Identity and Nationhood Continuity A “Special Path”? Germany’s place in world history
After 1815 Germany made up of 39 independent states. Growing demands for unification. 1848: failure of ‘bourgeois revolution’. Economic & industrial development helped unification, eg. the Zollverein customs union. 1864-71: Wars of Unification, expelled Austria & united Germany under Prussian leadership.
Authoritarian government, but some degree of democracy & rule of law. Forces of reaction balanced by forces of change. Saw rapid industrialisation which brought both increased prosperity & social dislocation. Emergence of aggressive nationalism & fears of social unrest may have led to decision to go to war in 1914. War led to economic hardship & military dictatorship. Defeat discredited the regime & led to collapse of the monarchy.
Faced significant problems of legitimacy from the beginning: defeat, revolution, Versailles treaty, economic problems etc. Characterised by economic upheaval & political extremism. Attempts to balance German political traditions with West European democratic traditions. But democracy endured for 15 years. Achievements: Guarantee of civil rights. More equal society. Cultural flowering. World economic crisis initiated final crisis.
Debate over continuities with what went before: Nationalism, militarism, racism etc. present in Germany before 1933, but the Nazis took them to extremes. Police state not governed by the rule of law. Attempts to reshape German society & bring it into line with Nazi ideology. Germans also victims of Nazism. War & genocide ultimately led to disaster for Germany.
Rooted in Western democratic, free market traditions. Rapid economic recovery in the 1950s helped produce a prosperous & stable society. But reaction against this in the 1960s and 70s. Nevertheless, the system itself not challenged. By the 1980s West Germany was a stable democracy, firmly entrenched in Western Europe.
Roots in the Soviet occupation led to problems of legitimacy. A single party state ruled by the SED. Party rule bolstered by the secret police (Stasi) & a paternalistic welfare state. Planned economy had some successes (rapid industrialisation in the 1950s), but by the 1980s had become stagnant & riddled with corruption. Despite problems much support from citizens until the late 1980s. Changing international situation & reform in the Soviet Bloc paved the way for collapse in 1989.
Fears about what effect reunification might mean proved unfounded. Despite some initial problems reintegration of East & West largely successful. New sense of patriotism and readiness to engage with the rest of the world on equal terms.
Term originated in the 19 th century – Germany’s political, economic & military success were down to unique values & institutions. Germany was pursuing a ‘middle way’ between Tsarist Autocracy & western democracy. After 1945 the notion took on a more negative slant – Germany had taken a ‘wrong turning’ on the path to modernity which led to National Socialism. 1960s: Wehler – failed bourgeois revolution led to Germany developing a modern economy governed by pre-modern elites (monarchy, army, aristocracy). 1980s: Blackbourn & Eley – German middle class disempowered in political life but dominated culture & society. Sonderweg a flawed tool for looking at German history.
Related to the debate over Sonderweg is the issue of continuities in modern German history. 1940s & 50s: West European & American historians saw the Third Reich as the result of flaws in the German character; while West German historians saw it as an aberration & the consequence of wider European trends. 1960s: Fischer controversy & new debate on Sonderweg led to ‘structuralist’ historians identifying & highlighting continuities between Imperial & Nazi Germany. Undoubtedly there are similarities – no period of history is divorced from what precedes it – but this approach can be misleading. Hindsight shouldn’t mislead us into assuming that the course of history was fixed.
Assertion that Germany’s historical development has been shaped by its geography. Germany’s position at the centre of Europe made it a meeting place for different cultures and ideas, But it also made it vulnerable to attack. This led to development of Prussian military monarchy & the adoption of an aggressive foreign policy on the grounds that attack was the best form of defence. After both World Wars Germany was at the mercy of its enemies, and its position at the heart of Europe made it the focus of Cold War rivalries and tensions. Martin Kitchen: geography had a psychological effect on the Germans – nationalism the result of a jealous hatred of the west & an arrogant disdain for the east.
Germany’s fractured & fragmented history is the key to understanding its development in the 20 th century. Germany became a nation-state comparatively late, which led to the development of an unstable national consciousness & national inferiority complex. History of particularism made it difficult to integrate different groups into German society after 1871, leading to the growth of an assertive nationalism (Wehler – ‘negative integration’). Debates between champions of federalism & centralisation continued in the 20 th century – the Nazis tried to eliminate federal tradition & bring all of Germany under central control. Revival of federalism after World War II seen as an important feature in ensuring stability & preventing a resurgence of nationalism.