Posts Tagged With: democracy

Die Suche nach Sicherheit

Conze

Conze, Eckart.  Die Suche nach Sicherheit: eine Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland von 1949 bis in die Gegenwart.  Munich: Siedler, 2009. 

In Die Suche nach Sicherheit, Eckart Conze has written a comprehensive history of the Federal Republic of Germany that ranges from its foundation in 1949 to 2009, the year this work was published.  At over one thousand pages and covering topics from politics, society, culture, and the economy, Conze’s book is a Gesamtdarstellung of the history of the Federal Republic.  The book proceeds chronologically, but within this chronological framework, Conze employs a thematic approach, dedicating chapters to particular themes such as “Modernization in the Reconstruction,” “Security and Stability,” and “the Search for Identity and New Optimism.

The leitmotif of Conze’s book – as the title suggests – is the Germans’ search for security, certainty, and safety. “Die Geschichte der Bundesrepublik ist bestimmt von der Suche nach Sicherheit,” he writes (15).  Since the foundation of the Federal Republic, every administration and every political party has taken security as the goal of their politics.  In the Adenauer Era, stretching from 1949 to 1963, the focus was on securing stability for the newly-formed nation.  Political and civilian institutions had to be reestablished, all under the pressures of the Cold War. The American-Soviet binary put the divided Germany right at the center of the tense political climate.  Therefore, the ‘search for security’ during the 1950s was the search for military and physical safety, along with a sense of autonomy.

By 1965, Conze notes, contemporary observers felt that life had finally become more normalized, or at least stabile.  The Cuban missile crisis had subsided and West Germans were able to focus more on family life and their careers. But 1968 revealed that this sense of security and stability was a farce.  Though Conze asserts that the social revolt symbolized by the year 1968 constitutes the second formative stage of the Federal Republic’s history, he shows that the social revolutions of the late 1960s and early 1970s were not specifically a German phenomenon by situating 1968 in an international context (333).  The result of this tumult was that the 1970s was a period focused on internal security for West Germans.

The economic crises of the late 1970s, as well as the increasing importance of international security politics (NATO armament) in the 1980s forced Germans to, yet again, acknowledge that their futures depended on global factors; therefore, they were not the masters of their own destiny.  Conze speaks of a “return of history,” of an increased interest in German history in the late 1970s that was caused by the loss of a sense of certainty for their own future (655).  The reunification of Germany in 1990 gave Germans a new sense of security as a united nation, but revealed internal tensions between “Wessis” and “Ossis.”  The terror attacks of September 11, 2001 revealed that nation states were not the only source of danger, and that nation states could not always protect its citizens from global terror networks.  The book ends with the conclusion that the economic reform package passed in Germany was not just meant to fight off rising unemployment or rising debt. “It’s about the stabilization of commonwealth and the cohesion of the society.  It’s about trust in the government and the promises of protection by the state. It’s about security” (936).

Beyond giving readers a new analytical framework through which to understand the history of the Federal Republic, Conze also offers a warning against viewing its history as a teleological path towards reunification or a “long path towards the West,” as it has often been portrayed after 1990.  He drives this point home by quoting histories from the late 1980s that still portrayed “ratlosigkeit” or having no sense of where German history would go from there (11).

 

For more books on modern German history, see my full list of book reviews here.

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Hitler & the Collapse of Weimar Germany

Broszat

 

Broszat, Martin.  Hitler and the Collapse of Weimar Germany. Trans. V. R. Berghahn. Leamington Spa: Berg, 1987.

This is a thin, but important book of political history.  In it, Broszat traces the complex political trends of the Weimar era, as well as the intricate deals forged by Germany’s leading politicians and economic elite at the time.  Though this is primarily a political history, Broszat does offer some glances into larger socio-cultural developments during the 1920s and 1930s.  He hints at what Detlev Peukert takes as the central issue of his own book: the effects of modernization and the rise of mass culture on German politics.  Ultimately, Broszat sees this new, mass culture as the key to the Nazis’ success in gaining control of the German government in 1933.

Broszat opens his book with a brief history of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP or Nazi Party) and shows that it was only one among many right wing, nationalist parties.  “What marked [Hitler] out among the speakers of the political Right was the way in which he put his message across” (2).  This point epitomizes Broszat’s larger argument that it was not Nazism’s message itself that made it unique or successful, but instead the manner in which the message was expressed and distributed.  NSDAP leadership – and Hitler in particular – recognized that the masses could not be ignored in any new political system.  Consequently, the Nazis saw the masses as a source of power that should be tapped into through modern technology and political aesthetics.  In this light, the National Socialists were a truly modern political party, not the culmination of an older German character.  “Nazi ideology was almost totally a product of mass culture and political semi-illiteracy which proliferated since the late nineteenth century” (38).

After demonstrating that National Socialism was a modern creation, Broszat lays out the conditions that allowed for the rise of the Nazi Party.  National Socialism emerged in Germany after the First World War during a period of worldwide economic recession and against the background of a general crisis of modernity and civilization” (37).  The SPD-led Weimar Coalition enjoyed success only during times of material improvement or stability (53); otherwise, it was attacked from all sides: the Communists on the Left and conservative nationalists like the Nazis on the Right.  The election of Paul von Hindenburg as Reich President in 1925 was a “symptom of backward looking tendencies,” Broszat claims (67).

While the election of Hindenburg symbolized a shift to the Right in Weimar mentality, the Republic was not destroyed until Chancellor Brüning was forced to resign in May 1932.  The new chancellor led a coup against Prussia, trying to separate its government from the Reich’s, and the SPD did nothing to protest, thus paving the way for an authoritarian, nationalistic government (120, 146).  The rest of the book is dedicated to revealing the political maneuvering that led to Papen’s ousting, Schleicher’s short chancellorship, and finally Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor in January 1933.

Throughout the book, Broszat reveals how the NSDAP was able to gather followers.  Nazism “seemed to offer a strong determined leadership, a pseudo-democratic mobilization of the masses and their participation in the promised national revival; it looked like a ‘third way’ between democracy and the state authoritarianism of the olden days. Herein lay the lure of Nazism” (94).  As the NSDAP gained more success, its more radical messages were toned down, thus appealing to a wider audience among the working class, bourgeoisie, and old elite.  The old conservative elites lacked this mass appeal and that is why they compromised and agreed to place the Nazis in power, hoping they could keep Hitler and his party on a short leash.

To see more books on the history of modern Germany, see my full list of book reviews. 

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The Weimar Republic (Peukert)

Peukert Weimar

Peukert, Detlev J. K.  The Weimar Republic: the Crisis of Classical Modernity.  Trans. Richard Deveson.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

             As a fourteen-year window of constitutional democracy between the German Empire and the Nazi Third Reich, the Weimar Republic has justifiably received much scholarly attention.  But in this study, Peukert argues that scholars have too often focused only on the tumultuous and fragile origin of the Republic and its collapse in the face of National Socialism.  “‘Weimar’ is more than a beginning and an end,” he writes (xii). The rest of his book is dedicated to exploring this Weimar Era, utilizing social history to offer insights into cultural, political, and social aspects of Weimar Germany. Peukert ultimately concludes that the downfall of the Republic should not be seen as some specific failure of German modernity, but instead a warning of the fragile nature of modernity itself.

Peukert’s entire book places him squarely in opposition to the idea of a German Sonderweg, or “special path” of modernization that led to the Nazis and the Holocaust.  To substantiate his argument, he asserts that historical conditions surrounding Weimar Germany’s modernization process, not some old elites trying to stave off modernization, are responsible for the Republic’s failure.  To begin with, the “Weimar Republic was born out of national defeat…That, rather than the severe yet ultimately tolerable terms of the peace settlement, was the root cause of the revanchist Versailles myth” that so profoundly shaped the directions Weimar’s modernization process would follow (278).  Additionally, the Weimar Republic was founded in a time of global upheaval and instability.  Upheavals in demographics led to conflicts between generations, and the sick economy could not sustain attempts to create a new order in industry (83). Moreover, the effects of the global economic crises of 1929 were felt especially hard in Germany, exposing the limits and fault of the welfare state. As times got tough, more people needed the benefits, but because times were tough, the state needed to cut its own costs.  When times were good and the state could afford to pay out, not as many people needed it.  Weimar’s critics railed against such discrepancies as indicative of a deeply flawed system (129).  All of these factors combined to create conditions that the young, fragile Republic, which was constantly in a crisis of legitimacy, simply could not overcome. “Germany’s experiment in modernity was conducted under the least propitious circumstances” (276).

This conclusion is important because it suggests that any nation going through modernization during such conditions would fail, thus meaning there was nothing particularly German about Weimar’s failure.  In fact, Peukert argues that classical modernity itself (defined as “the form of fully fledged industrialized society that has been with us from the turn of the century until the present day,” 81) was going through a crisis of its own.  “No sooner had modern ideas been put into effect than they came under attack, were revoked or began to collapse (276).   And since “crisis and modernization seemed to be going hand in hand, modernity itself became the issue” (85).

This also has implications for how we understand the rise of the Nazis and the death of the Republic.  The conservative elites were able to destroy the Weimar constitutional order, but were unable to understand or control the new masses and return to a pre-war order.  The Nazis presented themselves as a modern, dynamic party of the masses, and in 1933, “the Nazis were handed over the keys of power by the old elites” (279).  In this light, the Nazis can be seen as a last ditch effort to control the effects of modernization rather than an inevitable conclusion of German history.

For more books on modern German history, see my full list of book reviews, here. 

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Weimar Germany: Promise & Tragedy

Weitz

Weitz, Eric D.  Weimar Germany: Promise & Tragedy.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

In this survey of the German Weimar era that is both open to a non-academic audience and helpful to scholars, Weitz offers a well-written and engaging look into a vibrant, bygone age.  The majority of the book is dedicated to studying Weimar’s vivacious, multi-faceted and lively culture.  That is not to say that Weitz ignores politics, but he does aim to show that the Weimar Republic was more than just unstable politics, more than just a prelude to the Third Reich (5).

A main theme of Weitz’s book is the Weimar Republic’s perceived relationship to modernity.  He convincingly shows that the idea of modernity was on Germans’ minds and at the heart of political debates, artistic movements, and even city planning.  In one chapter, Weitz leads readers on a leisurely stroll through Weimar Berlin, letting them experience the hustle and bustle of Berlin life “first hand.”  He refers specifically to the Romanische Café, what he calls the “perfect symbol of Weimar politics and society.”  It’s “lively, democratic, engaged, and divided and divisive, unable to speak beyond its own circle” (77-78).  People of different backgrounds and political loyalties met in the café, yet each gravitated to their own tables and corners; they were democratic and diverse, yet broke themselves into small cliques.  To Weitz, this was how the Weimar Republic itself worked.

During the Weimar period, artists and architects attempted to create Gesamtkunstwerke (synthetic works of complete artwork), like Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner’s “Hufeisen,” an apartment complex shaped like a horseshoe so that every occupant could see all other apartments, thus fostering a sense of community (181).  Other artists believed that architecture and paintings could fundamentally change society for the better.  Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school, for example, felt filling society with modern architecture would take mankind into the modern world by transforming and harmonizing society (194).  Department stores helped usher in the New Woman by carving out a “safe” space for women in the public sphere (55).  New technology allowed for classic operas and symphonies to be presented to the new “masses,” while also creating new forms of artwork and consumption: films.  But not everyone was happy with this new culture, with its new gender norms, economic system, and modes of authority.  Conservatives of all colors protested on the streets and in the Reichstag.

This cultural vitality coexisted alongside (and also contributed to) political instability.  The republic was hit by a series of crises, and the Great Depression in particular became a crisis of the republic’s legitimacy (122).  The warding off of groups into smaller fractions was a symbol of the inefficiency, not vitality of democracy.  By 1928, there were forty-eight parties in the Reichstag, rendering it difficult to legislate.  A series of constitutional articles, (particularly Article 48) gave the Federal President (who otherwise had no direct power on the daily governmental business) unprecedented authority over the Chancellor and Parliament, setting up a “presidential dictatorship,” that for Weitz signaled a political overthrow of democracy in Germany five years before the Nazis took power (351).  The Nazis, Weitz argues, simply tapped into the new rhetoric of the radicalized Right, gaining success only by using mass mobilization and new inventions to spread their message of a return to stability and prosperity.  Ultimately, Weimar’s failure came from its instability, the fact that scores of factions were taking stabs at it from every angle.  The final blow came when a handful of conspirators (conservative government men and big, industrial businessmen) helped the Nazis to power (358).

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Practicing Democracy

Anderson

Anderson, Margaret Lavinia.  Practicing Democracy:  Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Positioning herself firmly against the Sonderweg thesis, Anderson reconstructs an entirely new understanding of imperial Germany.  Unlike Wehler, who views assemblies like the Reichstag as nothing more than the symbol of a sham constitutional monarchy, Anderson takes the Reichstag and its members seriously.  She does so because she argues that the members themselves took their positions seriously.  If we accept Anderson’s argument, we are forced to see imperial Germany in a whole new light.  Instead of a power hungry, conservative elite manipulating the German populace into submission and onto a “special path,” we see an active Mittelstand that took advantage of every opportunity given to it.  Moreover, assemblies like the Reichstag were not shams at all, but instead vital institutions that created and fostered a democratic culture in imperial Germany.

Bismarck implemented universal manhood suffrage for Reichstag representatives in 1867 as a way to implement (and control) socio-political reform from above and use the power of the masses for his own gains.  But Anderson argues that the Reichstag representatives (and the men voting for them) took the position seriously. The dual nature of the German system meant that the Reichstag neither chose nor could depose the government (10), and so Bismarck thought that he could tap into a larger power base without the uncertainties of democracy.  But, according to Anderson, the very fact that a democratic institution with universal male suffrage now existed began to cultivate a democratic culture among Germany’s male population.

So, the existence of universal male suffrage politicized millions of Germans beginning in 1867, but another important step came in 1903 when Chancellor Bülow granted secret ballots for Reichstag elections.  This was important, because up to that point, community leaders and bosses would use their influence to pressure voters to vote a certain way.  Making the ballots secret removed communal pressure and thus made Germany’s democratic institution more individualized.  Another challenge to communal pressure came in the form of the nationalist associations, which encouraged voters to throw off the chains of local pressure in exchange for larger, more nationalistic goals.  “It was not in the exercise of individual freedom, but in competition between groups that democratic practice took hold in Germany” (417).  Anderson argues that the first minority to fully politicize its members were the Catholics (84).

Moreover, as time went on the existence – and the growing power – of the Reichstag became not only taken for granted, but expected to be an integral part of politics.  And when men felt that their votes were being abused by unwanted influence, they appealed to the Reichstag and the government.  Anderson argues that the sheer number of appeals and vote challenges on any number of issues shows just how seriously people took this ‘experiment’ with representation (33).  And by the time the government threatened to do away with the Reichstag in the 1890s, they were continually thwarted, and the illegality of the government’s attempts seemed abhorrent to a group of men for whom a democratic sense had already been cultivated (247).

Ultimately, the Reichstag elections (and the corresponding political mobilization of the masses) acted as a legitimizer – both for the imperial institutions that created the Reichstag, but also for the opposition who now had a legitimate way to voice dissent.  Anderson’s work shows that while the Weimar Republic was Germany’s first democratic state, it wasn’t the Germans’ first experience with democracy.  They had “practiced” democracy for decades.

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Tired of Political Posts?

You’re sitting at your computer, or glued to your smart phone, just scrollin’ through your newsfeed, trying to see what your Facebook Friends have been up to since you last checked four minutes ago.  And then you see it: your tree huggin’ hippy friend has posted another God-damn Gosh darn Obama ad.  Or, your right wing nutjob co-worker has posted yet another graph that shows that Obama’s plan for the economy just isn’t working.  How fucking annoying is that, right?!  Why can’t we just go about our business, liking Justin Bieber, uploading another picture of ourselves (maybe in the reflection of a mirror to be cool), or talking about the mundane facets of our lives?  Instead, these politically active sons-a-bitches have to keep shoving their political views down my throat via Facebook.

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Or at least that’s how it seems lately, according to some folks in my Facebook friends circle.  I’ve read quite a few statuses declaring to the cyber world that they were blocking or at least hiding any of their “friends” who keep trying to influence their own views on the upcoming election.  I mean, how dare people voice their own opinions!

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Well, I’ll tell you what:  THAT is on my damn nerves! I thought electing the next President of the United States was kind of a big deal, big enough, in fact, for people to express their opinions on the candidates and parties that are running.  And sure, there has been debate, and quarreling, and shallow name calling in politics ever since…well, politics existed.  But the difference is that all of that “political stuff” used to be relegated to TV, newspapers, and magazines.  And now, politics has infiltrated Facebook.  That’s why all of you people are so annoyed: Because in the past, you could just turn off the TV, or not pick up a newspaper, and presto! you don’t have to be ‘annoyed’ by all of these petty debates about who the leader of our country should be.

Now that Facebook has crept into every crevice of our social lives, of course it was going to be a perfect tool for trading political ideas.  I say Thank God! Facebook provides a medium to share information further and quicker than any other medium in the past.  What better way to use it than to share knowledge and ideas?  And I’m not talking about the knowledge that you checked in at the fucking Denny’s bathroom to make another stupid ass kissy-face picture.

But by all means, get annoyed that someone’s bashing the opposing political candidate in your news feed.  Sure, you’ll act like you’re “above” the fray, and it’s people on both sides who are annoying you, and what really annoys you is just the fact that politics has just gotten so darn mean.  Just name callin from both sides of the aisle.  Gosh, how horrible.  Right – so that’s why you end up attacking and deleting the person who has ideas that are different from your own.

I’m a politically active individual, and I’m going to post articles that express my beliefs.  Well, let me be more accurate:  I’m a politically aware individual.  Earning my PhD takes up all of my time, so I don’t really have much left to be very active.  I’m not stupid enough to think that my Facebook posts (which actually are just articles that I share) are going to ‘convert’ anyone to ‘my side’ (probably because most of my friends are of my “silly, ideal” political persuasion, anyway), but I would hope that some of the information I share at least makes people stop and think.

I have a lot riding on November 6th.  And I’m not the only one.  While the economy is looming large on everyone’s mind (for a very good reason), I’m referring to something more specific.  As a gay man, this presidential election will have very big repercussions for my life.  On the one hand, we have a candidate who has repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, stopped enforcing the discriminatory Defense Of Marriage Act, and became the first sitting president to endorse marriage equality for all Americans.  On the other hand, you have a candidate who believes that homosexuality is not only a “lifestyle” but an abomination, and as such, would roll back all of the legislation that activists have worked so hard to achieve.

I’m not really a supporter of voting for a president based on one particular issue.  And let’s be real, this isn’t the only reason I’m voting for Obama, but you can bet your sweet ass it’s on top of the list.  Because, if Obama wins, that means that there are four more years in which I could possibly see marriage equality recognized on a national levelIf Obama wins, then MAYBE my partner and I wouldn’t have to worry about his status in this country.  Yeah, that’s right, I’m not worried about “gay marriage” simply because I want to have something with the name “marriage” on it (versus a civil union or whatever the fuck you want to call it).  I’m talking about legal benefits that straight couples now get…and that I’m unfairly denied.

My partner is a foreign worker in this country, and he’s here to do the IT jobs that Americans just simply aren’t qualified to do (why that’s the case will have to wait for another post).  He pays all of his taxes, contributes to a growing sector, and makes sure that millions of people get their healthcare without a glitch.  However, he’s reached the highest visa possible now, and it’s only valid for a maximum of six more years.  That means that if his legal status in the US does not change by the year 2018, he’ll have to leave the country forever.  Now this isn’t normally a big problem for most ‘normal’ people, because there are two ways to achieve the next status, which is permanent residency (aka, green card holder):  #1, your employer can sponsor you, but this is expensive on their part, and right now the processing time for his particular employer-sponsored green card is 11 years.  #2, you can get married.  This is obviously not an option for my partner and millions more like him.

So, this is what’s at stake for us:  We know we want to spend the rest of our lives together.  But because of a fucking technicality we may not be able to do that here, in the supposed land of the free?

That’s why I post political statuses on Facebook.  Because it fucking matters.  I passionately believe that everybody deserves at least basic health care as a human right.  I believe in placing rules on the game called economics so that it’s a little more fair and one or two people don’t end up buying all the good spots on the Monopoly board and watch from their penthouses as the rest of us fight over scraps.  And, I believe that every single American deserves the right to get married and reap all of the same legal and financial benefits (including green card status for your spouse).  So, I post about these things, hoping that people out there will understand that these issues are real, and they matter.  Politics isn’t just old men in suits talking bad about each other.  It’s not just an interruption in your Facebook Newsfeed! 

So, by all means:  Block me and others like me, but please block yourself from the voting booth, too.  Or do us all a favor and delete your Facebook account until after the elections.  Because maybe your political apathy is annoying the shit out of us.  Or how about at least refrain from mocking those who care enough to actually engage in debate.  I don’t block people just because they tell me every detail of their day, because they check in at every bar they hang out at and tag all of their BFFs and drankin’ buddies, because they tell me constantly what music they’re listening to.  It shows all of the different sides of people out there, sides that I wouldn’t be able to see without Facebook.  Plus, I like sharing what I made for supper too!

Or, how about instead of getting your panties in a wad, you actually engage those people in a debate.  Show them where you think they’re wrong…and then present your own answer to the problem.  But of course, to do that, you’d actually have to do some homework. And like, LOL omg, who has time for that?!  Plus, the iPhone 5 is out, right? And that’s way more damn important than the election and all those Facebook political posts.

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