History 280: Book Summaries Spring 2002

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History 280: Book Summaries Spring 2002

Klaus Epstein, The Genesis of German Conservatism (1966) establishes the existence of a strong

current of conservative thought and action in Germany in the late 18th century, if not a real conservative movement; the book carries the story up to 1806. Conservatives were formed in reaction to the German Aufklärung, especially in the latter’s critique of religion; conservatives are soon writing on social, economic and political matters. Perhaps the most common type of conservative before and after the beginning of the French Revolution were moderate, British-style conservatives, of which the Hanoverians, August Rehberg and Justus Möser were the outstanding examples. Conservative writers were perhaps more public and aggressive after 1789, but conservative currents were well established before that date. The author comments on the tendency of German conservatives to promote Bildung (education) rather than agitate for political change.
Walter Simon, The Failure of the Prussian Reform Movement (1954) casts light on the partial modernization of Prussia during the Napoleonic Years. The old Frederician system had suffered such a catastrophic blow at the hands of Napoleon that significant reform occurs in the most unexpected of places. The most impressive and thoroughgoing reform occurs in the military area as Prussia embraces more or less the idea of the nation in arms; recruitment, staff planning, military education, and focus on talent and qualification in the officer corps are all incorporated into the Prussian military system. Other areas such as rural institutions, education and urban reform change less dramatically; and the constitution promised by the king is postponed after the defeat of Napoleon and not implemented until 1849. But Prussia emerges as a much more ‘modern’ state and thus a more natural leader in Germany.
David Sorkin, The Transformation of European Jewry, 1780-1840 (1987) discusses attempts by the bourgeois German Jewish community to integrate itself into the general German bourgeois culture in the late 18th and early 19th century. The attempt represented the impact of the German Enlightenment on German Jews, who agreed, in exchange for greater toleration and acceptance, to begin a process of self-Bildung to enable them to fit in as another confession (alongside the Protestant and Catholic) in German culture and society. The author argues that the attempt was only partially successful: by the middle of the 19th century German Jews were very similar to their gentile counterparts, but still segregated into separate groups and organizations; German gentiles remained conscious of the differences between Jews and themselves.
Ernest K. Bramsted, Aristocracy and the Middle Classes in Germany (1964) analyzes the relationship ship between the German middle classes and the aristocracy through the lens of German realist novels and German popular literature such as magazines. His thesis appears to be that through the 1860’s the middle classes (represented by authors such as Gustav Freitag) had a clear idea of their distinctness from the aristocracy and perhaps their superiority to it, since the middle classes represented virtues such as thrift, seriousness and hard work and were the wave of the future. After the 1860’s attitudes appear to shift: criticism of the aristocracy is blunted, and the sources indicate more interest in and support for nationalism, militarism and an aggressive foreign policy.
J.P. Stern, Idylls and Realities: Studies in Nineteenth-Century German Literature (1971) analyzes various genres in German literature throughout the 19th century. Although Germans enjoy some western-style social realism (Gustav Freitag), the only great German realist comes at the end of the century, Theodor Fontane. German literature in this period rather emphasizes the “idyll.” Many characters in these works spurned involvement in politics and other aspects of the public sphere: indeed, the hero’s contact with the public sphere often brought his destruction (Georg Büchner). These works stressed solitude and alienation and “flight” into refuges designed to protect the artist from an uncomfortable modern world of industrialization and urbanization. Patriarchal societies and a lyrical nature (Stifter) come to mind. There is a tradition of inwardness and alienation in German writers of this period.
Martin Swales, The German Bildungsroman from Wieland to Hesse (1978) charts the evolution of this typical German genre from the late 18th to the early 20th century. No other national tradition indulges so much in this type of novel which chronicles “the quest for organic growth and personal self-realization” through the early years of adulthood. Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister is the real archetype for this genre. Wieland, Stifter and Keller all appear to analyze the tensions between the creative impulse in the budding artist and the practical demands of the world around him. Succeeding in the arts usually implies unhappiness in the world, an inability to succeed in practical affairs, perhaps an inability to attain one’s desires. With some exceptions, the writer ends alienated from the society in which he lives (is this a condition particularly common in Germany?). The Magic Mountain is the most monumental of these works, but it is difficult to define what Hans Castorp learns in his Swiss sanitorium.
Alan Sked, The Survival of the Habsburg Empire: Radetzky, the Imperial Army and the Class War, 1848 (1979) attempts to shed light on the factors making for the survival of the supernational Austrian Empire in an age of national obsessions. For one thing, the book deals with the attempts of Radetzky to undermine the position of the anti-Austrian, nationalist nobility living in Lombardy at mid-century; his attempts to push through land reforms that would benefit the peasants at the expense of the nobles were not, however, very successful. Radetzky was, however, much more successful in bringing military and administrative power to bear in the summers of 1848 and 1849 to keep the empire together; he defeated the Italian armies in the field. Kaisertreue (loyalty to the Francis Joseph) and Radetzkytreue (loyalty to the ‘proconsul’ in the field) were at the heart of the survival of the Empire until 1918. The army and the civil service provided perhaps the main glue to keep the Empire together.
Dennis Showalter, Railroads and Rifles: Soldiers, Technology and the Unification of Germany (1975) examines the impact of technology on primarily the Prussian Army in the years of conflict at mid-century. His general thesis is that armies have to make appropriate strategic and tactical adjustments in order to put new military technology to effective use. The Prussian General Staff was quite effective in putting new railroad technology to use in troop transport: Moltke’s use of railroads in the Austro-Prussian War enabled him to bring large numbers of troops to bear against the Austrians, although at the cost of exposing units to piecemeal attacks. The Prussian Army was cautious in adopting cast-steel rifled artillery, and these new guns played only a small role in the Prussian victory of 1866. The most important innovation for that war was the new breech-loading needle gun with its rapid fire capabilities. Prussian planners effectively modified troop tactics to take advantage of the increased firepower, and this was brought to bear with devastating effect on the Austrians at Königgrätz.
A.J.P Taylor, Bismarck, the Man and the Statesman (1955) is a well-known quirky interpretation of Bismarck’s life and significance. The author specializes in “off the wall” interpretations that he often does not document sufficiently (or at all); he also sometimes contradicts himself. Was Bismarck downright timid about the Hohenzollern Candidacy and was dragged, so to speak, kicking and screaming into the War of 1870? Did he really say in the early 1870’s that he was bored? Did he take his subordination to God seriously? Was his outlook seriously influenced by the Hamburg background of his mother and her family? He does seem to give some interesting psychoanalytic interpretations of Bismarck’s adult personality; and the author establishes well that Bismarck was an opportunist, waiting for God to walk by so he could catch the hem of his garment, and that he did not have a master plan for solving the constitutional crisis even before he came to office.
Fritz Stern, Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder, and the Building of the German Empire (1979) is a classic, highly praised biography of the German Jewish banker Bleichröder and his relations to his employer Bismarck and the German state in this era. Despite the banker’s Jewishness, the two men were close friends, remaining in close contact until Bleichröder’s death in 1893. The banker helped Bismarck build up a huge private fortune; he was heavily involved in Prussian public finances especially during the 1860’s, and because of his contacts with foreign bankers (particularly the Rothschilds in Paris) he was of some use to Bismarck as an informal diplomat after 1870. The close relation of the two symbolizes the union of old nobility and new money that is a salient feature of the new German Reich. Bleichröder becomes a butt of rising anti-semitic sentiment in Germany in the late 19th century (the Jewish financial manipulator behind the scenes). The book is beautifully written. It attracted one extensive hostile review by Geoff Eley, who attacked it because it represented the “old” history of traditional biography, political orientation without sufficient analysis of historical structures and systems.
Adalbert Stifter, The Recluse (1843) is a novella (short novel) by one of the great stylists in 19th century German literature. It is about a young man living in the Böhmerwald who, before he takes up a profession, goes to visit his uncle on an enchanted-seeming island in the middle of a large lake in the mountains; the uncle persuades the young man to give up his prospective life in the city and to return home to his small town, marry, have children, and live quietly in domestic bliss. Descriptions of nature are quietly beautiful and seem to refer to a spiritual dimension not apparent on the surface of the story. The novella is interesting for its depiction of a relationship between the older and younger generation, and for its endorsement of a simple, traditional, domestic life in the Austrian provinces. Stifter presents an “idyll” in which the main characters choose to live away from the big city and the pace of change characteristic of the 19th century.
Donald Rohr, The Origins of Social Liberalism in Germany (1963) analyzes developing thought by German liberals on the emerging social question in Germany between 1830 and 1848. It seems that a large number of liberal writers in Germany in this period were aware of the social and economic dislocation caused in Germany by the beginnings of industrialization and they recommended strong action to remedy the worst abuses. Some of the liberals were defenders of economic liberalism who considered overwork and poverty a temporary issue that would be soon remedied by the spontaneous operation of the market place. Most however recommended that action be taken by either the state or voluntary organizations. The most prominent was Robert von Mohl (1799-1875) who identified the concept of mass poverty and recommended that the state intervene to guarantee minimum wages, subsidize housing and outlaw child labor. The influence of these social liberals was limited in the following period because of the general prosperity in Europe; but social liberalism was to have a major influence on Germany at the turn of the 20th century.
Hermann Oncken, Napoleon III and the Rhine: The Origins of the War of 1870-71 (Berlin, 1926). This book was the introduction to a three-volume collection of German documents published in the 1920’s on the origins of the War of 1870. The author writes a thesis-driven essay in which he shows his extreme disenchantment with the War Guilt clause of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) that forced Germany to accept responsibility for the First World War. The author analyzes the commitment of France since the 17th century to keep Germany disunited and to annex the Left (German-speaking) Bank of the Rhine. He asserts that the French government was aggressively pursuing an expansionist policy in the late 1860’s and seized upon the Hohenzollern Candidacy to provoke a war with Prussia that would humiliate Bismarck. The “à tout jamais” demand was simply a delaying tactic based on the calculation that the French army was not quite ready for war. Bismarck’s role in the affair of the Ems Telegram was defensive and designed to unmask the French plot. The author’s thesis is tendentious; he hardly considers the questions of Bismarck’s role. The book is of use only to someone already familiar with the material.
James J. Sheehan, German Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century (1978) essentially analyzes the reasons for the “failure” of German liberalism (compared to their western European confreres). The German liberal movement split as a result of Bismarck’s Prussian-led unification of Germany; it then progressively lost strength to the right and the left up to World War I; liberals never succeeded in pushing through democratic and liberal changes in German political; the more conservative National Liberals often acted not much like liberals. The reasons and patterns: 1) great regional diversity among German liberals; 2) the fear of virtually all German liberals of “mob rule,” i.e., the revolutionary potential of the popular classes; 3) as a rule, liberals were opposed to an organized party structure; thus their influence was limited; 4) German liberalism was never a class movement, i.e., the German middle classes often supported conservative movements or the Catholic Center Party. The book is no fun to read.
Lawrence S. Steefel, Bismarck, the Hohenzollern Candidacy, and the Origins of the Franco-German War of 1870 (1962) is one of the most up-to-date treatments of this subject, taking into account the new documents found in the German state archives and published by Georges Bonnin in 1957. Steefel was a student of Robert Lord, who published the first authoritative English-language book on the subject in 1924. Steefel accepts the standard interpretation that after about February 1870 Bismarck was pursuing a provocative policy toward France, and that he must have realized that war was a probable outcome. The author is less sure whether Bismarck played a strong role in the Hohenzollern Candidacy before that date; he states “The evidence adduced to prove his activity before that date is not convincing.” Some informed reviewers that that he is giving Bismarck too much benefit of the doubt; Prussia’s Minister-President was too canny and well-informed for us to imagine that he was not aware of the implications of the Candidacy on France. The book does not retell the story, but is essentially a historiographical commentary on the scholarship available at that time. There is some debate as to whether it is a “masterpiece.”
Michael Howard, The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-1871 (1961) is a widely praised, definitive-seeming work on the Franco-German conflict. The book discusses the background to the war, examines the condition of the two armies and their war plans on the eve of the conflict, and describes and analyzes the military operations and their implications. The French Army went into the war overconfident because of their military domination in the previous couple of centuries of European history. The author insists that the Prussian Army was superior to the French in all areas except technological, and the latter advantage was neutralized by poor leadership. Moltke was an effective commander, and most of the French commanders were passive and uncertain. The French supply system was woefully inadequate. The author gives an interesting analysis of civil-military relations on both sides, of irregular guerilla-style warfare in the latter part of the war, and of the strengths and weaknesses of the second French war effort beginning in September 1870. Howard thinks Bazaine is worthy of our sympathy, if not our admiration. Gordon Craig thinks the book is a “splendid volume.”
J. Alden Nichols, The Year of the Three Kaisers, 1887-88 (1987) examines the politics of the approximately twelve months embracing the death of Wilhelm I, the short reign of his son Frederick III (husband of Victoria, daughter of the Queen), and then his death and the accession of his son, Wilhelm II. The book focuses mainly on the policy of Chancellor Bismarck in this period fraught with potential danger for the new Reich. The author takes positive view of Bismarck’s politics: he contrasts Bismarck’s “domination through balance and maneuver” with the “warring ideologies” of irresponsible, “parochial” conservatism and tendentious “unreal” liberalism. In contrast to the cynical interpretation of authors like Erich Eyck, the author thinks that his Septennat Election (1887) was conducted (however ruthlessly!) with good intentions, i.e., to create a bloc in the Reichstag that would ease the transition to the reign of Frederick William. We should also give credit to Bismarck for easing the subsequent transition to Wilhelm II, who was a particular problem because of his immaturity and impulsiveness and his attachment to the likes of Court Chaplain Adolph Stöcker and the “mercurial Russophobe” General von Waldersee. Bismarck is presented as a pragmatist devoted to preserving a stable Germany.
Guenther Roth, The Social Democrats in Imperial Germany: A Study in Working-Class Isolation and National Integration (1963) is a sociologist’s analysis of the evolving role of Social Democracy in Germany from the 1870’s until the fall of the Reich. Basing himself on classic sociologists such as Max Weber, Roth gives a theoretical analysis of historical patterns already elucidated in other books. The German nation rejected both the Russian (repression) and the Anglo-French (democratic integration) models of integrating the industrial proletariat into the life of the nation; the German case may be described as “negative integration,” whereby the working class movement is allowed (by the state and the middle classes) to organize itself and thrive, but is constantly denounced by the government, not allowed to participate in the political system, and used as a bugbear to scare other Germans into conformity with the government program. The book is particularly adept at painting a picture of the socialist subculture provided by the Social Democrats: German workers’ lives are influenced both by the culture at large (patriotism in school and military service) and by specific activities organized by their party and their trade unions. Orthodox Marxist theory play an integrating role in the Social Democratic organization and paradoxically promote reformism in the movement. The author thinks that “negative integration” added to the stability of the German state (but it apparently was not enough).
Louis Snyder, Diplomacy in Iron: The Life of Herbert von Bismarck (1985) is a competent consideration of the career of the famous Bismarck’s son, although the book often focuses more on the father than the son. Herbert shared many of his father’s vices – over-indulgence, vindictiveness, arrogance – compounded perhaps by his unconscious resentment of his father’s domination. He often oscillated between ingratiating charm and being “an angry, snarling martinet.” He went into service in the German Foreign Office in 1873 and was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1886 to 1890. He was a competent official and often represented his father in specific negotiations. Herbert resigned his position when his father stepped down in 1890. Afterwards, he served in the Reichstag until his death in 1904 and did his best to be a thorn in the side of the Hohenzollerns. He has little importance himself, but is useful in understanding the nature of the Bismarckian system, where it seems the Chancellorship was supposed to be hereditary.
David Crew, Town in the Ruhr: A Social History of Bochum, 1860-1914 (1979) deals with the broad outlines of the evolution of a Ruhr industrial town in this period. Bochum grew from modest size at the beginning of the period to one of the four main industrial centers in the Ruhr by the turn of the century. Coal mining and metallurgy were the main industries. The work force tended to be migratory, especially at the beginning: most of the workers immigrated from surrounding rural areas looking for jobs; the population became more settled as the years passed. Life for workers was hard: periods of prosperity and more or less full employment alternated with times of unemployment and falling wages due often to foreign competition. Income brought into the family by women was much less important than that of the men. Company housing provided some stability, but it was often used to keep control over the workers. Social mobility was very limited among workers in Bochum: very few of them moved up the social ladder to become members of the bourgeoisie. The book seems to leave out many interesting subjects such as improvement in public health, diet, standard of living, influence of the socialists and trade unions.
Erich Eyck, Bismarck and the German Empire (1950) is one of the most popular treatments of Bismarck's life and significance. Eyck was a German liberal who left Germany during the Hitlerzeit and settled in England. Eyck is highly critical of Bismarck's methods, achievements and influence. He gives him credit for being a sort of genius in foreign affairs, and for being a moderate statesman in several instances, e.g., in his decision not to impose a punitive peace on Austria in 1866 and in conducting a defensive foreign policy after 1871. The author does however criticize Bismarck for a duplicity and mendaciousness that often sowed distrust among nations; Bismarck must bear the major blame for the origins of the Franco-Prussian War. Eyck is even more critical of Bismarck's domestic policy, where the Chancellor's egotism, lies, short-term goals and cynical manipulations left Germany with a terrible burden: a weak parliament, excessive power in the office of the Emperor, and slavish attitude toward authority among the German people. Eyck emphasizes the Bennigsen episode in 1878 when according to the author Bismarck refused to take Bennigsen into his 'government' because he was afraid that a precedent might be established for a 'Gladstone Cabinet.' The image that emerges is a supremely gifted, dominating character who achieved great things; but fatally (for Germany) flawed by his egotism and short-sightedness.
George L. Mosse, Germans and Jews: The Right, the Left and the Search for a "Third Force" in pre-Nazi Germany (1970) is a collection of essays of different subjects by the noted historian of pre-Fascism. The useful parts of the book deal with the search by German intellectuals before World War I for a "third force" that would establish a just society in Germany owing nothing to either capitalism or Marxism. The German Volkish movement, influential among intellectuals and youth (the German Youth Movement) before the war, emphasized the nobility of ties to the land and agrarian pursuits, the spirit of provincial man, the unity of the souls of individuals bound to the Volk through their love of the land, the development of the body through sports, the mystical bond between the Volkish leader and his followers, etc. The movement tended to be highly anti-semitic, and indulged many of the standard anti Jewish ideas of the age: the Jews as rootless, duplicitous, unethical; their participation in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy; their ugliness, filth and immorality; Volkish people became racial anti-semites around the turn of the century. Paradoxically the Zionist movement in this period was influenced by these Volkish ideas in their organization, ideology, etc.
Frederick Hollyday, Bismarck's Rival: A Political Biography of General and Admiral Albrecht Von Stosch (1960) is a straightforward, well research biography of the "rival" of Bismarck for the office of Imperial Chancellor in the 1880's. Stosch was from a Junker family; he made his way as a high-ranking supply officer in the Prussian Army during and after the Franco-Prussian War and then as head of the new Reich navy from 1872 to 1883. Stosch is universally recognized as an efficient and gifted officer, largely responsible for the beginning buildup of the German Navy in the period before Tirpitz. He was clearly a conservative by most standards, but he was open-minded enough to be a close friend of liberal novelist Gustav Freytag and also an associate of the Crown Prince. Probably because of the latter, Bismarck became convinced that Stosch was aiming to replace him and that the Crown Prince may well appoint him Chancellor when old William died. When Stosch defended the powers of the Prussian War Minister in 1883, Bismarck forced him to resign; thereafter Stosch remained in retirement growing wine. Bismarck's touchy treatment of Stosch reminds one of his relations with Harry Arnim in the 1870's. People with opinions like Stosch had little hope for success under the Bismarck regime. Bismarck's treatment of him is instructive on the nature of the Reich constitution and Bismarck's political behavior.
Wolfgang Mommsen, Imperial Germany 1867-1918: Politics, Culture and Society in an Authoritarian State (1995) is a collection of densely written, related, often overlapping essays written by the author over the last 30 years. They tend to be elucidations/reinterpretations of German history in this period rather than original research. Their approach seems similar to Gordon Craig's. One can do no more than summarize the highlights. 1) The German political system created by Bismarck was a system of "skirted decisions:" hard choices were not made in drafting the constitution, authority lines were unclear, the system often functioned chaotically: "the Empire was almost ungovernable by the early 1890's" (Craig, p. 251: politics "resemble[d] a bellum omnium contra omnes."). The system was in a latent crisis in the last 25 years of its existence. 2) Germans were conscious of pursuing a Sonderweg that was neither the capitalist/democratic liberalism of the West nor the autocracy (later Marxism) of the East. (Was Nazism a realization of this dream?) 3) Expansive nationalism/ Weltpolitik/navalism seized control of much public opinion in the 1890's and never let go. Tirpitz exploited it ruthlessly to support construction of the battle fleet; the regime exploited it in order to ward off reform of the Wilhelmine system. The middle classes, especially professional people and lower middle classes were adamant supporters. Even the conservatives (Junkers, etc.) were behind it after the turn of the century. Public opinion often raced ahead of the government in clamoring for an aggressive foreign policy. 4) By the end of the 19th century bourgeois writers were mainly estranged from middle class politics (exception Heinrich Mann): some of them supported strong nationalist aims; others withdrew into the artist's realm of alienation and Bildung.

Gordon Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army, 1640-1945 (1955) is a classic analysis of the relations of the Prussian officer corps with the Prussian (then German) state through the end of World War II. In the 19th century, the army always strove to maintain it independence of the civilian authorities, considering itself subject only to the command of the king; it also strove to influence foreign policy when appropriate. In the mid-century wars the elder Moltke always strove to influence foreign policy in wartime, much to Bismarck's chagrin; but at least he had an understanding of political factors in wartime. The army was quite independent of civilian control in the Bismarckian and Wilhelmine periods: the seven-year law and the defanging of the Prussian War Minister in 1883 are cases in point. At this time the army expelled all "subversive" elements also from the officer corps. The Schlieffen Plan (1905) was developed without civilian participation, and has a fateful impact on the conduct of foreign policy up to 1914. Taking advantage of the confusion of the German constitution, the army established basically a military dictatorship in Germany from 1916-1918 leading the country to a disastrous defeat. The army was careful to maintain its independence vis-à-vis the Weimar Republic, and "signed on" to the Nazi accession to power in 1933. Virtually all vestiges of the army's vaunted independence were eliminated by 1938, and not only the Reich but the army were completely destroyed in 1945. Craig's lesson: the army should be under civilian control; it was the chief obstacle to democratic progress in Germany's recent history.

George Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: The Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (1964) posits the development of a "volkisch" ideology in Germany beginning in the 19th century; this ideology was the direct ancestor of National Socialist ideas, and was perhaps, according to Mosse, the main origin of the victory of the Nazis in Germany. The volkish ideology goes back to certain conservative theorists in the Romantic Period. Volkish thinkers believed in a mystic German soul that had an equally mystical relationship with the soil of the country; they wanted nothing to do with modern civilization, progress, industrialization, liberalism; their enemy was the urban proletariat and the Jew. Racism, particularly anti-semitism was rampant among the Volkish thinkers: Jews were given the repulsive racial characteristics that the Nazis emphasized; the German race was superior to all others, the eugenics were justified in order to produce a pure German race. Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche's sister, Paul de Lagarde and Julius Langbehn (only Germans possessed a soul, they should rule subject races under a messianic ruthless leader. Jews were presented as subhuman creatures. Volkish ideas were particularly strong among the young, in the Youth Movement, university students, etc. After the disaster of the war, these ideas became much more popular; the NSDAP was a direct outgrowth of them, and rode to power largely on their power. Through these ideas the Nazis had a direct appeal to the German people. Familiarity with this set of ideas makes it easier to understand how the Nazis could have come to power in this civilized country.
Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire, 1871-1918 (1985) is a structuralist interpretation of the years of the Wilhelmine period ("the problem-oriented historical structural analysis of German society and its politics"); its approach appears to be derived partly from Marxism. He thinks Germany in this period was dominated by an elite of powerful groups (industrialists, Junker farmers, bureaucrats, army officers, etc.) who exploited the system in their own interests. Under Bismarck Germany was a "Bonapartist-type dictatorial regime" that evolved into an "authoritarian polyarchy without coordination in the Wilhelmine years. The elites developed in effect the "Sammlung" policy to rally the nation behind them in opposition to the threat of the Social Democrats and of Germany's foreign enemies (navalism); their aim was to prevent any significant change to the system. He appears to think that 19th century imperialism was a seeking for a place to house excess capital and goods. He does not agree with the Fischer thesis that Germany hatched and launched World War I as a bid for world power; but that in their increasing desperation the German elites bungled foreign policy and thus unwittingly plunging Europe into a war from which they would be a long time recovering. The book has a turgid, dull style.
Klemens von Klemperer, Germany's New Conservatism: Its History and Dilemma in the Twentieth Century (1957, 1968) brings together in a somewhat problematic category of "Neo-Conservative" a number of right-wing intellectuals who labored under the Weimar Republic. They had their roots in prewar Germany, and were manifest in the ideas of "national socialism," German socialism or conservative socialism that emerged in the "Spirit of 1914" during the war. The moderate "elder" conservatives of the early years of Weimar (Walter Rathenau, Max Weber, Thomas Mann) argued for a strong presidency, federal structure and a collaborative socialism, but they soon gave way to a more angry generation of Young Conservatives. Moeller van der Bruck, Oswald Spengler and Ernst Jünger put forth various ideas that the Nazis picked up: war as adventure and creativity, irrationalism, nihilism, the myth of a Third Reich that would bring salvation to Germany, some sort of socialism that would serve all Germans; they were all strongly opposed to the Weimar Republic. The Nazis exploited their ideas and "glittering" vocabulary ruthlessly. They were eliminated from the public scene as soon as they had served their purposes for the Nazis. They succeeded in helping undermine the republic, but made no positive contribution to German politics. They were not consistent, certainly made no effort to agree with one another, and in fact don't fit comfortable under a single sobriquet like "Neo-Conservative." They are indicative of the influence of disillusioned Wilhelmine intellectuals like Delagarde and Julius Langbehn, and of the fateful rejection of the Weimar Republic by many intellectuals after World War I.
Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914-1918 (1998) is an excellent comprehensive source for study of this subject. It is an admirable summary of current research and insights about the German experience in World War I. It is extremely well written -- clean, graceful and balanced. It asserts: the German Army was efficient and the war effort was reasonably well organized; the military usurped political power in Germany, particularly after Ludendorff and Hindenburg were put in charge toward the end of 1916; political and military leaders were motivated by internal political considerations, i.e., avoid internal political changes in Germany; major strategic decisions taken in 1914, 1917 and 1918 were arrogant, risky, and even desperate; opposition to the war was negligible before 1917 when it became pervasive, although passive, due to internal hardships and war weariness; military and conservative leaders plotted in 1918 to saddle the democratic civilian leadership with responsibility for losing the war, and in the 1920s they succeeded in blaming the Weimar Republic for the defeat. The author emphasizes the latter is an absurd thesis, "a monument of perversity and intellectual folly" that was largely responsible for Germany's involvement in another, even more disastrous, European war.
Andreas Dorpalen, Heinrich von Treitschke (1957) is an excellent treatment of the Perceptor Gemaniae and his times. It is particularly good at placing Treitschke in his times: before 1871 he was devoted heart and soul to the cause of the unification of Germany under Prussia; after 1871 he was invariably disappointed how the story turned out under Bismarck and Wilhelm II, when Germany became a place of petty squabbles and crass materialism. Known for his patriotic lectures, he was a radical loner who had to shout and rant because of his inherited deafness. He claimed always to be a National Liberal, which may have been justified in his earlier days when he placed his hopes on the national will of the German Bürgertum, but liberal principles are hard to detect after 1871. He was a devoted and passionate student of Hegel; he emphasized the creative role of the (Prussian) state in the life of Germany. He adopted strong anti-semitic ideas in his later years, but his animosity was cultural and social rather than racial. He was particularly vitriolic in his denunciation of England. It is difficult to map his influence after his death, but he seems to stand at the head of the patriotic fervor of the Bildunsbügertum in the Wilhelmine and Weimar years: pseudo-liberal, nationalist, imperialistic and increasingly racist.
Martin Kitchen, The Silent Dictatorship: The Politics of the German High Command Under Hindenburg and Ludendorff, 1916-1918 (1976) is an able detailed analysis of the policy of the OHL (High Command of the German Army) under Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Hindenburg was essentially a father figure for the nation and the army; Ludendorff provided the ideas and a ruthless will to pursue the war to total victory. German army officers thought they should control every aspect of the total war being waged by 1916 -- not just command of the army, but war production, foreign policy, resistance to internal democratic reform, etc. Soon after these officers were appointed commanders-in-chief, OHL set in place a dictatorship that tolerated some civilian participation as essentially a smoke screen to mask their policies and a scapegoat upon whom they could dump responsibility in case things went wrong. The Kaiser was aware of the danger and resisted the appointment of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, but he soon became their puppet: whenever he resisted their demands (for example, the removal of civilian leaders), they would force his compliance with threats of resignation. These developments show the weakness of the Wilhelmine constitutional system -- anarchic assignments of responsibilities with much military influence that becomes dominant in time of war. The Dolchstoss idea was already implicit in OHL's policy in 1916. As soon as a hysterical Ludendorff realized in 1918 that the army was headed for defeat, he took measures to evade responsibility and to blame the defeat on the civilians.
Richard William Mackey, The Zabern Affair, 1913-1914 (1991) ably chronicles the evolution and significance of the famous events in this Alsatian town. Lieutenant Forstner and his regimental commander, Colonel von Reuter, showing their fabled Prussian arrogance, are the villains of the piece. By invoking martial law in peacetime, they broke Reich law in several instances. An interpellation in the Reichstag evoked a spirited defense of the autonomy of the military from Bethmann-Hollweg. When court-martialed, Forstner and Reuter were found innocent. Things returned to normal. The significance of the affair is multi-faceted. 1) It showed the continuing autonomy of the military in Wilhelmine Germany: its prerogatives must be defended even if the law must be broken. The military's power is amply demonstrated in the war years. 2) Liberals and the Reichstag remain timid: even though there was much outrage in the Reichstag, nothing was done to place limits on the government. 3) There was much concern in Germany about the issue. Even though no one was pressing for revolution, many people in Germany were moving to the position that the constitution of the Reich was unworkable; this may be seen as the preparation for the overthrow of the Reich in 1918.
Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair (1961) is a celebrated, brilliant and well-written account of the career, ideas and influence of three social/cultural critics in Germany in the late 19th century and the early 20th century: Paul de la Garde, Julius Langbehn and Moeller van der Bruck. They were all alienated from the modern industrial, urban and liberal world in Germany, which they thought was in moral and social decay. They were connected to one another only through the similarity of their ideas. Their hatred of modernity led to a call for a "conservative revolution" that would restore traditional, creative virtues in Germany. Although they had no direct influence on politics or major intellectual trends before the war, but their sort of "Germanic ideology" has a major impact on the erosion of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler to power. Much like Nietzsche, de la Garde despised the philistine middle classes and saw Germany in a severed cultural crisis on the morrow of unification; he hated liberals and Jews. Julius Langbehn in his popular Rembrandt als Erzieher bemoaned the supremacy of science, liberalism, commerce and industrialization in late 19th century Germany; he advocated a cult of youth (very influential in the turn-of-the-century Wandervogel) and the revival of national values. In his Das Dritte Reich (1922) Moeller van der Bruck preached ideas and values that the Nazi incorporated into their ideology: the Third Reich that was soon to come under the mystical leadership of the Führer; he would establish a realm of National Socialism that would abolish class differences into a single Volk Gemeinschaft. These men leaped "from despair to utopia," helping lay the foundations for Nazi Germany. It seems the Germans paid a high "psyche cost" for their "hothouse industrialization."

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