W. R. Lee, Eve Rosenhaft, eds. State, Social Policy, and Social Change in Germany, 1880-1994. Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 1997. xiii + 332 pp. $53.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-85973-197-0.
Reviewed by Greg Eghigian (University of Texas at Arlington)
Published on H-German (February, 1998)
This is a second, updated edition of a volume that first appeared in 1990 under the title The State and Social Change in Germany, 1880-1980. According to the editors, demand for the now out-of-print first edition, changes in the names and status of German archives, and a need to incorporate material on German reunification all prompted publishing this new edition. This is not a substantially different book, however: revisions have been mostly confined to the introduction and to Leaman's chapter, while only one new essay appears at the end of the volume. The editors also once again decided to offer no contribution on National Socialism, "as there is already extensive literature on the subject" (p. 1). While this does offer the luxury of more space to donate to other themes, at the very least a review essay on the Third Reich would have served the volume well. This, however, is not to disparage Lee and Rosenhaft's collection. On the contrary, the articles continue to resonate with current trends in the social history of the German state and social policy. The volume therefore remains an excellent introduction to a field of historical inquiry that is presently undergoing something of a revival.
The articles in this collection can be organized topically into four categories. Contributions from Andreas Kunz, Helen Boak, and Martin Forberg explore the parameters and dynamics of state involvement in employment matters between 1880 and 1933. When viewed together, the three articles present a story of the Kaiserreich and Weimar states quite unlike traditional, Sonderweg depictions. As Kunz points out in his investigation of state efforts to squelch the right of public employees to associate freely, Wilhelmian policy makers were mostly on the defensive, interested in, but unable to stop, the impulses of civil servants to organize themselves into a formidable interest group. Forberg, too, domesticates the imperial state, noting that the Prussian government never attempted to develop a consistent policy regarding foreign labor despite growing migration in the late nineteenth century. World War I appears as the major turning point in both Kunz's and Forberg's narratives, with the Burgfrieden awarding civil servants unprecedented rights to associate and with nationalist sentiment contributing to legal protection of indigenous workers and to state-sponsored exploitation of forced Belgian and Polish labor. Boak's chapter, examining the success the postwar government had in restricting the number of women (especially married women) in the civil service, treats the Weimar state as a much more ambitious force for conservative intervention than its predecessor. Similar to the findings of recent works by, among others, David Crew, Edward Ross Dickinson, Atina Grossmann, Elizabeth Harvey, Young-Sun Hong, and Cornelia Usborne, Boak finds the Weimar government's policy on female employment increasingly driven by anxieties over the growing prominence of women in the public sphere.
Articles by Paul Weindling and Dietrich Milles constitute a second grouping of essays that focus on the relationship between medicine and modern social policy. These are two of the least successful chapters in the book, but for two very different reasons. Like Boak, both seek to undermine what they believe to be the predominant view of the German (and particularly Weimar) welfare state as a paragon of social progressivism. "In fact," Weindling says rather bluntly, "local studies of the operations of the welfare state show that it was mean, penny-pinching, and inadequate" (p. 136). This a familiar refrain for Weindling (see his Health, Race, and German Politics Between National Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945 ), who believes the "biologization of welfare" during the Weimar period was made possible by its irrational, undemocratic, and overly professionalized structure. He neither defines nor historicizes these loaded terms, however, leading one to assume that he believes their meanings to be obvious. This invariably weakens his argument. His insistence that state coordination and standardization of services is synonymous with centralization and authoritarianism, for instance, bears serious revision in light of recent literature in the history of standardization in science (see, for example, M. Norton Wise, ed., The Values of Precision ). By contrast, Milles is more attentive to the ways in which modern German health services have wedded clinical and industrial rationalities. He shows that the medicalization of occupational hazards in the nineteenth century transformed the social and ethical questions over the risks associated with industrial capitalism into narrow, technical matters of hygiene and pathology. This has had the effect of largely restricting social policy discussions about occupational injury and illness to medical prophylactics. Readers may be put off, however, by Milles's often dense prose. For those unfamiliar with his work, however, he and his colleague Rainer Mueller have produced some of the most innovative recent work in the history of German medicine and social policy. They deserve a close reading (for those interested, a good starting point would be Milles, ed. Gesundheitsrisiken, Industriegesellschaft, und soziale Sicherungen in der Geschichte ).
The third main topic covered is the politics of local fiscal and social policy. Harold James and Jeremy Leaman are interested particularly in the friction that has characterized relations between local and central governments since the Weimar Republic. Both agree that the Reich and Laender governments of the 1920s and early 1930s bear a great deal of the responsibility for the growth of municipal and communal debt at the time. As first inflation, then unemployment, affected ever greater numbers of Germans, cities and communes found themselves burdened with increasing welfare responsibilities (mandated by the Reich) at the same time that tax revenue fell precipitously. The two, however, disagree on the role played by municipal governments in the Nazi dismantling of local self-government. James contends that German cities had few choices but centralization by 1933, not only due to central and federal state retrenchment, but also because cities had significantly expanded their public welfare activities during the 1920s. Leaman, on the other hand, relying on contemporary materialist state theory, understands local governments to be victims of a creeping and simultaneous centralization and privatization of local services that has extended from the Third Reich to post-reunification Germany.
Finally, the chapters by Richard Bessel and Prue Chamberlayne explore attitudes toward the state during two periods of momentous change in twentieth-century German history: the end of World War I and postwar demobilization and the incorporation of Eastern Germany into a unified state in the 1990s. Bessel's piece is largely a recapitulation of his inspired 1993 book Germany After the First World War. In the behavior of returning war veterans, women, and those generally subsumed under the category "war victims," Bessel reads a generic and pervasive rejection of state authority. The widespread perception of state intervention as interference, according to Bessel, served both to reinforce capitalist and bourgeois structures and to promote a general contempt for statecraft in general. It is interesting to juxtapose this image of public attitudes toward the state with that discussed by Chamberlayne (in fact, it would have added a provocative dimension to both contributions had Bessel and Chamberlayne directly spoken to one another's findings). The Wende of reunification, as social scientists have already well chronicled, has meant the imposition of Western German policies, economic structures, and social values on Easterners. No doubt, many in the West and the East believe this was at most long overdue or at the very least unavoidable. But as Chamberlayne concisely points out, reconfiguring the public sphere necessarily means tinkering with the private sphere of household, neighborhood, and sexual relations. The transplantation of German social policies and agencies, operating under conventional Western German assumptions about the family and economic progress, has meant privileging married women and widows, destroying indigenous support networks, and privatizing child care. The resulting "re-traditionalization of family roles," according to Chamberlayne, may yet prove to provoke new social divisions and, along with them, a new wave of animosity directed at the state.
The introduction by Lee and Rosenhaft is not so much a synthesis of the articles than an attempt to unify recent literature succinctly under three rubrics. Above all else, they contend, the modern German state should be seen as a Beamtenstaat (professionalized bureaucrats acting as mediators between state and society), which over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century developed into a Klassenstaat (a regulatory state that exercised power in the interests of the bourgeoisie) and a Sozialstaat (a corporatist welfare state). Four features in particular lend a certain peculiarity to modern German statecraft then: state policy was largely motivated by an interest in conciliating social interests; the governing principle of subsidiarity fragmented political authority; professionalization reinforced the prominence of experts in policy making; and a traditional, gendered bifurcation of services persisted. All these themes remain salient questions in the historiography of the German state.
The latest volleys in the disagreement over a supposed German Sonderweg (see Geoff Eley, ed., Society, Culture, and the State in Germany, 1870-1930  and the review of Hans-Ulrich Wehler, "A Guide to Future Research on the Kaiserreich?" Central European History, 29 ) confirm that questions about the nature of the modern German state will continue to provoke often acerbic debate. Lee, Rosenhaft, and most of the contributors to their volume clearly weigh in on the side of the "change from below" camp. At the same time, as Chamberlayne's chapter demonstrates, contemporary social scientific and historical assessments of the collapse and reintegration of East Germany reproduce the same basic terms of debate (top-down vs. bottom-up) that have so preoccupied historians over the last few decades (Reunification: triumph of civil society or colonization of Eastern Germany?) Perhaps it is time to ask: is it German society and its state that cyclically revisit nineteenth-century political fights, or is it we historians who continue to travel in a straight line back to the beginning?
Copyright (c) 1998 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@H-Net.MSU.EDU.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Greg Eghigian. Review of Lee, W. R.; Rosenhaft, Eve, eds., State, Social Policy, and Social Change in Germany, 1880-1994.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 1998 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.