Recent years have witnessed an explosion of new titles on what is now called ‘global intellectual history’, setting their sights on tracing how key ideas, concepts and doctrines travelled across national borders and took root in various international settings. Since the late nineteenth century, imperialism and decolonization have spurred (and framed) much of the intellectual traffic across continents, and for this reason much of what we know often centres on the West and its former overseas possessions. Germany has not figured all that prominently in these new histories, though this is changing quickly. Dina Gusejnova’s European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917–1957 and Udi Greenberg’s The Weimar Century: German Émigrés and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War are two recent efforts to integrate German thinkers on empire and democracy, respectively, back into the broader international discussion. Whilst Gusejnova is more interested in German-speaking aristocratic intellectuals in the interwar years, Greenberg focuses on Weimar republican thinkers who emigrated to the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. Gusejnova’s book is quite unusual in conception. Unlike other books, it does not focus on nation-states or even national thinkers. Rather, she sets out to explore how a colourful group of declassé German-speaking aristocrats—including Harry Kessler, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, Hermann Keyserling, Hans-Hasso von Veltheim-Ostrau and even Alfred Rosenberg—developed highly divergent ideas of European unity from the ruins of vanished empires and political upheaval. Gusejnova persuasively argues that their ‘supranational European mentality’ was a forgotten species of internationalist thinking that flew in the face both the era’s nationalism and Wilsonian and Soviet-style versions of internationalism, and perhaps for this reason has attracted comparatively little scholarly attention. Her imaginative book is loosely organized around various figures and themes, and catches the in-between status of many of these energetic and ultimately homeless personalities who exerted a powerful presence in the European cultural scene at the time. What Gusejnova seeks to show is how these peripheral aristocratic elites made use of their nation-less condition ‘to convert their imperial prestige into new forms of power’ (p. xxii), driving discussion (often through the founding of journals) about the fate and future of ‘post-imperial Europe’ as a continent. Kessler’s diaries and Hermann Keyserling’s events capture the carnivalesque spirit of Europe’s elites consorting to make sense of a world turned upside down in various ways. In so doing, Gusejnova suggests, they effectively served as vanishing mediators of Europeanism between the Russian Revolution and the Treaty of Rome. In it there are many striking points along the way on decline, loss and nostalgia after the Great War. Included among are the pop culture fascination with the decline of the Habsburgs in the 1920s; how these alienated aristocrats became the flagbearers of a new ideal of European identity and post-national humanity; or how various ‘Baltic barons’ acted as intellectual liaisons between Russia and Germany in preserving a Central European tradition of international law. It is also interesting to read how Hans-Hasso von Veltheim-Ostrau’s taste for Eastern mysticism, anthroposophy and spirituality reflected a broader fascination with India in European interwar culture and how certain strains of this imperial aristocratic identity were absorbed by Nazism. However, the presentational style is quite loose and fast-paced. The individual chapters are full of sharp twists and turns, and thus can be a little hard to follow; some of the key points are not developed in detail either. At times the presentation style seems to mirror these peripatetic aristocratic figures under discussion—provocative, footloose and hard to pin down. For example, Gusejnova never really shows how aristocratic intellectuals peddled their status as emblems of ‘former peoples’ into a new ‘veneer of distinction’. The same goes for her claim that a German-speaking liberal faction wove their experience of revolution into a common European memory of empire (p. xlvii). What does this memory mean, and common to whom exactly? Other key themes—such as religion, the Russian Revolution, cosmopolitanism and fascism—make cameos at various points, but are not treated directly at any length. It is also never explained why pan-Europeanism mostly appealed to conservatives in Germany, yet to socialists in France. Moreover, it is also not so clear to what extent this version of interwar Europeanism enjoyed any presence after 1945; after all, the book’s chronological framework (as noted in the book’s title) goes to 1957, though there is very little on the Treaty of Rome itself. There is some fascinating material on how Churchill himself cited Coudenhove-Kalergi as a major inspiration for his ‘Europe Unite’ movement, drawing sustenance from the Hungarian aristocrat’s interwar idea of modernizing—not ending—empire. But in what other ways did the movement have an afterlife? There is some recent scholarship on the interwar connection to the post-1945 remaking of the ‘Eurafrica’ project, but these links go unmentioned here. Some suggestion is made that the EEC became a kind of ‘phantom empire’, but we do not get a sense if anyone saw it that way at the time, or if these interwar formulations about a post-imperial European identity found any adherents on the continent after the Second World War. Udi Greenberg’s book, The Weimar Century, offers a different perspective on the intellectual legacy of this interwar generation. His focus is not on empire or Europeanism, but rather on the promise and peril of democracy in Weimar Germany. It is a well-researched and persuasively presented argument that provides a different view of the famed Weimar diaspora. To be sure, the broader star-studded group of German exiles has been a subject of interest since the 1950s, as many historians have chronicled the migration of Weimar luminaries to the US and USSR in the 1920s and 1930s. Greenberg’s book by contrast casts light on a different set of émigrés, namely German republican intellectuals who left Weimar Germany and became powerful players in American establishment circles. This relatively small coterie of thinkers—including Carl J. Friedrich, Ernst Fraenkel, Waldemar Gurian, Karl Loewenstein and Hans J. Morgenthau—exerted a huge influence on American elite understanding of its place in the world as the new anti-communist hegemon after 1945. Friedrich was the chief advisor to Lucius Clay, Ernst Fraenkel was the intellectual architect of the US occupation of South Korea, and Hans Morgenthau’s ‘realist’ political theory shaped a generation of American Cold War politicians and policymakers at Harvard, including Kissinger and Brzezinski. Greenberg wishes to show that democracy was not somehow the imposition of American ideas on West Germany in the 1950s, as conventionally told, but rather the re-importation of originally German ideas now returning in American guise, sometimes even in military uniform. As such he is challenging the standard arguments of Axel Schildt and Konrad Jarausch that West German democratization was born of the shame of Nazi crimes, successful Allied re-education policies, economic prosperity and the aspirations of a more Western-oriented young generation. For Greenberg, these émigrés were the intellectual brokers who stood behind this West German-American joint venture, as they looked back to Weimar experiences and debates for historical ballast and lesson-learning. It might have been noted that this transatlantic re-importation model was hardly limited to these political theorists—the same went for the return of Max Weber’s sociological thinking via Talcott Parson’s structural sociology as well as the arrival of an exiled and Americanized Bauhaus modernism in the Federal Republic in the 1950s and 1960s. Greenberg’s book is divided into five chapters, each devoted to the thought and influence of a key émigré republican intellectual. While they differed in outlook, background and temperament, they all shared an antipathy toward communism as the enemy of democracy. Common too was a strong sense of elitism, as they strove in various ways to help form a new elite to run the institutions of government and higher education so as to best manage the tides of democracy; ‘mass democracy’ frightened them as much as communism. His chapter on Carl Friedrich is perhaps the most interesting, in that he shows how Friedrich worked tirelessly to prove that the genesis of democratic thinking lay less in the eighteenth century Enlightenment than in seventeenth century Calvinist thought. Such an assertion was not only important for ‘christianizing’ the origins of democracy, but also for claiming democracy boasted German roots—the task after 1945 was thus to rehabilitate a home-grown yet badly neglected tradition. Friedrich believed that the US was the new guardian of the ‘common religious heritage of modern civilization’, which needed to be defended by Protestant, Catholics and Jews alike as part of a newly minted ‘Judeo-Christian’ tradition. By contrast, Ernst Fraenkel’s idea of collective democracy was based on his moderate socialism, and helped draft a South Korean constitution modelled on the Weimar forerunner, bringing the ‘spirit of Western democracy’ to East Asia. A stridently Catholic anti-totalitarian strain of democracy could be found in Waldemar Gurian, who combined liberalism, Christianity and anti-communism in the 1940s and 1950s to advocate a Christian revival of Europe. As Greenberg argues, the union of German Catholics and the US was one of the most unlikely developments of Cold War culture, and became one of the distinctive features of West German political life. For these thinkers, Weimar was a cautionary tale about both the strength and weakness of democracy, and they looked to build a new West German state that would be safeguarded against Weimar’s perceived defects. At times their understanding of democracy countenanced repression, and Greenberg registers disappointment with this aspect of their thought and activity. To him ‘Weimar democratic ideas constrained the post-war political imagination just as much as they enabled it’, and he even goes so far as to say that in their ardent fight against communism these émigrés inadvertently ‘helped preserve and perpetuate this Nazi obsession’ (p. 17). This seems a little unfairly anachronistic, in that their understanding of democracy was indelibly conditioned by the fears and memories connected to their Weimar experiences. Even so, they did find ways of blending the Weimar past and American present that shaped two generations of Cold War political science; and Greenberg is justified in saying that what made their impact so American (and durable) was the blurring of academia, government policy and private philanthropy. In different ways, Gusejnova and Greenberg show how intellectuals commanded great cultural and political power after each war. Certainly Greenberg is right to say that the Cold War (and before that the OSS) opened up new spaces for German émigrés, but Gusejnova is also correct that the same went for Central European émigré aristocrats after the Great War. Taken together their combined focus is on democracy, Europeanism and empire, and one cannot help but wonder how these broader themes would have played out in the other’s book; for example, what did Gusejnova’s German-speaking aristocrats have to say about democracy and communism? And did not Greenberg’s exiled Germans also consider the changing fate of empire and Europe as well? In any case, these books indicate that German intellectual history in a broader international setting is making a comeback. Increasingly interest is being paid to exploring how German interwar ideas about international politics, legitimacy and empire made their way across the globe. Both Gusejnova and Greenberg provide rich new interpretations of old problems, in this case how empire, democracy and the international order were understood at the time well beyond the nation-state. © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved.
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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