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Speculations on German History

Speculations on German History: Culture and the State

Barry Emslie
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 266
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  • Book Info
    Speculations on German History
    Book Description:

    German history never loses its fascination. It is exceptionally varied, contradictory, and raises difficult problems for the historian. In a material sense, there have been a great many Germanies, so that it was long unclear what "Germany" would amount to geopolitically, while German intellectuals fought constantly over the idea(s) of Germany. Provocative and spiced with humor, Speculations tackles Germany's successes and catastrophes in view of this fraught relationship between material reality and ideology. Concentrating on the period from Friedrich the Great until today, the book is less a conventional history than an extended essay. It moves freely within the chosen period, and because of its cultural studies disposition, devotes a great deal of attention to German writers, artists, and intellectuals. It looks at the ways in which German historians have attempted to come to terms with their own varying notions of nation, culture, and race. An underlying philosophical assumption is that history is not one dominant narrative but a struggle between competing, simultaneous narratives: like all those Germanies of the past and of the mind, history is plural. Barry Emslie pursues this agenda into the present, arguing that there has been an unprecedented qualitative change in the Federal Republic in the quarter-century since unification. Barry Emslie lives and teaches in Berlin. He is the author of Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love (Boydell Press, 2010) and Narrative and Truth: An Ethical and Dynamic Paradigm for the Humanities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-478-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    This book is an extended essay, freely structured, that concentrates on the last 250 years of Germany history. It does not sit comfortably within the parameters of conventional historiography. For instance, it does not pretend to tell a story, let alone a singular, authoritative story. Nonetheless, stories are central to its explanatory program. More than that even, a privileged notion of narration determines the theoretical assumptions on which that program rests. Therefore this text consciously engages both with theory and with the particular interpretations of historical events when they are placed within the framework of that theory. I should also...

  5. 1: The Problem(s)
    (pp. 9-17)

    In 1945 Friedrich Meinecke attempted to come to terms with the Third Reich by writing a little book entitledThe German Catastrophe. The title might seem self-evidently unproblematic, but in fact it raises several issues. First, one could cynically observe that while it may well have been a catastrophe for Germany, the Third Reich was a damn sight more catastrophic for other nations and peoples. No doubt that would be a cheap shot since Meinecke, then in his middle eighties and venerated as the doyen of German historians, was arguably the best man to address in national terms the disaster...

  6. 2: A Plethora of Germanies
    (pp. 18-27)

    If there wasn’t a modern Germany before the Second Reich was declared in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles in January 1871, there was no lack of talk and thinking about Germany. Indeed there were any number of Germanies in play; Germanies of the mind.

    The problem here is twofold in that it is both seemingly empirical and utterly theoretical. On the one hand there was endless speculation in the early decades of the nineteenth century and before as to what Germany “now” was and what it was to be, and, on the other, there arose the possibility that the...

  7. 3: Culture, Language, and Blood
    (pp. 28-45)

    As we have seen, when German thinkers turned to culture they inevitably overcompensated for the absence of a national state. Such a state, however much they may have differed among themselves as to the form it would take, became for the majority a wished-for apparatus that would resolve their fears and realize their longings. But in remaining a Germany of the mind it was limited to the status of an ideal form, albeit an ideal form that could be directly and personally experienced. Ranke had said, “Our fatherland is with us, in us.”₆³

    All this meant, however, that when it...

  8. 4: The Gemeinschaft
    (pp. 46-59)

    Because theGemeinschaftis such a compelling and powerful German concept, we should pay some attention to arguably its most interesting apologist before we succumb to the overriding authority of the state. More than anyone, Justus Möser takes us into the world of the integrated and authentic German community. His eighteenth-centuryHistory of Osnabrückis, in its very detail, a statement of the ordinary in all its modest glory. Osnabrück may have been but a tiny bishopric of a few thousand inhabitants, but therein lay the attractions of Möser’s work to German historians and thinkers. Here, apparently, was a way...

  9. 5: Marx, the Proletariat, and the State
    (pp. 60-64)

    Karl Marx reminds us that materialism is not empiricism. In fact in his hands materialism may not be materialism. Which is to say, Marxism’s defining characteristic is that it is mystic. Of course this assertion flies in the face of its most fundamental epistemological principle. Namely, that in turning Hegel the right way up the idealist mumbo jumbo of the Hegelian dialectic took on materialist form. As such it was accessible to everyone, an analytical tool that explained the contingent nature of all cultural and intellectual phenomena. Furthermore, it laid out a program of revolution whereby the world itself would...

  10. 6: Hegel and the State
    (pp. 65-68)

    “The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth. We have in it, therefore, the object of History in a more definite shape than before; that in which Freedom obtains objectivity, and lives in the enjoyment of this objectivity.”¹⁶⁷ This is Hegel and it sounds clear enough. Something, however, should be said about this notion of “the Divine Idea.”

    The state is here defined as the highest expression of what Hegel normally, but not exclusively, calls theGeist, or spirit. This is the mover of all world history, and its goal is maximum, or universal, “freedom.” It logically...

  11. 7: German Historians and the State
    (pp. 69-80)

    It is not surprising, then, if German historians paid massive attention to the state. But not in the sense that British or English historians did. There the state not only existed but, by the time Macaulay’s five-volume history appeared in the 1840s and 50s, had also reached something approaching world domination. Certainly it had put the major problems of the past behind it. Above all, by virtue of the Glorious Revolution and the wisdom of Macaulay’s favored Whig Party, it had settled the question of the Protestant succession and underpinned the constitutional and evolving role of parliament. It was only...

  12. 8: Meinecke and the State
    (pp. 81-102)

    Throughout his working life Meinecke struggled to bring intellectual order into a discussion of the apparently willful and amoral course of historical events. In the first instance that intellectual order is to give us a feeling for how history works. But it will also afford us some moral sense as to how it should work. Meinecke, however, does not intend to arrive at the latter position by diluting or marginalizing the former. In general, he forgoes recourse to a divine will that of itself rationalizes history despite the apparent arbitrariness and brutality of events. Little is to be gained by...

  13. 9: The Lingering Ambiguities of the State
    (pp. 103-109)

    Meinecke is not alone in this. In any case he, along with almost everyone else, had little notion of what in fact the Federal Republic of Germany would become once it was created in 1949, more or less simultaneously with its sister state the German Democratic Republic. Both Germanies immediately engaged in an incessant propaganda struggle over identity, historical responsibility (or guilt), and “present” probity. But there was little reason to imagine in 1945 that a future German state—of either stamp—would be characterized by Goethe clubs, although there was a Goethe Institute founded in the FRG in 1951...

  14. 10: Materialism
    (pp. 110-117)

    It is a bizarre state of affairs that one should write so much about German history and have so little to say about social and economic development. This is partly due to the axiomatic bias of this essay, which is weighted toward ideological matters. It is also no doubt the result of the plain fact that I am not equipped to write an economic history. Nonetheless, the matter cannot be got around so easily. Ideology and the struggle between the various notions of Germany on the one hand, and the changing empirical reality on the other, mean that the latter...

  15. 11: Militarism and Death
    (pp. 118-131)

    There was a time when the victorious general would ride over the battlefield in order to observe, soberly, the carnage. Perhaps he would take the opportunity to decide, as was his right, what the battle was to be called. It was also an opportunity to say something memorable or to indulge a powerful emotion of great import. Somehow these occasions seem all the more dramatic when the business had been settled between sunrise and sunset on a single day. For instance, Wellington at Waterloo on June 18, 1815 famously observed that it had been the “nearest run thing you ever...

  16. 12: Providence and Narration
    (pp. 132-142)

    To turn to the question of Providence now is to address directly something that has always been implicit and often explicit in the forgoing. Nonetheless, Providence is a dangerous topic. To face up to it on its own terms is tantamount to smuggling into the historical undertaking an ingredient that is threatening. An easy and more attractive proposition would be to label it as alien and block its path at the threshold. One would then argue that Providence belongs to a different epistemology. That epistemology, as far as it had any claim to academic credentials, might, at best, shift between...

  17. 13: Guilt and Innocence
    (pp. 143-158)

    Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty made Germany and her allies responsible for the outbreak of the First World War. It caused a lot of offense, which is hardly surprising. Meinecke thought that Germany had been treated in an exceptional and unjustified manner, a manner that violated historic precedents. Furthermore, the war guilt clause seemed—and certainly not only to Germans—to be a gross simplification of the complicated state of affairs, of the manifold and highly unstable forces, that led to hostilities in August 1914. But in being a subject of controversy and a cause of outrage, it was...

  18. 14: The Indispensable Jews
    (pp. 159-170)

    For the moment, let us put aside murderous acts of antisemitism of the sort that Garry Wills has called “too grotesque for credence.”⁴⁹⁸ If, instead, we consider the mundane, we are struck by the superfluous regulatory and everyday humiliation inflicted on German Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, notably in Frankfurt, where a ghetto was maintained. Indeed it was reinstated after the Napoleonic period, although after 1816 Jews were not obliged to live in it. Yet there was a wide range of wholly gratuitous and astonishingly detailed regulations as to where Jews were allowed to walk (they would have...

  19. 15: The Historians’ Debate
    (pp. 171-187)

    The Historians’ Debate on the meaning, status, and above all on the supposed “singularity” of the Third Reich is an odd affair. First, in its most virulent form it occurred over a period of barely a year in 1986 and 1987. Second, and more strikingly, it was conducted in the pages of the press. That historians would continue to debate all the relevant material in academic journals and books in the years ahead may be taken as read, 538 but when looking at the Historians’ Debate as it happened in the mid-1980s we are confronted with a discussion about nation,...

  20. 16: The State Today
    (pp. 188-214)

    If this last chapter constitutes a climax, it might well be seen as a feeble one in form if not in theoretical pretension. It does, however, attempt to underpin the conclusion that was flagged at the end of the introduction. It was suggested there that we would end up with a contradiction, in that when we—how appropriately—got to the end of the essay, teleology would be treated in a less problematic and suspicious fashion than in the rest of the book. This would come about because claims would be made for contemporary Germany that would distinguish it from...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 215-238)
  22. Index
    (pp. 239-247)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 248-248)