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View Diary: The myth of the Nazis (545 comments)

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  •  The Sonderweg hypothesis (1+ / 0-)
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    Alec82

    started out as a positive idea in late-imperial German historiography, noting its special geographical position standing between (but not exactly part of) both east and west, and taking pride in the sort of "happy mean" that allowed for a fairly autocratic imperial government that nevertheless embraced (a few) liberal ideas, like unemployment benefits and government-subsidized health insurance for workers, and universal manhood suffrage.

    By the outbreak of World War II, there were already writers (notably Sir Robert Vansittart, who had been permanent under-secretary at the British Foreign Office during the Nazis' rise to power) arguing that the Nazis represented the logical (and inevitable) culmination of German history at least since Martin Luther. That train of thought served Allied propaganda needs quite nicely, so it is unsurprising that it flourished during the war and in the immediate aftermath. The idea reached its high-water mark in 1960 with the publication of Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

    Also not surprisingly, the hypothesis did not sit well with German historians, who challenged it early and often. It had a brief renascence in the late '70s and early '80s thanks to Michael Stürmer, one of the central figures in the Historikerstreit, but the trend of recent German historiography has been moving away from the idea at least since David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley published Mythen deutscher Geschichtsschreibung: Die gescheiterte bürgerliche Revolution von 1848 in 1980 (subsequently published in English in 1984 as The Peculiarities of German History). Blackbourn and Eley have their own critics as far as methodology and some of their conclusions are concerned, but the main debate in Nazi historiography these days is between the two schools of thought known as the intentionalists (who argue that Hitler and the Nazis always planned the extermination of the Jews) and either the structuralists or the functionalists (who argue that there was never an overarching "master plan" for extermination, but that the Holocaust developed slowly and haltingly from situations that had not been foreseen and because of the various structures and centers of power in the Nazi regime). At the moment, the structuralist/functionalist hypothesis has the upper hand.

    •  That's interesting (1+ / 0-)
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      musing85

      I was not aware that there was a theory situating Germany/Prussia that way; I knew that some writers conceived of Russia as a unique fusion of East and West.  I guess my German history is deficient. :)

      Admittedly while I own Shirer's Rise and Fall I have never completed it.  I took exception to several errors contained within it (he apparently believed that Nazis were prone to atheism and homosexuality, and there really is not much in the way of credible evidence to suggest this was the case).  Beyond that, though, the professors I had were functionalists, and while I did read Wistrich and other intentionalist accounts of the era, Browning was by far one of the best authors we covered and he pretty much convinced me.  

      For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion."

      by Alec82 on Fri Dec 31, 2010 at 01:42:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The Junker class that ran Prussia (1+ / 0-)
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        Alec82

        (and, for the most part, imperial Germany after 1870) was firmly situated, both geographically and ideologically, in the agricultural, quasi-serf-based economy of the east Elbian lands where their estates were (mostly) located and upon which their wealth and power were based. They really did not understand (or like) the nobility or the bourgeoisie from the remainder of the Empire who had more Western outlooks. Keeping the two factions in balance was always rough, and that tension was one of the fundamental weaknesses of both the Wilhelmine and the Weimar eras. The Pomeranian and Silesian provinces had large (in some cases approaching majority) contingents of residents of Polish and Baltic ancestry, who always represented a concern for the German-speaking authorities (and the central government).

        Add to that the roughly north-south Protestant/Catholic sectarian division, and it's not too surprising that there would be some folks thinking of Germany as occupying a distinct (or unique) middle position between two (or more) competing worlds/ideologies/camps.

        I've never been able to get all the way through Shirer's book, either. It's not read much anymore in academic circles as far as I can see, except possibly as an exemplar of an outdated historiography--though, curiously, it remains in print and I routinely find it in the German/Nazi history sections of just about every bookstore I visit.

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