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The German Conception of History

The National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present

Georg G. Iggers

Publication Year: 2012

This is the first comprehensive critical examination in any language of the German national tradition of historiography. It analyzes the basic theoretical assumptions of the German historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and relates these assumptions to political thought and action.
The German national tradition of historiography had its beginnings in the reaction against the Enlightenment and the French Revolution of 1789. This historiography rejected the rationalistic theory of natural law as universally valid and held that all human values must be understood within the context of the historical flux. But it maintained at the same time the Lutheran doctrine that existing political institutions had a rational basis in the will of God, though only a few of these historians were unqualified conservatives. Most argued for liberal institutions within the authoritarian state, but considered that constitutional liberties had to be subordinated to foreign policy - a subordination that was to have tragic results.

Mr. Iggers first defines Historismus or historicism and analyzes its origins. Then he traces the transformation of German historical thought from Herder's cosmopolitan culture-oriented nationalism to exclusive state-centered nationalism of the War of Liberation and of national unification. He considers the development of historicism in the writings of such thinkers as von Humboldt, Ranke, Dilthey, Max Weber, Troeltsch, and Meinecke; and he discusses the radicalization and ultimate disintegration of the historicist position, showing how its inadequacies contributed to the political debacle of the Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism. No one who wants to fully understand the political development of national Germany can neglect this study.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-7

Contents

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pp. 8-9

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Preface to the Revised Edition

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pp. ix-xi

Since this volume was first published, a good deal of rethinking has taken place in historical studies in the Federal Republic of Germany. Continuities with older traditions and outlooks persist, but a large number of historians have begun to look critically at their national...

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Preface to the First Edition

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pp. xiii-xvi

Like the two above-mentioned studies, this work is not primarily intended as a history of German historiography. Rather it seeks to present an interpretative, critical analysis of the theoretical presuppositions and political values of German historians in the major national...

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I. Introduction

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pp. 3-28

With much more justification than in France, Britain, or the United States, we may speak of one main tradition of German historiography. This tradition, broad and varied in its manifestations, was given a degree of unity by its common roots in the philosophy of...

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II. The Origins of German Historicism: THE TRANSFORMATION OF GERMAN HISTORICAL THOUGHT FROM HERDER'S COSMOPOLITAN CULTURE-ORIENTED NATIONALISM TO THE STATE-CENTERED EXCLUSIVE NATIONALISM OF THE WARS OF LIBERATION

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pp. 29-43

The basic elements of historical method were well established in the eighteenth century and recognized even by the rationalists. Since the age of humanism, scholarship, especially as carried on in the academies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had recognized...

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III. The Theoretical Foundations of German Historicism I: Wilhelm von Humboldt

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pp. 44-62

Humboldt's first political writings were stimulated by the French Revolution. He had visited Paris during the crucial months of 1789 and had assessed the developments in France more soberly than many other Germans. They, like his friend Friedrich Gentz, had first...

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IV. The Theoretical Foundations of German Historicism II: Leopold von Ranke

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pp. 63-89

Graduate study in history developed in American universities at a time when philosophic naturalism and positivism dominated the intellectual scene. In their endeavor to give academic respectability to historical study, a few writers who had been influenced by Comte...

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V. The High Point of Historical Optimism—The "Prussian School"

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pp. 90-123

However, the unification of Germany was achieved at the expense of important liberal principles, particularly those of parliamentary control of foreign and military affairs and of ministerial responsibility. In the new Reich a generous degree of autocracy was...

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VI. The "Crisis of Historicism" I: THE PHILOSOPHIC CRITIQUE: COHEN, DILTHEY, WINDELBAND, RICKERT, WEBER

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pp. 124-173

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the positivistic picture of man and the universe itself came under attack from many corners. The new psychologists (Freud and Jung), the philosophers (Nietzsche, Dilthey, and Bergson), the poets and novelists...

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VII. The "Crisis of Historicism" II: ERNST TROELTSCH AND FRIEDRICH MEINECKE

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pp. 174-228

Meinecke, too, possessed this "faith and trust" in history, even if for him contemplation played a somewhat greater part and ethical concern a lesser role than they did for Troeltsch. For neither of the two men history had become a construct of the mind, as it had to an...

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VIII. The Decline of the German "Idea" of History: THE IMPACT OF TWO WORLD WARS AND TOTALITARIANISM ON GERMAN HISTORICAL THOUGHT

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pp. 229-268

Hans Herzfeld has suggested, that the year 1917 should have seen a "Copernican Revolution" in German historiography. The entry of the United States into the war and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia might conceivably have led to a revision of the European-centered...

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IX. Epilogue

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pp. 269-293

Approximately fifteen years have passed since this book was completed. Since that time a marked reorientation has taken place in West German historical writing, although the origins of this change had become apparent already by the 1960's. As Ralf Dahrendorf pointed out...

Notes

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pp. 295-369

Suggested Readings

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pp. 371-380

Index

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pp. 381-388


E-ISBN-13: 9780819573612
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819560803

Page Count: 405
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Rev. ed.