Posts Tagged With: nationalism

It’s a Little Late, but….

As Team USA was playing in the World Cup, I saw these pictures floating around the interwebs and they made me chuckle.  Our team may have been eliminated from the tournament, but the pictures are still worth sharing.


X Epic 'Murican Eagle


X Two Types of Countries

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Mark Twain’s Patriotism

X Twain Patriotism

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Nationalism & Sexuality

Mosse Nationalism

Mosse, George L.  Nationalism & Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe.  New York: Howard Fertig, Inc., 1985.

Subject:  An exploration of the transformations of bourgeois respectability in 19th and 20th century Germany & England and the ways in which these transformations interacted with nationalism and race.

Main Arguments: Mosse’s main argument is that bourgeois respectability and nationalism shaped attitudes toward sex, and these sexual attitudes contributed powerfully to militant nationalism and even the rise of fascism.  While the subtitle of his book refers to all of modern Europe, he focuses mainly on Germany and to a lesser extent on England (with a few references to France and Italy).  He justifies this by stating that in Germany “we witness the ultimate consequences of trying to direct and control human sexuality: the concerted effort under National Socialism to regenerate respectability” (2).

Though he doesn’t really give us a glimpse of what came before this new mode of respectability (sexual “normality”), he claims that the cause of this transformation was religion, and Protestant religious revivals in particular:  German Pietism in Germany, that encouraged Germans to observe a silent obedience to a higher power, and Evangelism in England, that encouraged its followers to get involved with politics.  What emerged out of this transformation was a new sense of respectability, which defined “decent and correct” behavior, as well as the proper attitude one should have toward that behavior.  The supposed “natural” distinctions between men and women were highlighted, creating and enforcing public/private spheres.

These new understandings were harnessed by nationalists to promote nationalistic goals.  Sex was meant for “normal” reproduction, and anything outside of that norm was ostracized as not only unnatural, but unpatriotic and damaging to the nation as well.  In other words, patriotism was equated with sexual normality, and “unnatural” sex, with national decline and racial corruption.

“Outsiders” – or those who did not fit into the realm of respectability, such as homosexuals – were attacked as enemies of the state.  The same can be said for Jews, who were accused of using sex as a weapon to undermine the nation’s health through racial and moral pollution.

He has an interesting chapter on the ways the state imposed its control over the friendships of its citizens.  Whereas the Enlightenment had emphasized the individual’s right to cultivate relationships – even erotic ones with members of the same sex – nationalism dictated that individuals should only have non-erotic friendships with members of the same sex, and erotic relationships would be saved for husbands and wives (and again, for only reproductive purposes to create future generations for the state).  The challenge, however, was to keep homosocial relationships from turning into homosexuals ones, because, the state encouraged deep and even passionate bonds among its male citizens.  In fact, these powerful male friendships were prerequisite of masculinity.  The state wanted men who felt a deep sense of camaraderie with one another, which bolstered the solidarity and power of nationalism.  In this sense, these homosocial relationships always bordered on homoerotic (because of the passion of the friendship); but this also bothered the nationalists because that passionate characteristic always ran the risk of developing into a homosexual bond.  (He also makes the claim that in Germany, the “ideals of personal friendship were most clearly articulated” because the Germans hoped these bonds would act as “a surrogate for lost national unity” – – which I think is a gross over generalization (67).

The Nazis are seen as the logical endpoint for these developments; so instead of being viewed as an abhorrent misuse of sexuality and nationalism, I get the feeling that Mosse sees these developments as leading almost inevitably towards such abhorrent uses.  National Socialism promised to harness and enforce respectability to re-forge the nation in the face of the chaos of modernity.  While men run and protect the nation with physical force (monuments of nude men are erected throughout Germany, displaying the ideal masculinity and the “return” to the natural body), women (who are ultimately inferior) have the duty of literally reproducing the racially and morally pure nation.

My Comments:

I think this must have been a good and maybe even controversial book back in 1985, but it’s dated now.  The way he presents the material is as if there is some un-named “they” who are concocting these new ideas and powers.  There’s no sense of interplay between culture, politics, and ideas.  The result is that the people in the book have absolutely no agency, and are just pawns of the powerful nation-builders.

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

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German Nationalism & Religious Conflict


Smith, Helmut Walser.  German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

“Although unified politically, the German empire of 1871 was a deeply divided state,” Smith states (233).  This was not due to any lack of nationalism to bind the loyalties of the multiple localities to a single state.  Instead, this division was the result of multiple nationalisms based on confessional divides, each of which was trying to define, in its own terms, what it meant to be German.  In this regard, Smith’s book is not just a study of political or cultural nationalism, but of religious nationalism as well.

Smith positions himself against previous historians who viewed nationalism as a functionalist tool used by elites to forge a unified sentiment of loyalty to the new nation and empire.  Smith’s work displays a plurality of nationalities arising from below and trying to define the boundaries of German identity.  So, rather than diminishing Protestant and Catholic divides, nationalism(s) actually exacerbated differences among Protestants and Catholics.  “The move toward national unity intensified group tensions within the society by raising settled cultural forms out of their particular context, expanding them into general allegiances, and politicizing them” (239).  Protestants, who were the majority in the newly unified Germany, saw their Reich as being deeply tied to Protestantism, and so when Bismarck launched the Kulturkampf, they did not necessarily see it as a struggle between Church and state, but instead understood it as the imperial government forging a Protestant nation.

The Protestant League was founded in 1866 in an effort to further these goals.  But the end of Bismarck’s official Kulturkampf a year later did not mean that German Catholics and Protestants had settled their differences.  On the contrary, the Protestant League picked up the slack and tried to “break the power of Rome on German soil” (52).  They tried to emphasize that Germany was a specifically Protestant nation, and they went as far as supporting the turn of the century “Away from Rome” Protestant uprisings in the Habsburg territories.  These efforts were ultimately a failure and only resulted in the Protestant League losing money and its reputation.

By the first years of the twentieth century, the Protestant League had radicalized and was even willing to oppose the German government, which they saw as weak in the face of Catholic influence, particularly when it legalized Catholic religious orders in 1902.  In an effort to defeat the Center Party, which was open to Catholics, the Protestant League had to endorse the Social Democrat party, an act that caused more strife and divisions in the conservative League.

Ultimately, Smith’s book reveals that there were a multitude of nationalisms in existence during this period.  While Catholics and Protestants were busy promoting national identities based on confessional divides, other nationalist associations like the Agrarian League and Pan Germans sought to promote the Germanness of the Reich and downplay confessional loyalties.

Smith’s work also questions the role of religion in the “modern” world.  In other words, by bringing attention back to religion in the process of nation-building, he re-conceptualizes the role of confessional loyalties in the process of modernization.  Whereas a defining attribute of being modern is traditionally understood as being secular, Smith shows that religion and confessional divides were at the heart of issues of national identity.  Instead of being a “backward” hold out of a previous era, confessional conflict was an “integral part” of becoming modern for people who “often perceived themselves as forward looking” (235).

Fore more books on German history, see my list of book reviews HERE.

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Enlightened Nationalism


Levinger, Matthew.  Enlightened Nationalism: the Transformation of Prussian Political Culture, 1806-1848.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Levinger’s book explores how conservatives and reformers alike tried to define Prussian, and perhaps German, identity in the face of pressure from France as well as unrest from within.  The story of these four decades that emerges from Levinger’s work is not one of strong disagreement and infighting.  Instead, consensus exemplifies the overall mood; both reformers and reactionaries held political harmony as the goal of any development.  There were three main reasons for the perceived need for harmony: the ideals of the Enlightenment, French aggression, and the absence of a single nation state (228-229).

Levinger shows that the terms “conservative” and “reformer” may be too simple to describe the forces that were trying to stabilize Prussia after Napoleon’s conquest and later ousting.  He shows that all aristocrats were not necessarily against representative assemblies, nor were all reformers against the monarchy.  In fact, the goal of both sides was political harmony through “Enlightened nationalism,” which would allow a peaceful coexistence of nation and monarchy (229).  One would assume that such a coexistence would require dramatic compromise on the part of both conservatives and liberal reformers.  But Levinger shows that both sides envisioned a rationalized monarchy that coexisted with an Enlightened, educated populace.  In this sense, nationalism was not anti-monarchy, because the Enlightened nation was to be organized for the king, not against him (229).  Indeed, what both sides strived for was an “enlightened nationalism,” where nationalism referred to the Prussian leadership’s plan to mobilize the whole population, and enlightened refers to an emphasis on Bildung and state rationalization as a means to that end.  Dedication to this Enlightenment Bildung is an important part of Levinger’s book, and he demonstrates that both reformers and reactionaries were dedicated to the establishment of an Erziehungsstaat.

The presence of the French forces also plays a vital role in Levinger’s story.  For, when one was under foreign rule, one had to speak of national interests, not just the selfish interests of one’s own estate (94).  The political leaders wanted to invigorate the people against the French, but didn’t want to give up the traditional hierarchies.  This forced both the monarchy and the landed aristocrats to confront the notion of nationalism – and what form German nationalism should take.

Methodologically, he explores political discourse and its implications, showing that “words have consequences” (93), and sometimes unintended ones at that.   As the aristocracy campaigned for civic freedoms and Bildung to achieve their own goals, these ideals spread to other estates where they worked against the supremacy of the aristocracy.  Moreover, Levinger reveals the direct interaction of discourse and action by showing how the discourses of the Enlightenment ideals limited the actions that political actors could potentially take.  For example, the Enlightenment ideal of harmony would not allow serious reformers to undertake radical action, which would create chaos (225).

Ultimately, the liberal revolutions of 1848 failed because the understanding of the German “nation” was too contested and therefore could not stand against a united, conservative will.  But I wonder how much of a failure 1848 could be, in Levinger’s terms, if both sides had the same goal (rational monarchy & enlightened populace), because, as he states, in 1848, Wilhelm II decreed a constitution, and Prussia became a constitutional monarchy.

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Forging Nationalism in Modern Europe

Natlsm in Europe

One cannot discuss modern European history without devoting much of the discussion to the topic of nationalism.  In fact, it the story of modern European history could be seen as the invention and subsequent ebb and flow of nationalism as nation states began to replace monarchies across the continent.  The four works that we read for this session offer insight into the processes involved in nation building, and each shows that these processes neither run smoothly, nor can one find a “standard” path of nationalism’s development.  David Waldstreicher and Celia Applegate offer fresh ways of thinking about how nationalism works and its relation with the people and the state.  Mark Mazower’s short history reveals nationalism’s violent side, yet somewhat problematically talks about nationalism as if it is something quantifiable that can be exported to distant areas of the globe.  Lastly, Maria Tadorova explores the ways in which nationalities, though constructed in recent history, appear to be timeless and can thus be used to construct powerful discourses about the state of the world.

At first, Applegate’s book, Bach in Berlin, seemed to be an unusual choice for discussing nationalism, for Applegate is a music historian.  But this work explores how by the 19th century, Germans came to see themselves as a musical nation (if not the musical nation).  By framing it in this way, she deftly shows how music indeed had a central role in defining a German nationalism, even before a German nation state was formed. The book circulates around an 1829 performance of J.S. Bach’s the St. Matthew Passion that was composed by Felix Mendelssohn and led by Carl Friedrich Zelter.  It is important to note that Applegate does not believe that this single event created German nationalism, but she does argue that “appreciation of Bach reinforced the integration of the many strands of German cultural experience into a coherent, unified national culture” (9).  In that sense, the performance can be seen as one of those rare historical moments in which events come together into a powerful culmination to make something new and remarkable.

In discussing the emergence of a German nationalism, Applegate grants central importance to the power of print and print culture.  She demonstrates that literature already held the high position of being the “essential expression of German identity” (52).  So, as cultural shifts in the late eighteenth century forced musicians to leave their traditional spheres of the church and the court, they had to find a way to make their profession important – if not essential – to the cultured elite of the German people. The emergence of music periodicals coincided with the spread of the German Enlightenment.  The work of Johann Gottfried Herder concentrated on a philosophy of history that focused on particularities.  This had implications for Germans who could now see German culture as having an essence all its own (52).  Music journalists could then employ this train of thought and argue that not only was German music important, but that music was an essential and vital expression of a deeper, true German culture, a German national soul.

Such discussion laid the groundwork for a movement for musicians and all cultured Germans alike to rediscover German music.  This set the stage for the success of Mendelssohn’s revival of Bach’s Passion.  Another aim of the music periodicals was to cultivate taste, that is define what good and German music was.  Moreover, this was a task for all cultured Germans, not something restricted to a small elite.  So, there was a push to get amateur musicians involved (thus the success of the Berlin Singakademie). “Music journalists wanted to influence how people judged music, and they did so in ways that tied musical judgments to German culture as a whole” (82).  While many music periodicals joined in this effort, she points to Adolf Bernhard Marx’s Berliner Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in particular.  Marx’s project, Applegate states, was to insist that by knowing Bach (and German music in general), “one would come to know oneself as a German, because knowing Bach entailed understanding not only the Christian, Protestant heritage of Germany, not only the intellectual, inward turn in German character, but also the musical complexity that was as much a part of being German as was the German language itself” (119).    That is why, in 1829 at the time of the famous performance, the conditions were ripe for the culmination of many processes into a lived experience of the power of German culture and German nationalism.  The German Enlightenment had shown that German culture could be separate and essential; music periodicals cultivated the understanding of German music as an art form, and moreover, it taught Germans how to receive, appreciate, and judge the 1829 performance as an expression of their national culture.   In this way, “music journals were a part of the process of building a cultural homogeneity, not a late, specialized product of homogeneous culture” (83).

In In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes, David Waldstreicher presents nationalism not as an abstract ideology that was the object of philosophers’ discussions.  Instead, nationalism is presented as a political strategy, something that must be played out or enacted by “perpetual fetes.”  This is an important twist on the understanding of nationalism, because this conceptualizes nationalism as something that is created, not as the creating force.  Nationalism is created through rituals such as parades, celebrations, toasts, and printed commentary of these events.  In this light, events such as the celebration of the Fourth of July, are not because of nationalism, but are instead creating a feeling of consensus, a sense of nationalism.  These celebrations are spaces in which national politics are taken outdoors, out of the hands of a few, and taken to the streets where “ordinary” people could participate.  However, Waldstreicher avoids setting up an “elite vs. street” dichotomy of politics by showing that both the political elite and the normal people were equally active in constructing narratives during these celebrations.

While national celebrations appear to be about consensus building, Waldstreicher argues that to miss the politics (the divisive and partisan nature) of the celebrations is to miss the point of the event itself.  This exposes the paradoxical nature of these celebrations, for they unified while simultaneously divided the populace.  While all parties involved promoted loyalty to the nation (unifying power), the factions promoted their idea of the nation (divisive nature).  Thus, nationalism – far from being some ultra-conservative, unifying power that stamps out all difference – could foster deep divides among the people, and Waldstreicher understands political factions as results of nationalism, not hindrances to it.

Part of the paradox of nationalism was the way that while it increased participation in politics (by drawing all of the white men into participation, instead of just a select few), it also firmly excluded women and blacks.[1]  For example, the American Colonization Society was a nationalistic organization to send all free blacks out of America, and its existence highlighted the problem of a “free nation” in which the equality of a number of its free citizens was denied (302-304).  But, Waldstreicher argues that free black Americans put the whites to shame by using the same tools of nationalism to create a new, African nationalism of their own (347).

Taken together, Applegate and Waldstreicher’s books provide interesting insight into nationalism.  Most importantly, both authors present nationalism as something tangible, not simply something thought about by philosophers and enacted by elites.  On the contrary, nationalism was created by many people.  Moreover, this tangible experience had to be felt by those participating in order to create the feeling of nationalism, of a common history and a common purpose for the future.  That is why Applegate endows the 1829 Passion performance with so much importance: it was a moment in which the thousands who saw the performance experienced themselves as a deeply historical, cultural nation.  For Waldstreicher, it was the act of participating in these celebrations that created nationalism (even while it created separate ideas of what the nation was).  For example, getting to see George Washington on one of his tours created a sense of unity that crossed partisan lines, and it encouraged political participation across lines of class and gender (119). Print culture is also important to Waldstreicher’s understanding of nationalism.  Newspaper commentary should not be viewed simply as primary documents that record and discuss the political rituals, he argues, but instead should be seen as part of these rituals, shaping how people should interpret them, and setting the stage for how future celebrations “should” be enacted.

The Atlantic sphere appears more prominently in Waldstreicher’s book than in Applegate’s.  In fact, in can be argued that American nationalism was only possible in the realm of the Atlantic world.  The British Empire was the reason for American opposition, but also acted as the point around which a unified American nationalism was galvanized.  We can also see an Atlantic connection in the ways in which the French Revolution was utilized by different American political factions to achieve their own nationalism (the ways in which the Republicans of the 1790s used the French Revolution to criticize what they saw as a growing aristocracy in America, for example, 115).  While the Atlantic does not play a prominent role in Applegate’s book, we can see how German nationalism is often formed in by what it is not (a theme that is central to Todorova’s book).  For instance, Italian music was portrayed as superficial and associated with “transient pleasures” while German music represented the seriousness of the German nature (115).

Mark Mazower’s The Balkans: a Short History, represents a narrative of the rise of nationalism in the region known today as the Balkans.  It seems to me that Mazower’s work presents a more traditional view of nationalism, one in which nationalism is an ideology with a specific point of origin (Western Europe) and which then spreads to different parts of the world with varying speeds.  Though Mazower’s book is short, he succeeds in explaining the ways in which a variety of ethnicities emerged in the Balkan region.  While all of the details that he provides are interesting and important in their own right, what is most important for our discussion is the fact that he questions the causal link between nationalism and ethnicity.  In other words, did ethnicities create nationalism in a fight for a state, or was it the other way around?  “Ethnicity,” he concludes, “was as much the consequence as the cause of…unrest; revolutionary violence produced national affiliations as well as being produced by them” (99).  The first one hundred pages of the book are meant to justify this claim, for he argues that religion, not ethnicity, was the deciding basis of identity for the peoples of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, which ruled the Balkan region before nation-states emerged in the 19th century.

Mazower’s book is different from Applegate’s and Waldstreicher’s in particular, because he argues that nationalism had to be violently forged by a small number of educated elites, forcing ethnic homogeneity, rather than emerging from it (109 & 70-72). Interesting for our discussion is the violent nature of nationalism.  The ideology of nationalism drew lines and created divides where there were none, Mazower argues.  Markers of nationality (language, schools, armies) had to be taught to pre-national peoples that consisted mainly of peasants whose loyalties were to a church or empire, not to any “innate nationality” (89).  These divisions were not drawn peacefully, and the resulting violence “represented the extreme force required by nationalists to break apart a society that was otherwise capable of ignoring the mundane fractures of class and ethnicity” (148).  This violence is central to Mazower’s understanding of nationalism, for a nation (an ethnic people) needs a state, or more specifically, a nation-state: a territory defined and governed by an ethnic/national majority.  An important aspect of this nation-state, according to Mazower, is its monopoly on violence as a tool to secure the interests of the nation (epilogue).

Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans also focuses on the tendency of nationalism to divide and exclude.  Interestingly, while the Balkans are the center of her study, she ultimately sheds light on how other “Western” societies define themselves by defining what the Balkans are (or are not).  Central to her arguments is the concept of othering, an essential process of identity building that allocates the negations of one’s own identity into the identity of “the other.”  Todorova utilizes this concept in an attempt to discover the roots of the West’s unfairly negative view of the Balkan region.  Todorova’s book is very theoretical, but she can help us answer questions that we brought up last session (namely, What is Europe?) by forcing us to reframe the question into How did “the Europeans” define themselves?  Through her discussion of the Balkans, she shows that Western Europe has a long history of “othering” the Balkans.  This helped Western Europeans define themselves, and the Balkans became a “dumping ground” for Western Europeans to place everything that they felt they were not.  Beginning in the twentieth century, with the violence of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, the Balkans went from simply being viewed as an exotic other to being discussed as a hotbed of violence, backwardness, and ethnic hatred.  Moreover, Torodova stresses that, unlike the West – which enjoys a place of political superiority in the world, and therefore does not need to take into account how other societies define the West – the peoples of the Balkans internalized the West’s discourse, thus dramatically affecting their self-understanding.

Even as the Balkans began taking on very “European” characteristics (nationalist movements, independence movements based on liberal self-determination, and even capitalistic reform) – and indeed even as some from the Balkan region began referring to themselves as Southeast European, “real” Europe continued to construct differences between the Balkans and the West by characterizing the violent nature of the region.  Todorova lambasts the West for being hypocritical and forgetting its own violent past and exporting all of its own racist and imperialistic problems onto the Balkans (because of the fact that most of the Balkans’ inhabitants are white and predominantly Christian, Europe can deny any allegations of racial or religious bias in defining itself, Torodova claims, 188).

Torodova’s book is important because it calls attention to what she calls symbolic geography, the assigning of meaning to geographic locations, giving the appearance that the particular geography produces particular character traits.  Granted, Mazower’s “long history” approach shows that geography (the incredibly mountainous character of the region, for example) does indeed impact the way societies develop, but Torodova’s contribution is to urge us to question which of these attributes are “real” and which have been created by the needs of politics.  “After all, it is not symbolic geography that creates politics,” she writes, “but rather the reverse” (160).

In conclusion, each of these books makes us question our understanding of nationalism and the process of nation building.  Applegate and Waldstreicher demonstrate that nationalism is created by peoples, and is something that peoples participate in.  The importance of Torodova’s book is that it calls attention to how we speak about nationalism, and particular nationalities in particular.  Mazower’s book reveals what the rest also discuss:  the nation and the state are two separate (though interrelated) entities. Just like the state itself (territory and government), the nation must also be created, and a number of tools are necessary for this creation (or at least have been proven to be the most efficient):  maps, flags, common languages, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of a common past.  These all coalesce the best, as Applegate and Waldstreicher have shown, in cases in which the people can feel and experience tangible expressions of their commonality.

[1] However, I want to question Waldstreicher’s conclusion here, based on his own definition of nationalism.  While whites were drawn into a particular expression/type of national politics, women and blacks never stopped hosting festivities and celebrations, thus they never stopped practicing nationalism and national politics, according to his own definition.

Books under Review: 

David Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Celia Applegate, Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn’s Revival of the St. Matthew Passion. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005.

Maria Todorova: Imagining the Balkans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Mark Mazower, The Balkans: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2002.

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Forging Nationalism in Modern Europe by W. J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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

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German History in Modern Times: Four Lives of a Nation


Hagen, William W.  German History in Modern Times:  Four Lives of a Nation.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.


Hagen’s work is meant to be a survey of German history from the Holy Roman Empire until the present.  It addresses the question of nationality, which is central to modern German history.  Additionally, the book is arranged more thematically than chronologically, thus perhaps avoiding a teleological impression of German history as leading to the foundation of a German nation in 1871.

Summary & Author’s Main Arguments:

Throughout the text, Hagen confronts a question that rests at the core of modern German history:  can one speak of a “German history” before a single entity known as “Germany” ever existed?  Indeed, this is a pertinent question for all historians.  Hagen concludes that one can actually speak of four German nations throughout history (which may stand in contrast to the book’s subtitle “Four lives of a Nation” which hints that he’s studying four epochs of the same nation).  His categorization of these four nations is also different than past historians’ categorization of the Germans’ past.

The first nation is the era of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and runs right up to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.  Hagen stops this period before the official end of the Holy Roman Empire because he feels that the French Revolution actually caused a new surge of self-understanding among the German peoples that predated the HRE’s official end in 1806.  Despite his assertion that the HRE was not a national monarchy (like that of England or France), Hagen justifies considering the HRE as one of Germany’s four national lives by claiming that “Premodern nations were political communities, not ethnic-linguistic or populist” as would define later, “modern” nation states (19).  Moreover, the polycentric entity came to called the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and this expression of consciousness by the German peoples that they were living in a political nation is enough to justify considering this a “German nation.”

The second nation spans the years from 1789 to 1914.  Interestingly enough, this chronology glosses over several dates that historians have considered important in the formation of the German nation:  1806 – the end of the HRE and the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine, 1815 – the defeat of Napoleon, the consolidation of German principalities and the forging of the German Confederation, and perhaps most importantly, 1871 – the forging of the German Reich, the supposed “answer” to the German Question.  This, Hagen argues, signifies that the multiplicity of German peoples (and their ideas of what constituted “Germanness”) did not simply converge into one national identity in the face of Napoleon, nor by consolidating into the German Confederation (which was still dominated by the Prussian and Austrian monarchies), nor was it settled by the kleindeutsch that resulted in the first “official” German nation in 1871.  All saw nationalism as “the political mobilization and enfranchisement of the whole people (however defined) on the premise (however fictive) of their kinship through language, culture, and history,” and that nationalism was “the most indispensable and potentially the strongest, if also most explosive, social cement” (95).  But the question remained:  whose nationalism should ultimately prevail?  This “nation,” then, was one characterized by a multitude of “competing German nationalisms” (including conservative monarchists, social democrats, and Marxist working party movements).

The third “national life” consisted of an age of chaos, war, dictatorship and genocide (1914-1945).  During this stage, Germans are pitted in wars against each other and against most of the world.  Both the German Reich and imperial Austria-Hungary vanish as the harbingers of German national identity, thus revealing the inadequacy of the solution to the German question forged back in 1871.  Democratic republics are installed into the two largest German nations, but these fail and the world witnesses a resurgence of something resembling the Holy Roman Empire (a confederation of all German lands in Europe under one rule: Hitler).  This epoch ends in shattered identities and political maps that no longer showed “Germany” on them.  This national life, Hagen argues, shows that any story of German history cannot be a teleological one of nationalism’s triumph, but instead depicts a nationalism that destroyed all collective identities that previous Germans had pieced together.

The fourth nation is one of where a single German identity is impossible (even in name), for two German nations existed (three, if one includes Austria, which Hagen does).  1945-1989 was a period in which outside nations forced (or at least strongly pressured) particular identities onto a people who felt they had no nation of their own (which was official true, particularly in the years directly following the end of WWII).  East and West Germany were at first governed directly by the Allied Victors, and only as time went on were they able to assume more political sovereignty. German Austrians were forced to take on an identity that refuted Hitler’s National Socialism, which so many had welcomed with the Anschluss of 1938.

Hagen ends by suggesting the emergence of a new, fifth German nation: a (re)united Germany, beginning in 1990 (but, still separate from Austria, which, up until this point played a vital role in Hagen’s book – one wonders his thoughts on the fact that “the Germans” remain in two nations: Austria, and the Federal Republic of Germany – or would he argue that the Fed. Republic is now “the” German nation, the seat of German identity, while Austria has now produced a specific “Austrian” identity that trumps any ties to a larger “German” one?)

Concluding Comments & Questions:

Hagen’s work effectively steers readers away from a traditional national history of Germany, though questioning the concept of nation remains central to the study.  In fact, by questioning “nation” and offering a new understanding of the concept, I feel that Hagen makes good on his word to reveal a new understanding of the German past.   He avoids forcing our modern concept of “nation” onto the past peoples, and is therefore able to recreate four “nations” as they were viewed by their contemporaries.

In this sense, Hagen places a fair emphasis on the importance of consciousness, or awareness, in history.  What a people thinks it is, is more important than our technical definitions and classification system of today.  Through this realization, Hagen is able to explain why and how local identities (instead of national ones) remained prevalent through most of German history.  “Identities reflected local neighborhoods and dynasties, and political loyalties were dynastic, not ethnic” (36-39).   He also adds that “National identities remained in the realm of culture.”  This shows that in different spheres of life, different notions of identities and nationalism can reign simultaneously.

On a historiographical note, Hagen’s work resembles Sheehan’s German History, in that it 1) places emphasis on the multitude of German identities that existed at any given time; 2) constantly reminds readers of the contingency of historical processes.  Both Hagen and Sheehan caution readers against viewing German history as going inevitably towards unification in 1871, or towards National Socialist genocide of the Third Reich.  Though, they have to balance this need to show contingency with the need to explain why these processes produced the outcome that they did.

And lastly, Hagen situates himself against the notion of a Sonderweg.  A couple of points on the structure of the book:  Hagen doesn’t cite anything throughout the book which can be a little annoying, because it makes it hard to refute or confirm what he’s said.  Also, the inclusion of a large number of visual images is a strength of the book.


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

Categories: Book Review, German History | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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