewed them every year, in order to appear more and more master of the art of war; and at length I obtained my wish of procuring a general attention.

I turned the head of all the powers, and all the world gave themselves up for lost, if their military did not move head, legs, and arms, $$a la mode## of the Prussian exercise. All my soldiers and my officers took it into their heads that they were twice the men they were before on seeing they were everywhere aped.

When my troops had thus acquired an advantage over all the others, I had nothing to do but to examine what pretensions it was possible for me to form upon different provinces. Four different points offered themselves to my view: Silesia, Polish Prussia, Dutch Gueldre and Swedish Pomerania.

I fixed, however, on Silesia, both because that object deserved my attention more than all the others put together, and because the circumstances were more favorable to me.

I left to time the care of the execution of my projects on the other points. I will not here enter on a demonstration to you of the validity of my pretensions on Silesia, I took care to have it established by my orators. The empress-queen opposed hers to them, and the cause was pleaded and decided by great guns, small arms, and sabers. But let me return to those favorable circumstances I intimated: thus it was that they presented themselves. France wanted to take the empire out of the hands of the House of Austria:—there was nothing I wished for more. France also had a mind to form in Italy a state for the Infant:—this too I liked, because it could not be done but at the expense of the empress-queen. In short, France had conceived the noble project of marching to the gates of Vienna:—that was the very point I waited for, that I might seize upon Silesia.

Be then, my dear nephew, provided of money; wait for circumstances; and be assured of not barely preserving your dominions, but of aggrandizing them. There are certain small politicians who pretend, that, when a state is arrived at a certain point, it ought not to think of aggrandizement, because the system of the balance of power has limited each state to a certain fixed extent.

I remember that the ambition of Lewis XIV had like to have cost France dear, and I am not insensible of all the disquiet that mine has given me: I know, also, that France, in the midst of her greatest disasters, disposed of a crown, and preserved the provinces she had conquered; and you may, as to myself, see, that, amidst all the storm that threatened me, I have lost nothing; so that everything depends on the circumstances of the times, and on the courage of him that takes and holds.

You cannot, my dear nephew, conceive how important it is for a king and a state to go often out of the common road; it is only by the marvelous that one can strike an awe into others, or get a great name.

The Balance is a word that has subdued the whole world, by the light in which it was considered of its securing a constant possession; and yet, in truth, this same Balance is no more than a bare word, an empty sound; for Europe is a family in which there are too many bad brokers and quarrelsome relations.

I go farther yet, dear nephew: it is by the contempt of this system that one must come at anything that is great. Behold the English, they have put the sea in chains; that fierce unruly element no longer dares carry any vessels but with their permission.

From all this, it results, that it is good policy to be always attempting something, and to be perfectly persuaded that we have a right to everything that suits us.

You must only take care not to make, with too much vanity, too open a proclamation of such pretensions; and especially to maintain at your court two or three persons of eloquence, and leave it in charge with them to justify you.


On Alliances


To form alliances for one's advantage is a great maxim of state, and there are no powers that can answer to themselves a neglect of it. Thence, by clear inference, it follows, that you should break an alliance as soon as ever it becomes prejudicial to you.

In my first war with the Queen of Hungary, I abandoned France at Prague, because I got Silesia by the bargain. If I had escorted the French safe to Vienna, they would never have given me so much. Some years after I renewed with them, because I had a mind to attempt the conquest of Bohemia, and thought it best to keep measures with this power, against I might have occasion for its assistance. Since that time I have neglected that nation, in order to come in with another that offered me more.

When Prussia, dear nephew, shall have made her fortune, it will be time enough for her to give herself an air of fidelity to engagements and of constancy; an air, which, at the most, becomes none but great states or little sovereigns. I have already, dear nephew, told you that politics and villainy are almost synonymous terms, and I told you the truth. And yet you will, on this head, find some people who have formed to themselves certain systems of probity; so that you may hazard anything by means of your ambassadors. I have found some that have served me in very delicate occasions, and who, to come at a mystery, would have rummaged or picked the pockets of a king.

Let your choice fall especially on those who have the talent of expressing themselves in vague, indefinite, terms, or in squinting and perplexed phrases. You would not do amiss to have at your devotion some political physicians and locksmiths; they may sometimes be of great use to you. I know, by experience, all the advantages that may be gained by their means.


Of Inspiring Respect and Fear


To make one's self respected and feared by one's neighbors is the very summit of high policy. This end is to be achieved by two means:—the first, is to have a real force and effectual resources;—the second, is to make the most of the strength one has.—Now we are not within the first case, and that is the reason of my having neglected nothing that might make me shine in the second.

There are powers who imagine that an embassy should always be sent with great splendor, and cut a great figure. Monsieur de Richelieu, however, only served at Vienna to put the French into a ridiculous light; for the Austrians concluded that the whole nation smelt as strong of musk and amber as he that represented it.

As for me, I rather hold that it is more by the noble manner in which an ambassador makes his master speak, than by the parade of his equipages or retinue, that he gains a true or valuable respect;—it is for this reason that I propose never more to employ ambassadors, but only envoys. Besides, the first of these characters is too difficult to fill suitably, as it requires a man of great note or distinction, very rich, and who understands politics perfectly; whereas, with this last advantage only, an envoy may serve sufficiently for the purpose.

By adopting this system, you will every year save a considerable sum, and your business will be as well done. There are, however, some occasions, in which it is necessary to show away with some magnificence; as, for example, when you come to a rupture with a court, or make an alliance, or for a nuptial ceremony. But these embassies must be ever considered as extraordinary.

Never ask faintly, but seem rather to demand. If you have any cause of discontent given you, reserve your revenge for the moment in which you may obtain the most complete satisfaction, but especially do not stand in fear of reprisals; your glory will not suffer for it, it will only be so much the worse for those of your subjects on whom the damage may fall. It must, then, be your great aim that all your neighbors should be persuaded that you fear nothing, and that nothing can astonish you.

Endeavour, above all things, to pass with them for one of a dangerous cast of mind, who knows no other principles but those that lead to military fame. Manage so that they may be fully convinced that you would sooner lose two kingdoms than not play a part that may transmit you to posterity. As these sentiments are those of a soul above the common order, they strike, they confound, the greatest part of mankind; and it is this that, in truth, constitutes in the world the greatest monarchs.

When a stranger comes to your court, overwhelm him with civilities, and especially try to have him always near you; this will be the best way to keep concealed from him the defects of your government.

If he is a military man, let the exercise of your regiments be performed before him, and let it be yourself that commands them. If he is a wit who has composed a work, let him see it lying on your table, and talk to him of his talents. If he is in a mercantile life, listen to him with affability: caress him, and try to fix him in your country ,