Philip G. Dwyer, ed. Modern Prussian History, 1830-1947. New York: Longman, 2001. xviii + 315 pp. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-582-29271-0.
Reviewed by Anthony J. Steinhoff (Department of History, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga)
Published on H-German (March, 2003)
As German Europe's largest state after 1815 and the driving force behind German unification, Prussia's influence on the course of German history has been considerable. Indeed, Prussia's special position within the Second German Empire (Kaiserreich) established a certain identity between Prussia and Germany, an image that has lingered and powerfully shaped both scholarly and popular understandings of Germany. Yet, as the essays in Modern Prussian History, 1830-1947 argue, this image has not done justice to our appreciation either of the Prussian or the German past.
Modern Prussian History is the second volume in a two-part reappraisal of Prussian history edited by Philip Dwyer. Its twelve essays take a topical rather than a comprehensive approach to the period's major phases: monarchy, empire, republic, NS-state. In choosing the themes, Dwyer has Selected topics that not only promote a reappraisal of the relationship between Prussia and Germany but also highlight current research trends. The book begins with two introductory essays. First, Dwyer establishes the framework for the volume, presents its major themes, and summarizes the essays' findings. Then, Stefan Berger discusses the image of Prussia in German historiography. Much of this story is well known to students of German history. However, Berger also usefully devotes attention to East German and Polish research, which, especially after 1960, came to distinguish between a "good" and a "bad" Prussia.
Three essays address the important issue of Prussian conservatism during the monarchy and empire. Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann's contribution reveals the emergence of a conservative "bloc" after 1815. Although hardly a tight-knit group, the conservatives shared a sense of religious piety and opposed social change, increased state power, and constitutional reforms. Looking at the 1848 revolutions, David E. Barclay notes that the conversion of Prussia into a constitutional monarchy in 1850 preserved many of the powers of crown and nobility (and army). Nonetheless, Prussia's elites found themselves forced to embrace the tools of modern politics--the newspaper, the association, the party group--to justify their ideas and programs. In his essay, Hermann Beck demonstrates that Prussian conservatism underwent profound changes in ideology and organization between 1830 and 1914, such that after 1870 the nobles advocated both a strong monarchy and actively participated in parliamentary politics. Beck also emphasizes that Prussia's conservative elite was profoundly ambivalent about the goal of German unification, fearing that it would weaken Prussia's importance and identity.
The second focal point of the book is economy and society. In the volume's most polemic essay, Hans-Joachim Voth questions the notion that Prussia's leadership in the Zollverein promoted the creation of a kleindeutsch Germany. He contends that the customs union failed to strengthen Prussia economically or politically; indeed, it may well have impeded Prussian economic development at mid-century. Dick Geary's study of the Prussian labor movement during the Kaiserreich reveals that Social Democracy's victories between 1871 and 1914 stemmed not only from the effects of industrialization and urbanization on workers, but also the existence of a "repressive and unrepresentative political system and the intransigence of employers" (p. 129). However, in areas such as the Rhineland, Silesia, and rural Germany, gender, ethnic and religious differences made socialism's message less alluring. Lastly, Shelley Baranowski investigates the phenomenon of agrarian conservatism. She illustrates that by the 1870s, Prussian agriculture was actually quite modern. Nobles and peasants alike entered the political arena (supporting such groups as the Agrarian League) not to hold off liberal market forces per se but rather to "level the playing field between industry and [agriculture]" (p. 156). The persistence of a weak agricultural economy during the Great War combined with the political dislocations of Weimar continued to make the countryside fertile ground for conservative causes. After 1930 the National Socialists successfully tapped this antipathy in their assault on the Republic.
Building on remarks in the essays of Baranowski, Stamm-Kuhlmann and Geary, the third section of Modern Prussian History takes up the matter of religion. Marjorie Lamberti's piece draws from recent research that emphasizes the "centrality and force of confessionalism in Prussian social and political life" (p. 169). The politics of German unification, she notes, increasingly divided Protestants and Catholics after 1860; this rift deepened with the attacks on Catholicism during the Kulturkampf. Throughout the Kaiserreich, thus, Germans and Protestants moved largely within confessionally distinct worlds, defined by their attitudes towards education, choice of newspapers, associational memberships, and electoral choices. Nicholas Hope's essay concentrates on the history of the Prussian Protestant Church from the 1820s to the 1930s. He reveals that while the United Prussian Church (formed in 1817) wielded considerable influence on state and society, even after 1871 it really was but a loose association of provincial churches. A notable democratization of church institutions occurred after 1918; nonetheless, the church leadership remained decidedly nationalist and conservative, largely disapproving of the Weimar regime and, consequently, sympathetic to Nazi calls for moral order in the 1930s.
The final segment of the book examines the fate of Prussia after the collapse of the Kaiserreich. Hagen Schulze shows that Weimar Prussia was a democratic, parliamentary regime led by the "outcastes" of the Kaiserreich. Moreover, partly because of its cautious approach to police, civil service, and judicial reform, Prussia enjoyed remarkable stability, making it a crucial support for the Republic as a whole. Indeed, Schulze intimates, the very success of "New Prussia" calls into question Prussia[']s specific responsibility for the German Sonderweg. Dennis Showalter's essay demonstrates that Prussian military values had a strong influence on the creation of a "German" military ethos prior to 1914. In the course of war, however, Prussian "virtues" were excoriated as the cause of "everything wrong with the army and the war" (p. 239), a repudiation that continued into Weimar and the National Socialist eras. Although the Reichswehr's anti-republican sentiments and commitment to diligence and Hard work made the new Reichswehr look "Prussian," it had in fact developed approaches to recruitment, tactics and mission that diverged sharply from the old Prussian ideals. In the volume's last essay, Brendan Simms investigates the relationship between Prussianism and National Socialism. He notes that Hitler and the National Socialists deliberately appealed to the Prussian elite by wrapping themselves in the mantle of Prussianism. Representatives of Old Prussia were also receptive to Hitler's message of national rejuvenation, helping to bring down both the Republic (and new, democratic Prussia). Nonetheless, the Prussian nobility and the Nazis fundamentally mistrusted, even loathed each other. The Allies, however, were largely blind to this mutual animus, which, Simms contends, contributed the anti-Prussian dimension of Allied policy in post-war Germany.
Philip Dwyer and his team of contributors deserve much praise for this volume. The essays reveal a complexity to Prussian history that is often overlooked. It was a socially, economically, politically and religiously diverse land that did not march in lockstep behind the Junkers. In addition, the authors stress the need to avoid facile identifications of Prussia with Germany. Whereas the Prussian nobility viewed the "germanization" of Prussia with horror before 1918, the Weimar Republic and the Nazi regime each took pains to renounce much of the Prussian administrative and military heritage. The volume's presentation of current research trends and findings, complemented by the inclusion of suggestions for further research and detailed bibliographies for each chapter, will also make this book a helpful source for graduate students and advanced scholars alike.
Nonetheless, the book is not a complete success. While recognizing the need to keep the volume manageable, this reviewer would have liked to have seen more explicit attention to the critical problem of expansion and integration in nineteenth-century Prussia. Similarly, although there has been considerable work on Prussian cities in recent years, Prussian urbanization is examined only in the limited context of Geary's essay. It would also be useful to have the discussions of confessionalism and labor extend, in one form or another, into the Weimar and National Socialist periods.
Three of the essays pose special problems. Although insightful, Stamm-Kuhlmann's piece falls outside of the chronological parameters of the collection. It barely discusses developments after 1830, even though Beck points out that this was a critical time for the development of conservative ideology. Voth's criticism of the "Zollverein-thesis" rightly shows the need for further investigation into German and Prussian economic history. His own argument, though, fails to convince. The key problem is Voth's temporal framing. Assuming that the Zollverein's impact should have been noticeable soon after its formation, he reads the absence of significant change during this period as "failure." However, he presents no data at all for the 1860s, which would allow us to gauge better the long-term consequences of the customs union. The collection's biggest disappointment is Hope's piece on Protestantism. This is an important subject; however, Hope's approach is unnecessarily narrow, paying precious little heed to the social and cultural dimensions of Prussian Protestantism. Furthermore, the essay itself lacks focus and clarity.
These misgivings aside, Modern Prussian History provides an engaging and insightful account of critical themes in the history of Prussia and its relationship to Germany since 1830. For these reasons it deserves a wide and appreciative audience.
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Anthony J. Steinhoff. Review of Dwyer, Philip G., ed., Modern Prussian History, 1830-1947.
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Copyright © 2003 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.