9780199557394

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1Introduction

This is a study of a distinctive brand of modernism, which emerged in early twentieth-century Germany. Its supporters dened themselves as bourgeois, and acted as the self-appointed champions of a modern consciousness, which they believed qualied them to tackle the many challenges facing the young and rapidly industrializing German nation-state. Bourgeois modernism may not have been a mass movement, but it dened the collective persona and the aspirations of a milieu whose members were at the peak of their social and political condence. Thus, bourgeois modernism became what we might call the hegemonic doctrine of the Wilhelmine era, and continued to inuence the Weimar years in crucial ways. What is more, it also left an important mark on German history well beyond the early twentieth century. Yet its success was not that of an ideology. Indeed, ideologically speaking, German bourgeois modernism was powerfully challenged, even beleaguered, from the moment it was invented. Its principal impact was not in the realm of ideas, but in what we might call the infrastructure of German social life. Its power was vested in a certain way of being and doingin other words, it became a dominant social, administrative and political praxis. Out of all proportion to their actual numbers, bourgeois modernists exercised inuence: as ofce holders in the governments of the individual German states, as an army of experts working in municipal and regional administrations, as social activists in countless voluntary associations, as the most conspicuous consumers of their age, and, last but not least, as private individuals in their own homes, bourgeois modernists transformed the material world around them in ways that shaped the experience and meaning of modernity for decades, perhaps centuries, to come. The physical fabric of social life thus created, from the domestic interior to the planning of entire cities, became the trajectory through which bourgeois modernism acted upon consciousness and behaviour, with (almost) irreversible consequences. This book aims to capture some of the dening features of this movement, its psychological, cultural and political parameters. In doing so, it builds on a rapidly growing body of literature on the successes of the German Brgertum in this era, which quite possibly constitutes the single most dramatic process

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of revision in modern German history over the past decades. None of this literature disputes that bourgeois modernism had many enemies, many of them very vocal: these characters populate the pages of intellectual histories of the said period. Critics, both on the right and the left of the political spectrum, often dismissed bourgeois modernisms cultural focus as windowdressing, disguising the fact that really mattered: the middle classes failure to win real political power from reactionary and mostly aristocratic elites. Yet to deduce from this that bourgeois modernism made no political difference is to misconstrue the nature of the political during this formative phase of modern governance in Germany. To be sure, the Emperor had powers exceeding those of the head of state in most Western democracies, and the general staff of the Prussian army continued to be dominated by conservative aristocrats. Yet the decisions made by the Emperor and his advisers, albeit fateful in the year 1914, mostly had a very limited impact on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Germans. This was a time when direct government from above was gradually supplanted by a social management of conduct that worked in less visible ways. It is a process which has widely come to be studied under the heading of liberal governmentality, and much of this study will be devoted to exploring the applicability of this largely Anglophone interpretative paradigm for the German context. The detractors of bourgeois modernism long set the tone for professional history-writing, too. For almost half a century, the overwhelming majority of historians portrayed the German middle classes as losers in a power struggle, in which feudal elites and heavy industry joined forces against the threats of socialism and organized labour. The weakness and splintering of the liberal parties in the German national parliament has been seen as indicative of a structural weakness of the German bourgeoisie, compared to their analogues in other Western countries. For the Wilhelmine period, Hans-Ulrich Wehler spoke of a veritable de-bourgeoisication of German society, and Hans Mommsen diagnosed a dissolution of the German Brgertum after 1890. Others pointed to the feudalization of the lifestyles and values of the German middle classes as Variations of this argument are developed in the contributions by Jrgen Kocka, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Hans Mommsen and Rainer Lepsius in Jrgen Kocka, ed., Brger und Brgerlichkeit im 19. Jahrhundert, Gttingen, 1987. Its rst iconic expression was Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Das deutsche Kaiserreich, 18711918, Gttingen, 1973; since then, it has been modied, for example in his Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, iii: Von der deutschen Doppelrevolution bis zum Beginn des ersten Weltkrieges, 18491914, Munich, 1995. Yet the notion of a weak or underperforming bourgeoisie still lingers, and Wehler restated it in his A Guide to Future Research on the Kaiserreich? Society, Culture, and the State in Germany, 18701930, Central European History 29/4 (1997), pp. 54172; and The German Double Revolution and the Sonderweg, 184879 in Reinhard Rrup, ed., The Problem of Revolution in Germany, 17891989, Oxford, 2000, pp. 5565. His view was challenged by Geoff Eley, Introduction: Is There a History of the Kaiserreich? and German History and the Contradictions of Modernity: The Bourgeoisie, the State, and the Mastery of Reform, in idem, ed., Society, Culture, and the State in Germany, 18701930, Ann Arbor, 1997, pp. 142 and 67103. A seminal study of bourgeois reform activism of the Wilhelmine period is

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symptomatic of their political capitulation before the old elites. These elites, themselves remnants of the feudal order of a bygone age, were concentrated in the antechambers of power at the imperial court, and in the Prussian army. Its members, historians argued, simply refused to adapt to socio-economic transformations, indeed, even to acknowledge their existence. As a result of this blocked modernization, German development took a qualitatively different route from that of normal Western countries. When this Sonderweg theory was rst formulated, its proponents saw themselves as a critical avant-garde, who took Fischers famous attack on the image of the benevolent conservatism of the Second German Reich onto a new analytical plane. It was not the experimental climate of the Weimar years and the political polarization it produced, they suggested, that was ultimately responsible for the rise of the Third Reich, but the anti-modern legacy of the Second Reich, which came to be embodied by a cast of reactionary lawyers and bureaucrats, who undermined Weimar democracy. The proponents of the Sonderweg thesis wanted to teach Adenauers conservative post-war Germany a political lesson. Yet their work has since become the object of a new historical revisionism. The most important critics of the Sonderweg model, David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley, argued that such an approach let capitalism off the hook. They re-focused attention on the social problems of the inter-war period, but also emphasized how these were connected to what they called a silent bourgeois revolution, which had taken place in Wilhelmine Germany, and left its profound mark on the economy and social mores, as well as political, legal and administrative institutions. In the wakeKevin Repp, Reformers, Critics, and the Paths of German Modernity: Anti-Politics and the Search for Alternatives, 18901914, Cambridge, 2000. On the cultural politics of feudalization, see Ute Frevert, Ehrenmnner: Das Duell in der brgerlichen Gesellschaft, Munich, 1991, translated as Men of Honour: A Social and Cultural History of the Duel, Cambridge, Mass., 1995. Carl Schmitts concept of the antechamber of power has been applied to an analysis of the political structure of the Prussian court, albeit for a slightly earlier period, in Brendan Simms, The Impact of Napoleon: Prussian High Politics, Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Executive, 17971806, Cambridge, 1997, and his Struggle for Mastery in Germany 17791850, New York, 1998. The classic account of military inuence on German decision-making and the armys role as the truest embodiment of the state and ordained protector of national interest is Gordon Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army, 16401945, New York, 1955. Fritz Fischer famously suggested that the political elites of Wilhelmine Germany had systematically driven Europe into the First World War, in his Der Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland, 191418, Dsseldorf, 1961. Subsequent historians, expanding on this theme, suggested that this decision represented a necessary deection of the social tensions that had built up during Germanys blocked modernization. Karl Dietrich Bracher rst proposed this view, and it achieved iconic status in Hans-Ulrich Wehlers Das deutsche Kaiserreich, 18711918, Gttingen, 1973. Most notable among these are David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley, The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany, Oxford and New York, 1984; Richard Evans, Rethinking German History: Nineteenth-Century Germany and the Origins of the Third Reich, London and Boston, 1987; and, more recently, Eley, Society, Culture, and the State,

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of this revision, a new generation of cultural historians have emphasized the modernism, not the traditionalism, of German bourgeois culture in the period from 1871 to 1914. Som