Kaiser Wilhelm II
An article originally published in The Single Tax
Review, March-April 1912. Reprinted from Land and Freedom,
The recent death of
Wilhelm Hohenzullern, third ruler of the German Empire up to the
close of the First World War, calls to mind that our good friend,
Poultney Bigelow, was a boyhood chum and schoolmate of the late
ex-Kaiser. Mr. Bigelow wrote about the Hohenzollern emperor and his
social views in an article for the March-April 1912 issue of The
Single Tax Review, which was a Special Number for Germany.
However we may disagree with Mr. Bigelow's interpretation, we
believe it is interesting enough to present to our readers at this
The German Emperor has successfully deceived the world regarding his
true character. On the surface he appears a medieval knight with
cuirass, helmet and threatening sabre in his "mailed fist."
He publicly repudiates allegiance to any law save that of God
Almighty. The press knows him as a war-lord, impatient at any
constitutional limitation and muttering to his ministers, "Sic
volo, sic jubeo." His last sensational appearance in our press is
one whose background setting would be a Court of Impeachment or
guillotine, had we in mind England or France. Germany has elected to
her Imperial Parliament a very large proportion of Socialists who but
a few years ago were regarded as outcasts of society. The Emperor had
publicly branded them as tramps, vagrants, men without a country, and
their chief illustrated organ, Simplicissimus, was forbidden
at every railway stall in Prussia. Today a Socialist is elected to
occupy the Speaker's chair of the Imperial Parliament, and the
Constitutional Head of the State repudiates him, and in appearance
gives public notice that he may nullify the organic law of the Empire
if its suits his personal mood.
All this has to do with the external Emperor, and if we deal with
externals only, we may be led astray.
Wilhelm II is a socialist; he is the greatest socialist on earth. He
has no quarrel with socialism, but he very properly resents the mixing
up of socialism and politics. Socialism has to do with the welfare of
one's country, possibly of all countries. Politics has to do only with
success at the next election. Theodore Roosevelt is a politician.
Wilhelm II is a patriot.
About forty years ago, when I lived with a German family, fitting for
an American collegiate, I saw something of "young Prince Wilhelm,"
as he was then called. Boys are not easily fooled by one another, and
the impressions of childhood are apt to be not only lasting but
remarkably accurate. The Emperor is no demagogue. He loves the
applause of the world almost as much as our two competing candidates
for the Presidency. Yet, closely as I have sought to follow his public
career both before and since coming to the throne, I have never caught
him playing the demagogue or deceiving by false promises. He has made
mistakes of judgment, or rather, he has been the victim of
time-serving Ministers who had not the courage to oppose him; but
throughout his quarter-century of Imperial rule he has been not only
faithful to his pledges regarding the maintenance of peace, but he has
never forfeited the highest title in my vocabulary, that of gentleman.
The German Emperor has been reared in a political atmosphere where
the great problems discussed by Henry George are solved not by an
appeal to party expediency or interested bosses, but by a cold
scientific study of what is good for the State for all time. Wilhelm
II has, I believe, read and pondered Henry George's monumental Progress
and Poverty, and it is no small credit to him and to the
administration of which he is the head, that the first practical
application of single tax principles should have been made in the
Province of Confucius when Germany organized Kiau-Chow in 1897.
To say that Germany is fifty years ahead of this country in what is
best in socialism is to state the matter with great moderation.
Germany has solved a dozen vital questions about which our highly
paid politicians are pretending to wring their hands in despair; and
moreover, the reforms which Germany has made since my boyhood are
nearly all socialistic in the best sense and conducive to the
happiness of the whole people rather than for the enrichment of a
The Kaiser's government gives the people better railway service,
better postal service, better trolley and tram-car service, and above
all furnishes a national express or parcel post very much more
efficient than anything we know in America, and at about one-tenth the
cost in this country. These are all a species of partnership between
the Government and the people. The list could be lengthened to include
most admirably conducted municipal markets, municipal laundries,
municipal street-lighting and in fact nearly every form of enterprise
which with us tends to become a trust or monopoly very profitable to a
few, but unjustly burdensome to the people at large.
While we are not of those hero-worshippers who look for salvation to
any one man alone, we yet recognize the propriety of giving credit to
Napoleon for the French Code which bears his name. We cordially assent
when the venerable Wilhelm I is called "the founder of the German
Empire." To the same degree, we deem it right that in any future
record of the progress made in our times by humanitarian ideas, if
credit is due to any one man, that man is the one who now rules over
the most scientifically governed State of modern times His Majesty
Wilhelm II by the grace of God King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany.