Rereading German History: From Unification to Reunification, 1800-1996

By Richard J. Evans | Go to book overview

Part II

PATTERNS OF AUTHORITY AND REVOLT

In Part II we turn from grand surveys of German history to the more particular problem of patterns of authority and revolt in modern German history. Many commentators have sought to account for the Germans’ abandonment of democracy and their turn to dictatorship in the early 1930s with the argument that patterns of authority and obedience were deeply embedded in the German psyche. Some have looked to the tradition of the strong state in German history to explain the voters’ dissatisfaction with the weakness and ineffectiveness of the Weimar Republic: a strong state not only in terms of its relations with other European states, but also in terms of its relationship with its own citizens. The great sociologist Norbert Elias, for instance, detected in the Germans a longing for authority which derived ultimately from the collective memory of the Absolutism of ‘Enlightened’ monarchs such as Frederick the Great in the eighteenth century. The ‘Enlightened Despots’ of this era sought to establish what contemporaries referred to as a ‘well-ordered police state’, in which everything was subject to regulation and control from above, and the ordinary subject was left with little room for individual initiative. From this period, it is often argued, dated the intrusive habits and powers of the German police. Their survival into the twentieth century made it easy for the Nazis to erect their own, radicalized version of the police state, based on the all-powerful, all-pervasive presence of the feared secret state police, the Gestapo. Chapter 6 takes a close look at the history of policing in Germany, charting the growth of research in recent years, and suggesting that it is time not only to paint a more complex and nuanced picture, but also, perhaps, to adopt a different approach from the neo-Weberian theories and methods which have characterized German work in this field so far. The fall of East Germany has opened up a whole new set of questions about compliance and control, which demand the application of

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