Nazism, Liberalism, and Christianity

Nazism, Liberalism, and Christianity: Protestant Social Thought in Germany and Great Britain, 1925-1937

Kenneth C. Barnes
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 216
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    Nazism, Liberalism, and Christianity
    Book Description:

    The Great Depression devastated the economies of both Germany and Great Britain. Yet the middle classes in the two countries responded in vastly different ways. German Protestants, perceiving a choice among a Bolshevik-style revolution, the chaos and decadence of Weimar liberalism, and Nazi authoritarianism, voted Hitler into power and then acquiesced in the resulting dictatorship. In Britain, Labour and Tory politicians moved gingerly together to form a National Government that muddled through the Depression with piecemeal reform.

    In this troubling book about troubled times, Kenneth Barnes looks into the question of how theologians and church leaders contributed to a cultural matrix that predisposed Protestants in these two countries to very different political alternatives. Holding fast to the liberal social gospel, British churchmen diagnosed the problems of the 1920s and the Depression ao solvable and called for genuine reforms, many of which foreshadowed the coming welfare state. German leaders, in contrast, were terrified by the socioeconomic and political problems of the Weimar era and offered no social message or solution. Despairingly, they referred the problems to secular politicians and after 1933 beat the drum for obedience to the Nazi state.

    Based on extensive research in European archives, especially the rich papers of the interwar ecumenical movement housed at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, this book examines key intellectual figures such as Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Archbishop William Temple, as well as many lesser known church officials and theologians. Barnes brings to life the intellectual struggles and dilemmas of the interwar period to help explain why good people could, for moral and religious reasons, choose opposing courses of political action.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5660-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-11)

    THE Great Depression devastated the economies of Great Britain and Germany and brought social trauma into the daily lives of millions of people. In many ways the two countries were very much alike, both heavily industrialized urban societies with strong, politically active working classes. Both countries experienced the hunger, helplessness, and bewilderment of the depression years with nearly a quarter of the workforce unemployed. Yet the Germans and the British reacted very differently to the economic crisis. The depression further polarized Germany between left-wing and fascist political alternatives. But in Britain, Labour and Tory politicians moved together to form a...

    (pp. 12-39)

    THE British churches encountered the social unrest and economic stagnation of the 1920s with an optimistic social gospel that strongly criticized the capitalist system and provided concrete goals for future reforms. German Protestant leaders faced the difficult environment of the 1920s in a much more pessimistic way. They confined their social outreach to charitable endeavors while their criticism was limited to hostile attacks against socialism, the Weimar Republic, and the Versailles Treaty. These striking differences reflect the dissimilar backgrounds of Protestant social thought in the two countries.

    In Great Britain, the birthpains of the Industrial Revolution brought a quickening of...

    (pp. 40-70)

    WITH such different backgrounds and traditions, both the British and German churches came to be involved in the Life and Work movement. The established churches of both England and Germany were at first reluctant participants in the emerging international ecumenical social movement. As plans for the Stockholm conference progressed in the early 1920s, the Church of England balked at entering into a movement that claimed to be Protestant. Emphasizing their historical and theological links with Roman Catholicism, Anglican leaders were placated only when Eastern Orthodox Christians agreed to join the movement. Once involved, however, Anglicans were among Life and Work’s...

    (pp. 71-92)

    THE Great Depression provided ample fuel to keep the Christian social debate going in the early 1930s. By 1930 Life and Work was well organized with its bureaucracy in place and networks of communication established. The depression, of course, magnified the problems its members had already been discussing: the flaws of capitalism, unemployment, class conflict, and the like. But the heightened tension and perception of a crisis in the making gave the discussions a new sense of urgency.

    In 1930 the Stockholm movement became officially the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work (UCCLW). The old continuation committee became the...

    (pp. 93-133)

    THE horrifying progress of Nazism, and especially its relationship to the German church, dominated the attention of Life and Work from the spring of 1933 through 1937. Hitler’sGleichschaltungattempted to bring even the church under Nazi control, resulting in a splintering of different groups with varying responses to Hitler’s church reforms. The ecumenical movement stayed in contact with all these groups, providing one of the few media through which they communicated with each other. With theKirchenkampf, Life and Work leaders were no longer sitting on the sidelines discussing and pronouncing on events happening around them; they were now...

    (pp. 134-144)

    IN an examination of the nature and dynamics of two very different social mentalities among Protestants, it probably comes as no surprise that British and German church leaders had different social outlooks. But what is startling perhaps is the extent to which they talked right past each other when confronted in the same arena with questions about human nature, society, and contemporary socioeconomic and political problems.

    Geoff Eley, in his stimulating essay “The British Model and the German Road: Rethinking the Course of German History before 1914” (in Blackbourn and Eley,The Peculiarities of German History), argues that the ideas...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 145-182)
    (pp. 183-194)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 195-204)