Political Science and Democratic Culture: Ernst Fraenkel's Studies of American Democracy

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Reflecting on his academic exile in the United States, the German political scientist Franz L. Neumann emphasized the cross-fertilization of ideas as a result of the confrontation of different scientific and political cultures. (1) According to Neumann, the migration of hundreds of European academics to the United States led to a growing internationalization of the social sciences and a two-way learning process. The Europeans became accustomed to the practice of the American liberal democracy and learned to value its political culture; emigre scholars, on the other hand, brought with them a different academic Denkstil and contributed to a more critical self-understanding of American democratic theory.

Neumann was only one figure in a group of about fifty German legal theorists and political scientists who had immigrated to the United States after 1933. (2) Despite differences between their political origins, their methodological approaches, and their personalities, all of these emigrants (whose group included Carl J. Friedrich, Otto Kirchheimer, Hannah Arendt, A.R.L. Gurland, Ossip K. Flechtheim, Leo Strauss, John H. Herz, Arnold Brecht, and Eric Voegelin) who had studied, taught, and lived in the United States shared one central characteristic: they rapidly developed a positive, if not idolizing, attitude towards the American political system. This positive view distinguishes the group of political science emigre scholars from the bulk of other German emigre intellectuals at the time and marks a fundamental break with the dominant tradition of anti-Americanism among academics in Germany. (3) The reasons for their revised views about the American political system may differ from individual to individual among the members of the group of political scientists. The simple fact, however, is that these emigre experts in politics not only experienced on a personal level the contrast to the totalitarian regime from which they had escaped but they also had opportunity to reflect on this contrast for professional reasons, which became crucial for their positive views. (4) In addition, this group of political scientists managed to build ordinary careers in American universities, and these exercises in formalized acculturation placed them at some distance from other German intellectual emigres. In light of the revisions in their attitudes toward the United States, it is even more astonishing that only two of the more than twenty returning emigre scholars picked the study of American politics and culture as their main topic within the newly founded discipline of political science in West Germany after 1945. One can only speculate about the reasons for the abstinence of the majority; they may be found in a mixture of institutional constraints and the necessity to deal with German politics of the immediate past.

The two political scientists who did focus their academic activities on America were Arnold Bergstraesser in Freiburg, one of the cofounders of the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Amerikastudien, (5) and Ernst Fraenkel, the founder of the John F. Kennedy Institut fur Amerikastudien in West Berlin. Whereas Bergstraesser's activities were mainly programmatic (6) and organizational, Fraenkel became the leading German analyst of the American political system in the 1950s and 1960s. His studies include one monograph on the American government, (7) one edited volume on German views of America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, (8) and about thirty-five published articles on US politics, comparative government, and foreign policy. Until recently, this aspect of his work had been overshadowed by Fraenkel's original analyses of the Nazi state (9) and his neopluralist democratic theory. (10) In this paper, however, I will focus on the relevance of his American studies.

I shall start by considering Fraenkel's concept of "Western Democracy" in the context of the new debate on German "westernization" that had begun ten years after unification. …