Steffen Bruendel. Volksgemeinschaft oder Volksstaat: Die "Ideen von 1914" und die Neuordnung Deutschlands im Ersten Weltkrieg. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2003. 403 S. EUR 49.80 (gebunden), ISBN 978-3-05-003745-5.
Reviewed by Eric Kurlander (Department of History, Stetson University)
Published on H-German (March, 2005)
Germany's First Historikerstreit
In the last decade the "Ideas of 1914" have made a comeback. From Jürgen and Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg's Der Aufruf "An der Kulturwelt" and Wolfgang Mommsen's Kultur und Krieg to Jeffrey Verhey's The Spirit of 1914 and Kurt Flasch's Die geistige Mobilmachung, German historians on both sides of the Atlantic have begun to unpack Max Weber's pregnant assertion that, "'Geistreiche' Personen haben sich zusammengetan und die 'Ideen von 1914' erfunden, aber niemand weiß, welches der Inhalt dieser 'Ideen' war." Steffan Bruendel's recent monograph is one of the best in this new wave of intellectual history. The author's main contention is that, far from endorsing political reaction ("proto-fascism") or Kehrite imperialism, the "Ideas of 1914" initially reflected a shared academic interest in domestic reform and an "inklusive Volksgemeinschaft." Only in the devastating wake of Verdun did there emerge in 1916 two equally "revolutionary" but increasingly opposed conceptions of German domestic politics, the "exklusive Volksgemeinschaft" and the "inklusive Volksstaat." "Alle drei Ordnungsideen," however, "implizierten institutionelle Änderungen der Bismarckschen Reichsverfassung, wobei sich die Ideen unter dem Einfluß veränderter außen- und innenpolitischer Kontextbedingungen wandelten" (p. 299). Thus the wartime adherents of the "Ideas of 1914" helped to undermine the legitimacy of the Imperial constitution while setting the stage for the political polarization of the Weimar Republic.
Bruendel conceives his study as a social history informed by cultural history in which debates about the domestic political reordering of Germany during World War I can be viewed as a conflict between rival ideas of order in the process of nation-building (pp. 22-24). Accomplishing this task means evaluating the invention(s) of tradition as well as the "Inklusions- und Exklusionskriterien" by which German academics shaped their "imagined communities" (p. 25). Because the communication process is so central to his study, the author chooses to rely on published works that represent the "öffentlichen Engagements der Gelehrten" and not their private correspondence (p. 15). Indeed, one wonders at times whether the author's findings might have been more nuanced if supported by personal papers or party minutes. But this "communicative" approach is useful in gauging the resonance of academic views within the political public sphere. Bruendel has also read his sources carefully, which helps to compensate for a dearth of archival material.
The first two chapters illustrate the reality of the Augusterlebnis so often dismissed by historians as contemporary propaganda. The famous pamphlet "An die Kulturwelt" as well as the "Erklärung der Hochschullehrer des Deutschen Reiches," both published in October 1914, reflect an uncommon solidarity regarding the defensive posture and moral superiority of Germany's engagement in the First World War. Far from undermining academic confidence in the war effort, Allied accusations of German barbarity and war guilt buttressed a widespread conviction that the war represented a "clash of civilizations" between "Händler und Helden (Sombart)"; between the plutocratic British on the one hand and the German Friedensheer on the other. The war effort against the French, meanwhile, represented the "Antwort des Volkes der Dichter und Denker auf die erschütternde Demütigung der deutschen Nation durch Napoleon Bonaparte" (Walther Schücking) (p. 72). The materialist West received the lion's share of vitriol. But the despotic Russian East also served as a convenient Feindbild against which German academics might define their "inklusive Volksgemeinschaft."
Another primary leitmotif is the way in which politically engaged academics, a number of whom were historians, refashioned German history to fit their political present. Efforts to produce a "usable past" nevertheless threatened the precarious solidarity established during the first months of the war. While there was little dissent regarding the meaning of the Battle of Leipzig (1813) or the Franco-Prussian War (1870), fault lines did emerge over the representation of "Die deutsche Erhebung von 1914." For many Vaterlandsgelehrte the "Ideas of 1914" represented a perfect counterpoise to the French Revolution and Napoleon. Conversely, many supporters of the Volksstaat considered "the ideas of 1789" equally if not more important than those of 1914. Already by July 1915, the moderate Delbrück circle--including such luminaries as Einstein, Brentano, Schmoller, Tönnies, and the Weber brothers--had begun to dissociate itself from the more rabidly annexationist group assembling around Delbrück's professional colleague, the historian Dietrich Schäfer.
But we should not mistake Delbrück or Weber for pacifists. Virtually all interested parties expected some kind of territorial revision in Germany's favor as a logical outcome of the war. For moderates as well as annexationists, Germany's geographic and economic integrity depended on friendly neighbors. Whether this compliance resulted through informal sovereignty or outright annexation was initially less important than the overwhelming desire for security. In the domestic sphere, the vast majority of intellectuals--from liberals like Sombart, Meinecke, Tönnies, and Simmel to conservatives like Harnack, Plenge, and Seeberg--also favored some form of inclusive Volksgemeinschaft that privileged the ideas of 1914 (Deutsche Freiheit, Kameradschaft, Nationaler Sozialismus, Geschlossener Handelsstaat, Führerstaat) over the ideas of 1789 (Freiheit, Gleichheit, Brüderlichkeit, Welthandel, Beamtenstaat). Here Bruendel counters the work of Klaus Schwabe, who draws a clear distinction between those who favored either Herrschaft or Befreiung (p. 95), in effect returning to Fritz Fischer's assertion that imperialist designs pervaded the entire Bürgertum, liberal as well as conservative.
Indeed, the author devotes considerable space in Chapter 2 to Friedrich Naumann's widely acclaimed Mitteleuropa, first published in 1915, which sought to unite the aggressive war aims of the annexationist right with the more moderate political and economic prerequisites of the liberal center-left. But as the costs and casualties of the war mounted, the concept of "informale Herrschaft" in Central and Eastern Europe favored by the Delbrück circle proved increasingly incompatible with the unbridled power politics of the völkisch corporatist "Seeberg-Schäfer-Gruppe" (p. 101). By 1916, this "polarization" among intellectuals (p. 144) had begun to divide the "inklusive Volksgemeinschaft" of 1914 into two camps: a minority who endorsed an "inklusive Volksstaat" and an increasingly bellicose majority who demanded an "exklusive Volksgemeinschaft." Bruendel is not the first to mark a significant historical break between the first and second half of the war. But most of the evidence he presents in this second half of the book suggests a time lag between the growing military and economic pressures of 1916 and their intellectual ramifications. The real polarization between volksstaatlich and völkisch corporatist worldviews seems to begin with the American declaration of war and culminate in the Reichstag Peace Resolution of July 1917. Thereafter events moved quickly. Schäfer founded the rabidly nationalist Vaterlandspartei in August. Delbrück countered with the Volksbund für Freiheit und Vaterland in December. For the first time in three years the battle lines were clearly drawn.
Or were they? Even after the formal break between Volksbund and Vaterlandspartei, many "constitutionalists" continued to share the völkisch assumptions of nationalist-minded intellectuals. Some in Delbrück's circle may have opposed the outright annexation of Belgium or Poland. But both groups ardently defended "Germany's political and cultural singularity" against western criticisms (p. 188). The vast majority of Volksbundgelehrte also demanded territorial securities and guarantees, including an "informal Empire" in central Europe and direct annexations in Europe, Africa, and Asia (p. 238). Liberals such as Hjalmar Schacht, Siegfried Heckscher, and Gustav Stresemann endorsed both the annexation of Belgium and the democratization of imperial institutions. Conservatives critical of annexations--Siegfried von Kardorff and Eugen Schiffer, to take two prominent examples--generally opposed domestic reforms until very late in the war. More confusing still, some Volksbundler refused to annex Eastern Poland or Wallonia, not because they possessed a more cosmopolitan Weltanschauung than the Vaterlandsgelehrte, but because they were more self-consciously völkisch than their conservative opponents. After all a true völkisch nationalist--whether corporatist or constitutionalist in political terms--had little interest in adding millions of non-ethnic Germans to an already uncomfortably pluralist German Empire. In short, support for parliamentarization did not always coincide with foreign policy Moderation. (The reverse was also true.)
That is not to say that Bruendel's association of Volksbundler with Verständigungsfrieden and Vaterlandsgruppe with Machtfrieden lacks merit. This interpretation seems particularly germane after the summer of 1917, when the prospects of peace with victory had receded and many annexationists joined the moderate parliamentary majority. But there is much to suggest that the war acted as a catalyst for a debate between völkisch (volksgemeinschaftlich) and universalist (volkstaatlich) conceptions of national identity that already existed within the bourgeois ranks before 1914. As Geoff Eley has argued, the Wilhelmine right had coalesced into a populist, "modern" conservatism already by 1913. As for the bourgeois center-left, Kevin Repp has recently illustrated how völkisch-corporatist elements even helped to reinforce feminism and social reform within fin-de-siécle German liberalism. The debate between völkisch and universalist reformers goes a long way, in any case, towards explaining why so many "left" liberals embraced annexationist positions until very late in the war, while some prominent "conservatives" abandoned their own increasingly völkisch colleagues for the democratic left.
Despite these minor lacunae, Volksgemeinschaft oder Volksstaat remains an exceedingly original work. The sixth chapter especially, "Zukunftbild: Das Volksstaatskonzept und konkurrierende Volksgemeinschaftsmodelle," provides a penetrating analysis of the competing political conceptions circulating among the Volksbundler and their völkisch corporatist opponents. Here Bruendel reminds us that the initial idea of an "inklusive Volksgemeinschaft" remained popular among some Volksbundler (Heuß, Tönnies, Simmel) as well as Vaterlandsgelehrte (Plenge, Sering, Kjellen) in 1917-18 (pp. 258-259). If the author occasionally underestimates the persistence of traditional agrarian and monarchist tendencies within wartime conservatism, he shows rather conclusively that few members of either group wished to preserve the status quo ante. At the same time, Bruendel never denies the radicalizing potential of wartime nationalism or anti-Semitism. Indeed, among the supporters of the exklusive Volksgemeinschaft, "the seed of elimination lay already in thoughts of exclusion" (p. 305). Thus the "ideas of 1914" did just as much to make the concepts of revolution and socialism acceptable across the political spectrum as they did to foment National Socialism two decades hence. In restoring a much-needed sense of contingency to this epochal moment in German intellectual history, Bruendel's work is a welcome addition to the field.
. During the quarter century following Klaus Schwabe's Wissenschaft und Kriegsmoral (Göttingen: Musterschmidt-Verlag, 1969), there were few notable intellectual histories of the First World War.
. Bruendel, Volksgemeinschaft, p. 11. See also Jürgen and Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg, Der Aufruf "An die Kulturwelt!" (Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1996); Wolfgang Mommsen, ed., Kultur und Krieg (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1996); Jeffrey Verhey's The Spirit of 1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); and, less well-received, Kurt Flasch, Die geistige Mobilmachung (Berlin: A. Fest, 2000).
. See Fritz Fischer, Griff nach der Weltmacht: Das Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschlands (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1962).
. Geoff Eley, Reshaping the German Right: Radical Nationalism and Political Change After Bismarck (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990).
. Kevin Repp, Reformers, Critics, and the Paths of German Modernity: Anti-Politics and the Search for Alternatives, 1890-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
. Eric Kurlander, "Nationalism, Ethnic Preoccupation and the Decline of German Liberalism: A Silesian Case Study, 1898-1933," The Historian 65:1 (2002): pp. 95-121; as well as idem, "The Rise of Völkisch Nationalism and the Decline of German Liberalism: A Comparison of Schleswig-Holstein and Silesian Political Cultures, 1912-1924," European Review of History 9, no. 1 (2002): pp. 23-36.
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Eric Kurlander. Review of Bruendel, Steffen, Volksgemeinschaft oder Volksstaat: Die "Ideen von 1914" und die Neuordnung Deutschlands im Ersten Weltkrieg.
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