The Problem of Revolution in Germany, 1789-1989

The Problem of Revolution in Germany, 1789-1989

The Problem of Revolution in Germany, 1789-1989

The Problem of Revolution in Germany, 1789-1989

Synopsis

Until very recently Germany has frequently been characterized as the 'country without revolution', and the catastrophies of its recent history have been attributed to the lack of successful modernizing impulses. This series of essays by leading German scholars explores the effects of revolutions upon German history from 1789 to 1989 - the date of Germany's 'peaceful revolution' - and discusses the fundamental questions of reform and revolution, the effects of war, counter-revolution and defeat on the social process of modernization. The book not only examines the revolutions of 1789, 1848, 1918 and 1989, but equally focuses on the great reform periods, the 'revolutions from above'. It analyzes the significance of World War I for revolutionizing German society, the nature of the 'national-socialist revolution', and the effects of the 1945 defeat on new beginnings in a divided Germany. It offers, on the basis of up-to-date research, stimulating debates about fundamental problems of German history.The authors count among the leading German scholars of their generation, including Peter Brandt, R¿diger Hachtmann, J¿rgen Kocka, Wolfgang Kruse, Hans Mommsen, Hans-Ulrich Wehler and Heinrich-August Winkler.

Excerpt

This book is devoted to the question of what significance we should accord the phenomenon of revolution in modern German history. To this day, the notion of Germany as the ‘land without a revolution’ persists in both scholarly and political literature, and historians continue to explain the catastrophes of recent German history, particularly the Nazi regime, not least in terms of the absence of successful revolutionary sparks to political and social development. The authors of this volume, in dialogue with recent scholarship and against the background of the political experience of 1989, ask instead whether German history is indeed characterized by a strikingly low tendency towards revolution and a failure of revolutionary efforts, which distinguishes it from the rest of European history. It would seem to make sense here to abandon the widespread notion that successful revolutions represent a sort of ‘normal case’ in European history. Quite the opposite is true: Europe has seen far more failed or arrested revolutions than successful ones, and, apart from the special case of the Russian revolutions of 1917, there has been nothing comparable to the epochal significance of 1789. Thus it would seem more fruitful to seek explanations for the few decisive successes of revolutions than to enquire into the particular causes of their more frequent failures.

Moreover, scepticism has increased about whether the antagonistic juxtaposition of revolution and reform, like that which arose in reaction to the revolution of 1789, and later particularly in the socialist tradition influenced by Marx, is actually justified. Such doubts have also been formulated in recent historical scholarship, but they draw their legitimacy not least from an analysis of the disintegration process of the communist system. It was precisely the efforts at reform that revealed the unreformability of ‘state socialism’ or ‘socialism as it actually exists’ and led to a change of system that was not planned as a revolution, but whose consequences possessed a revolutionary quality. People wanted to reform the existing system and instead brought about a revolution. This had already been the case in 1789, but 200 years later the traditional pathos of revolution was missing, even at the moment of success. The people who pushed through . . .

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