Books in Brief

Article excerpt

THE FAILURE OF ILLIBERALISM: ESSAYS ON THE POLITICAL CULTURE OF MODERN GERMANY, by Fritz Stern (Columbia University Press, 244 pp., $39.50 cloth, $14.50 paper). Historian Fritz Stern has been considering various facets of "the German question" for decades. His broad-brush discussions of the Bismarck, World War I, and Weimar periods helpfully illuminate the questions of that nebulous thing, political culture.

Speaking of the Bismarck era, he writes, "The ruling classes disdained the liberal habits of tolerance, dissent, debate, openness as well as the politics of liberalism. They were afraid of opposition; they lacked, in Bagehot's phrase, the nerve for open discussion. The idea of a loyal opposition was as alien to Bismarck and William II as it had been to the Stuarts."

It gets better, though; Stern, who fled wartime Germany as a boy, is ultimately sympathetic to and optimistic about his homeland. One wonders why he didn't come up with a more positive phrasing than "the failure of illiberalism," but he argues that Germany after 1945 is fundamentally changed, with the illiberal, anti-Western strain played out: "The illiberal temptation remains, as it does in so many countries, but there is a powerful presumption against it. The failure of illiberalism is a lesson for Germans - and for all of us."

This collection of essays, first published in 1971 and reissued with a new preface by the author, came out just weeks after the first wave of major violence against foreigners in Germany occurred over the summer. One fervently hopes that his assessment will be borne out by time.

WE WERE THE PEOPLE: VOICES FROM EAST GERMANY'S REVOLUTIONARY AUTUMN OF 1989, by Dirk Philipsen (Duke University Press, 417 pp., $19.95 paper, $49.95 cloth). How quickly the glow of the triumphant overthrow of the East German communist regime has faded. This oral-history tome is a Duke University history professor's attempt to keep the understanding of that momentous event - rightly compared to the storming of the Bastille 200 years before - from being overwhelmed by its own drama, and being reduced simplistically to a victory by the capitalist West over the communist East. …