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A Single Communal Faith?

The German Right from Conservatism to National Socialism

Thomas Rohkrämer

306 pages, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-368-8 $99.00/£60.00 Hb Published (October 2007)

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“…presents a synthesis that is exceptionally rich in ideas and information, offering a comprehensive but very readable and well structured overview from the ‘völkisch’ romanticism of 18th century, to the politically virulent Conservatism of 19th century and the radical nationalism of Imperial Germany to that of National Socialism.”   ·  Neue Politische Literatur

“The book is clearly written and the arguments are effectively presented. Rohkrämer has used and mastered an enormous amount of secondary materials and printed primary sources that are well integrated into the overall argument. This is a powerfully argued book on an issue of the utmost importance, one that is immensely stimulating and thought provoking.”   ·  German History

“…a well informed, carefully argued study that incorporates the most recent research [on this topic].”  ·  H-Soz-u-Kult

How could the Right transform itself from a politics of the nobility to a fatally attractive option for people from all parts of society? How could the Nazis gain a good third of the votes in free elections and remain popular far into their rule? A number of studies from the 1960s have dealt with the issue, in particular the works by George Mosse and Fritz Stern. Their central arguments are still challenging, but a large number of more specific studies allow today for a much more complex argument, which also takes account of changes in our understanding of German history in general. This book shows that between 1800 and 1945 the fundamentalist desire for a single communal faith played a crucial role in the radicalization of Germany's political Right. A nationalist faith could gain wider appeal, because people were searching for a sense of identity and belonging, a mental map for the modern world and metaphysical security.

Thomas Rohkrämer is Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Lancaster University. He received his PhD at Freiburg University, his habilitation at Berne University and was Lecturer at Auckland University from 1991 to 1996. His publications include books on militarism and on cultural criticism in modern German history.

Series: Volume 20, Monographs in German History

LC: DD204 .R64 2007

BL: YC.2008.a.2656

BISAC: REL033000 RELIGION/History; HIS014000 HISTORY/Europe/Germany

BIC: HRAX History of religion; HBJD European history

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Table of Contents (Free download)

Preface (Free download)

Introduction (Free download)


The Weakening Of Tradition And The Search For A New Faith In The Early Nineteenth Century

First attempts at creating a new communal faith emerged around the turn of the nineteenth century with Romanticism and the newly emerging nationalist movement. Neither made their appearance in a secular void, but were productive reactions not only to enlightened thought, but also to developments within German Protestantism. A new communal faith came to be seen as desirable as a means of uniting the nation, and it became possible because the traditional foundations of Christianity and the churches were gradually eroded, not least by Protestant theologians of the nineteenth century.

Long before industrialization began to have a major impact on the many German states, the reliance on customs, traditions and long-established institutions experienced severe blows with the Enlightenment and the political revolutions of the late eighteenth century. Christianity still had a strong grip on the vast majority of the population, but a small intellectual elite was increasingly gripped by an enlightened belief in reason.

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From Left To Right

The Emergence Of A Right-Wing Nationalist Faith

After German victory over France had been achieved, the nationalist movement confronted new challenges. While it had eventually met with official approval for its help in mobilizing the people for war, the attitude changed after 1815. The Congress of Vienna established a German Federation with the main intention of defending the old order. Under the 'System Metternich', promoters of a united German nation came to be regarded as threats to the restoration of stability. Practices varied across the many independent states, but on the whole nationalism faced a period of suppression. Uniting Germany threatened many principalities; for strict monarchists this amounted to an unruly policy directed against legitimate political structures. Monarchical rule was set into place, the argument went, by God and traditional custom; any challenge to this thus appeared as a dangerous revolutionary practice. The Habsburg Empire in particular had to take a strong stand against the new ideology: as it combined many different ethnic groups or nationalities under one monarchical rule, its structure was threatened by the nationalist ideal of a world where political and ethnic boundaries would correspond.

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Visions Of A Spiritual Unification In The German Empire

Unification in 1871 marked, in the eyes of many, the final merger of Prussian- German policies and nationalism. This nationalist triumph had been achieved largely, it seemed, by conservative state institutions: by monarchical Prussia, by a triumphant army re-organized against liberal parliamentary will, and by the political leadership of the 'white revolutionary' Bismarck (Jefferies 2003: 44-53). Unification not only led to a truce of moderate liberals with the government which had fulfilled the greatest nationalist dream, but it also temporarily took the wind out of the sails of early völkisch nationalists. Enthusiasm about the new Germany pushed further-reaching dreams of a nation united in a single communal faith into the background, or at least neutralized their critical edge. Even Richard Wagner, whose insatiable ambitions always egged him towards restless dissatisfaction, offered his services to the new Empire by sending Bismarck an exalted Kaiserlied, hoping – in vain – that a march of his would be played on the return of the victorious troops (Zelinsky 1983: 29f.).

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A Single Communal Faith Through War?

The First World War As A Watershed

In 1912, the prominent pacifist Bertha von Suttner wrote: 'War does not continue to exist because there is evil, but because it is considered good.'1 There was certainly much truth in this statement, at least as far as extreme nationalists in Germany were concerned. As mentioned in Ch. 1, the 'father of the gymnastics movement' Jahn greeted the war against France as a means for raising an awareness of Germanness; Lagarde believed that far-reaching expansionist ambitions would promote the emergence of a national religion; and the Pan-German leader Heinrich Class echoed many militarists when he exclaimed shortly before the war: 'Let us regard war as holy, like the purifying force of fate, for it will awaken in our people all that is great and ready for selfless sacrifice, while it cleanses our soul of the mire of petty egotistical concerns' (1914: 182 f.). Not only did the belief in the inevitability of war spread in the second half of the German Empire (Mommsen 1981), but also the desire for it as a means of unifying the German Volk and enabling the nation to achieve the status of a major world power.

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Playing With Fire

The Right In The Weimar Republic

Military defeat came as a shock to many Germans; especially to the extreme Right. The Fatherland Party, which demanded total war until victory would be achieved, continued to grow until autumn 1918. Official war reports and propaganda denied the increasingly bleak reality to the very end. While the situation on the Western front turned desperate after the spring offensive of 1918, leading to a 'hidden military strike' among soldiers (Deist 1992), the German army kept on fighting successfully in the East. Even after the draconic peace of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, where Russia lost 34 per cent of its population, 54 per cent of its industry, 89 per cent of its coal fields, 33 per cent of its railway lines, 32 per cent of its agricultural land and its whole oil and cotton production, German expansion continued. A significant proportion of soldiers did not experience the disaster in the West, but a ruthless ethnic restructuring in the East, 'where even the wildest Pan-German dreams became reality' (Wehler 2003: 151-155, at 154; Liulevicius 2000).

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Nazism And The Creation Of A Communal World-View

The desire for a single communal faith reached its high point in the crisis of the early 1930s. The Nazis only gained such widespread support for their vision of the future because they could build on the old dream of a nation or Reich united in one shared world-view, but they also surpassed this tradition. All previous attempts at promoting a single communal faith had only resulted in an ever more divided nation. As they all failed to win over the majority of the nation, a situation emerged in which different milieus fought bitterly in trying to establish their ideals as the one and only national world-view. The angry rejection of a pluralism of world-views did not result in national unity, but in an ever greater clash of intolerant and thus incompatible convictions. In contrast, the Nazis succeeded in establishing first a mass movement and then, through terror and persuasion, a regime, which used all the propaganda means at its disposal to live up to the image of a powerful nation united in a single faith.

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Index (Free download)

Bibliog (Free download)

Conclusion (Free download)