Ruminations on the onus of modern German history. Columbia University historian Stern tries to evoke such nebulous and unquantifiable phenomena as the ""self-image of the German Burgher"" and the Vulgaridealismus of the Second Reich; he sees in the prevalent 19th century deprecation of political life and the exaltation of Kultur by the intelligentsia a dangerous symptom of civic irresponsibility which paved the way for the perversions of the Nazis -- an insight borrowed from Leonard Krieger's The German Idea of Freedom (1957). The Failure of Illiberalism is a collection of disparate essays written over the last dozen years; suggestive rather than rigorously analytical, they go after nuance (""the less tangible elements of milieu""), atmosphere, and character. Sketches of Gerson Bleichroder, Bismarck's Jewish banker, and Bethmann Hollweg, the Hamlet-like Chancellor who floundered into World War I, are psychologically astute, though the mantle of tragic grandeur which Stern tries on Bethmann is a poor fit. Like his mentor, the French historian Elie Halevy, Stern rejects the distinction between domestic and foreign politics and offers a damning critique of Bismarck's pernicious impact on the evolution of political parties. Striving for a totality of vision, he draws freely on literature for his broad but sometimes platitudinous characterizations of German society -- e.g., the umbrella label ""illiberalism"" seems especially namby-pamby. The book presupposes a thorough familiarity with the historiography of modern Germany; it supplies some footnotes, shadings and modulations, more synthetic than original.