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September/October 2006 Historically Speaking Nationalism and National Culture: Germany in a Cross-Disciplinary Perspective Frank B. Tipton Trained as a German historian, I grew up professionally with the arguments over the German Sonderweg and comparisons with the allegedly more normal course of development in Western Europe. More recendy, I have migrated into the discipline of international business studies, where I have been introducing students to national differences in firm governance, the risks and opportunities arising from variations in national operating environments, and their impact on firm strategy. Two concepts shared by history and international business studies are culture and nationalism. However, their perspectives differ. Fascinating in themselves , the differences suggest new ways of looking at the experience of nationalism. German nationalism framed the master narrative of German history as practiced and taught before the First World War. Unification and the establishment of a modern national state placed Germans among the elite of civilized peoples. They and their contemporaries equated national culture with the products of elite high culture. Throughout the civilized world scientists, social scientists, artists, authors, and musicians celebrated the products of German culture. In 1910 nearly 40% of all scientific publications in the world appeared in German, and Expressionism was the cutting edge in modern art. Following the Second World War, German nationalism and German culture became the objects of the most intense critical scrutiny. German high culture lost its international appeal. In 1970 only 10% of the world's scientific publications appeared in German, and émigrés such as painter Wassily Kandinsky and architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe were no longer identified with Germany, but with canonical modern or international styles. National culture had been «conceptualized as a set of values shared by all members of a national community, and from this new perspective German culture and German nationalism, instead of a success, now seemed a failure. German history lost its master narrative, but it focused on a master question. How could German culture have resulted in the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust? The concept of Germany's Sonderweg, its special path, seemed to provide some answers. For left-leaning historians Germany was special because an alliance of landowning aristocrats and industrial capitalists, desperate to retain power in the face of a rising labor movement, had led Germany into the First World War. Rather than the cool calculations of Bismarck, Germany's increasingly Otto von Bismarck. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [reproduction number, LC-USZ62-1 03203]. reckless foreign policy reflected the internal tensions resulting from the continued power of a preindustrial elite in a rapidly industrializing society. Having lost the war, the old elites refused to accept the Weimar Republic, fatally undermining the democratic government and then in the crisis of the Depression yielding to the Nazis. For more conservative historians, Germany was special because it had failed to adopt the democratic form of government that modernization theory said was appropriate to advanced industrial societies. In a frequendy deployed metaphor, German culture and German nationalism were said to have taken a wrong turn. Exactly when this had happened remained under dispute. Some took a longer view, concentrating on Luther in the 16th century, or on the Prussia of Frederick William I in the 17th century. Liah Greenfeld found the answer in the Napoleonic wars and said that defeat by the French, existential jealousy of the economically and socially advanced nations of Western Europe , and the equation of the West and modernity with theJewish minority meant that "Germany was ready for the Holocaust from the moment German national identity existed."1 A.J.P. Taylor had earlier blamed the unworldly "parliament of professors" in 1848 who had failed to impose their will on reactionary state rulers and establish a national parliamentary government.2 Ralf Dahrendorf said that Germany's "persistent failure to give a home to democracy in its liberal sense" reflected its "authoritarian and anti-democratic structures ." The Sonderweg thesis has been questioned at a number of points. First, both versions of the critique of German politics rested on the disappointment of Marx and Engels widi the German bourgeoisie for having reneged on their revolutionary responsibility and allied with the "conquered...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 5-6
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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