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.