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The Perils of Normalcy

George L. Mosse and the Remaking of Cultural History

Karel Plessini

Publication Year: 2014

A taboo-breaker and a great provocateur, George L. Mosse (1918–99) was one of the great historians of the twentieth century, forging a new historiography of culture that included brilliant insights about the roles of nationalism, fascism, racism, and sexuality. Jewish, gay, and a member of a culturally elite family in Germany, Mosse came of age as the Nazis came to power, before escaping as a teenager to England and America. Mosse was innovative and interdisciplinary as a scholar, and he shattered in his groundbreaking books prevalent assumptions about the nature of National Socialism and the Holocaust. He audaciously drew a link from bourgeois respectability and the ideology of the Enlightenment—the very core of modern Western civilization—to the extermination of the European Jews.
            In this intellectual biography of George Mosse, Karel Plessini draws on all of Mosse's published and unpublished work to illuminate the origins and development of his groundbreaking methods of historical analysis and the close link between his life and work. He redefined the understanding of modern mass society and politics, masterfully revealing the powerful influence of conformity and political liturgies on twentieth-century history. Mosse warned against the dangers inherent in acquiescence, showing how identity creation and ideological fervor can climax in intolerance and mass murder—a message of continuing relevance.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-2

A large number of people have helped me along the way toward this paper. My deepest gratitude goes to Marina Cattaruzza, whom I would like to thank for the constant encouragement in this work on both a professional and a personal level, and for the help, the support, and the invaluable criticism she o¤ered me...

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Introduction: The Serpent and the Dove

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pp. 3-18

George Mosse was a rebel who, along with many other pioneers of cultural history, fought against the so-called traditional historical concerns of politics, society, and economics. His cause, which he shared with so many of his generation, was that of liberty in the face of conformity and totalitarianism...

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1. From Machiavellism to Totalitarianism

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pp. 19-37

There is no doubt that George Mosse’s fame as a historian is due to his major works on fascism, National Socialism, racism, nationalism, and sexuality. His efforts in early modern history, despite some success, have certainly had a less momentous impact on the history of historiography...

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2. Beyond the History of Intellectuals

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pp. 38-59

The “continuity of interests” in Mosse’s work characterized his writings over more than forty years. However, when he began his analysis of modern European history in the mid-1950s, he had to face a new set of historiographical problems. Mosse was now beginning to specialize in the history...

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3. The Roots of the Anthropological and Visual Turn

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pp. 60-92

Mosse wrote in one of his earliest works that “rapid changes in history usually come about when the gulf between what is and what should be, between outward reality and the human condition, becomes painfully apparent”: this belief lay beneath his later assertion that history consists...

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4. The Dark Side of Modernity

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pp. 93-114

The ethical purpose inherent in Mosse’s works, embodied in the “from Machiavellism to totalitarianism” formula, found a new and more challenging dimension when the historian turned more directly to the analysis of the cultural roots of the Holocaust in the 1970s. The idea that modern persecution was the “new Leviathan,” expressed by Mosse in his 1954 Chapel...

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5. From Machiavellism to the Holocaust

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pp. 115-131

The relationship between ethics and politics stands at the center of Mosse’s work, connecting his early modern writings with his major works on nationalism and fascism. His interpretation of Machiavellism lies behind both, strengthening the “continuity of interests” and attributing a...

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6. The Missing Link: The Nationalist Revolution

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pp. 132-149

George Mosse’s contribution to the historiography of fascism has been widely praised as well as deeply influential. Emilio Gentile has written of a “Mosse revolution in the historiography of fascism, a revolution consisting first of all in the novelty of his method of analysis”; in the history of...

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7. The “True Mission of Judaism”

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pp. 150-168

In the course of this study one of the dominant and recurring elements has been Mosse’s critical attitude: toward those mass movements whose irrationality diminished the individual, and toward those historians who clung to an excess of rationality and dismissed the irrational side of history. In opposition...

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8. The Granitic Foundation of a Faith

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pp. 169-192

In the course of this study we have seen how Mosse’s work underwent two grand methodological turns and two thematic shifts. Yet despite these significant changes, there remained marked elements of continuity that characterized a dialectical view of history that never really changed significantly...

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Conclusion: George L. Mosse’s Legacy

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pp. 193-208

George Mosse must certainly be considered one of the founding fathers of cultural history as we know it at the turn of the twenty-first century. If his ideas, as James Wald remarked, “strike us as insightful, but not quite new it is precisely because Mosse was a pioneer in cultural history”;...


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pp. 209-266


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pp. 267-284

Series Page

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pp. 285-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780299296339
E-ISBN-10: 0299296334
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299296346
Print-ISBN-10: 0299296342

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 867050509
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Perils of Normalcy

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Subject Headings

  • Mosse, George L. (George Lachmann), 1918-1999.
  • Historians -- United States -- Biography.
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