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Germany and 'The West'

Germany and 'The West': The History of a Modern Concept

Riccardo Bavaj
Martina Steber
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Germany and 'The West'
    Book Description:

    "The West" is a central idea in German public discourse, yet historians know surprisingly little about the evolution of the concept. Contrary to common assumptions, this volume argues that the German concept of the West was not born in the twentieth century, but can be traced from a much earlier time. In the nineteenth century, "the West" became associated with notions of progress, liberty, civilization, and modernity. It signified the future through the opposition to antonyms such as "Russia" and "the East," and was deployed as a tool for forging German identities. Examining the shifting meanings, political uses, and transnational circulations of the idea of "the West" sheds new light on German intellectual history from the post-Napoleonic era to the Cold War.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-598-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Preface
    (pp. viii-x)
    Munich Andrews, St Andrews, Riccardo Bavaj and Martina Steber
  2. Introduction Germany and ‘the West’: The Vagaries of a Modern Relationship
    (pp. 1-38)
    Riccardo Bavaj and Martina Steber

    ‘The West’ is a central concept in German public discourse.¹ Typically the term refers to a political and cultural space constituted by parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, human rights, capitalism and mass consumerism. While its geographical scope is often only vaguely defined, ‘the West’ is usually understood as a political grouping led by the United States, militarily organized through NATO and institutionalized in a multitude of governmental and non-governmental organizations; as such, it is most certainly conceived as including Germany. As a cultural or civilizational entity, ‘the West’, though sometimes defined in terms of a common (Judeo-Christian or Latin)...

  3. Part 1: Rises and Silences of ‘the West’

    • Chapter 1 In Search of ‘the West’: The Language of Political, Social and Cultural Spaces in the Sattelzeit, from about 1770 to the 1830s
      (pp. 41-54)
      Bernhard Struck

      In 1835 Richard Otto Spazier published a travel account entitledEast and West.Travels in Poland and France.¹ The journalist and author, born in Leipzig in 1803, grew up in Dresden and, by the early 1830s, had became an ardent supporter of Polish national independence. Following the violent suppression of the November Insurrection by Russian troops in Poland in 1830, Spazier decided to travel through the Prussian parts of the formerRzeczpospolita, the Polish-Lithuanian noble republic, mainly through the Grand Duchy of Posen. Thus in 1833 he travelled for several weeks from Leipzig via Landsberg (Gorzów Wielkopolski), Gnesen (Gniezno) to...

    • Chapter 2 The Kaiserreich and the Kulturländer: Conceptions of the West in Wilhelmine Germany, 1890–1914
      (pp. 55-68)
      Mark Hewitson

      Historians disagree about the role of ‘the West’ as an idea, affiliation or aspiration. The concept often seemed peripheral, they hold, because of the demise of the Concert of Europe in the late nineteenth century and the subsequent instability of diplomatic relations before 1914, upset by the rise of powerful new nation states – especially Germany – and the slow disintegration of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires.¹ The various concepts of ‘Europe’, ‘das Abendland’, ‘der Westen’ and ‘der Okzident’, although often used interchangeably, remained potentially distinct and contradictory.² The movement away from Europe altogether towards an imagined global system of...

    • Chapter 3 The First World War and the Invention of ‘Western Democracy’
      (pp. 69-80)
      Marcus Llanque

      At the time of the First World War, the term ‘West’ was not at first used to mark a central ideological difference between the enemy countries. During the fighting, the term was mainly used to describe the Western Front as distinct from the other theatres of war, namely the Eastern Front and the front in the Alps. In the collective memory of the warring nations, the Western Front came to stand as a symbol of the cruelty and senselessness of the war as a whole. At the same time, however, an ideological debate took place which gave ‘the West’ a...

    • Chapter 4 Perceptions of the West in Twentieth-Century Germany
      (pp. 81-94)
      Anselm Doering-Manteuffel

      This chapter argues that during the period of the two world wars, from 1914 to 1945, the opposition between ‘Germany’ and ‘the West’ was more important for the coherence of the European-American West than the West’s opposition to the Stalinist Soviet Union. After 1945 the antagonism between ‘Germany’ and ‘the West’ gradually dissolved – if by ‘Germany’ one means the Federal Republic.

      The chapter is divided into three parts. The first part examines the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles, and the following ‘crisis of liberalism’ in the modern industrialized world between 1918 and 1939. The impact of...

  4. Part 2: East–West Entanglements

    • Chapter 5 Russian and German Ideas of the West in the Long Nineteenth Century: Entanglements of Spatial Identities
      (pp. 97-110)
      Denis Sdvižkov

      This chapter explores the Russian discourse on ‘the West’ during the long nineteenth century¹ and its entanglement with discussions that were taking place in the German lands. The chapter discusses where Germany was seen to belong on Russian mental maps of the time and investigates parallels and intersections between the ways Russians and Germans defined themselves in relation to ‘the West’.

      The discourse was shaped by some basic developments in the Russian concepts of space. From the time of Peter the Great up until the early nineteenth century, Russia largely regarded itself as belonging to ‘the North’. Aside from its...

    • Chapter 6 ‘Orient’ and ‘Occident’, ‘East’ and ‘West’ in the Discourse of German Orientalists, 1790–1930
      (pp. 111-123)
      Douglas T. McGetchin

      During the period from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, German interest in Asia went through remarkable transformations. An initial Romantic fascination with Sanskrit and Indian languages developed into a scientific, philological and Eurocentric examination of Asian texts. Finally, by the end of the era, when German colonialism had become established, some German scholars showed interest in a new, more open approach to Asian topics. How exactly did German orientalists view Asia from the 1790s to the 1920s? They went from initial admiration of Asia as the home of Europeans, to a Eurocentric belittling...

    • Chapter 7 German Jews and the West: Identification, Dissimilation and Marginalization around the Turn of the Century
      (pp. 124-136)
      Stefan Vogt

      In German-Jewish thinking, ‘the West’ has never been a concept as elaborate as ‘the East’.¹ From the last decades of the nineteenth century, debates about the East, its significance for the Jews in general, and for German Jews in particular, filled the pages of German-Jewish journals and occupied the minds of many German-Jewish intellectuals. The ‘East’ referred to Eastern Europe, where the vast majority of Jews resided, and to the East European Jews who came from there. The ‘East’ also referred to the Orient, which was both the mythical homeland of the Jews and the object of colonial fantasies amongst...

  5. Part 3: Liberal Ambiguities and Strategies of ‘Westernization’

    • Chapter 8 Between ‘East’ and ‘West’? A Liberal Dilemma, 1830–1848/49
      (pp. 139-151)
      Benjamin Schröder

      The great political events of 1830 and 1831 seemed neatly to divide the European powers into two opposing camps. In France, the July Revolution brought the ‘Citizen King’ Louis Philippe to the throne; and Belgium, helped by the constitutional powers France and Britain, became an independent parliamentary monarchy. Yet opposing these progressive forces, there were still reactionary powers to be reckoned with. Crushing the November Uprising in Poland, the tsar made it clear that the conservative monarchies were well able to defend the status quo. This chapter seeks to explore how these shifts influenced conceptions of Europe in the German...

    • Chapter 9 Before ‘the West’: Rudolf von Gneist’s English Utopia
      (pp. 152-166)
      Frank Lorenz Müller

      The death of Rudolf von Gneist (1816–1895), the LondonTimesexplained in its obituary, deprived Germany of ‘one of her greatest and most renowned jurists and politicians’.¹ This tribute summed up the double role he had played. Throughout most of his adult life, this erudite, prolific and immensely influential legal scholar had also pursued a clear political purpose: to reform and improve the constitutional, legal, administrative and political structures of the Prusso-German body politic. His many years of public duty saw him join the Berlin City Council, the Prussian Landtag and the German Reichstag. He served as a judge,...

    • Chapter 10 Weimar and ‘the West’: Liberal Social Thought in Germany, 1914–1933
      (pp. 167-182)
      Austin Harrington

      One important part of the story of German relations to ‘the West’ in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries needs to concern accounts of these relations in the writings of broadly liberal intellectuals active during the years of the Weimar Republic and the last years of the Wilhelmine Empire. The accounts this chapter will consider express discontent and antagonism with Britain, France and the United States in the context of German defeat in the First World War and the emerging terms of the Treaty of Versailles; but they also display a commitment to values of political liberalism and civic enlightenment and...

    • Chapter 11 Germany and ‘Western Democracies’: The Spatialization of Ernst Fraenkel’s Political Thought
      (pp. 183-198)
      Riccardo Bavaj

      When historians discuss the topic of ‘Germany and the West’ nowadays, the work of Heinrich August Winkler is typically the key reference point. For many years, however, this topic was primarily associated with one of Winkler’s mentors at the Free University Berlin, the remigre scholar Ernst Fraenkel (1898–1975). During the early decades of Germany’s second experiment in liberal democracy, Fraenkel was a major exponent of the newly emerging discipline of political science: strongly committed to both the political education of German citizens and the incorporation of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) into a ‘Western value community’. This value-based...

  6. Part 4: Nationalist Self-Centredness and Conservative Adaptations

    • Chapter 12 ‘The West’ in German Cultural Criticism during the Long Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 201-215)
      Thomas Rohkrämer

      Images and opinions concerning neighbouring nations in the West played an important role in cultural criticism in Germany throughout the nineteenth century. This chapter will argue, however, that the images of Britain, France and the U.S.A. remained quite distinct in the German imagination until 1914. While some commonalities between these three ‘Western’ countries were recognized, it took the enmity engendered by the First World War for a polarized dichotomy between Germany and ‘the West’ to become a significant topos. All through the long nineteenth century, the main focus of German cultural criticism was on the alleged ills of modernization in...

    • Chapter 13 No Place for ‘the West’: National Socialism and the ‘Defence of Europe’
      (pp. 216-229)
      Philipp Gassert

      Anti-‘Westernism’ was a prominent feature of First World War debates, when German intellectuals pitted the ‘ideas of 1914’ against the ‘ideas of 1789’.¹ However, though this way of thinking lingered on during the early Weimar years, it lost its significance from the mid 1920s. After Nazi rule was established in 1933, it was anti-Bolshevism that became the guiding political idea shaping right-wing thought on Western nations such as Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States. Moreover, like many German nationalists, the Nazis preferred to speak of ‘Europe’, which needed to be defended spiritually and militarily against ‘Eastern’ Bolshevism and...

    • Chapter 14 ‘The West’, Tocqueville and West German Conservatism from the 1950s to the 1970s
      (pp. 230-246)
      Martina Steber

      When Hans Maier was appointed Professor of Political Science at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich in 1962, he introduced himself to his Munich audience by reminding them of the fateful history of the notion ‘Germany and the West’. It had culminated in an ideological opposition between the ‘ideas of 1914’ and those of ‘1789’ and had left behind the debris of two world wars. Now, due to the German connection with ‘the West’ born of ‘reason and exigency’, the German ‘fanfare’, Maier stated, had finally turned into a ‘recte’. According to Maier, however, the ideological conflicts of the world wars were...

  7. Part 5: Socialists between ‘East’ and ‘West’

    • Chapter 15 ‘The West’ as a Paradox in German Social Democratic Thought: Britain as Counterfoil and Model, 1871–1945
      (pp. 249-261)
      Stefan Berger

      What did ‘the West’ mean to German Social Democrats in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth? A full-scale exploration of the conceptual history of ‘the West’ in Social Democratic political thought has yet to be written, but this article will argue that for most Social Democrats ‘the West’ – implying a bloc upholding a unified set of ideas and social practices – was not at first a concept carrying a lot of weight. Yet, even though the discursive construction of ‘the West’ was not fully developed in their thought before 1945, many Social Democrats had long...

    • Chapter 16 Bridge over Troubled Water: German Left-Wing Intellectuals between ‘East’ and ‘West’, 1945–1949
      (pp. 262-276)
      Dominik Geppert

      Bridges and bridge-building are popular metaphors, and not only with American pop singers like Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Very rarely, however, have these metaphors been used so widely as among left-wing intellectuals in Germany between 1945 and 1949. These years marked the heyday of idealistic visions of putting democratic socialism into practice and building a new society on the debris of the Third Reich.¹ The intellectual bridge-builders who are the subject of this chapter were part of what was later called the ‘homeless Left’. They belonged to the Left because they adhered to Marxist socialism in one form or...

    • Chapter 17 Antipathy and Attraction to the West and Western Consumerism in the German Democratic Republic
      (pp. 277-292)
      Katherine Pence

      During the Cold War, East Germans referred to their neighbour across the border simply as ‘the West’. They spoke of ‘West packages’, ‘West TV’, ‘West chocolate’ and ‘West money’.¹ This shorthand for anything emanating from the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) demonstrated how large ‘the West’ loomed in the imaginations of those relegated to Germany’s eastern half, the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

      East Germany’s relationship to the West was deeply schizophrenic. The GDR was the westernmost state in the Eastern Bloc, yet it was abruptly severed from its Western affiliation through the vicissitudes of Cold War political division. Not only...