THE GERMANS by Gordon A. Craig


Email this review


The effort to explain the Germans--to account for Nazism in terms of Germany's character and predict its future from its past--is here pusued to no great purpose: conventional historical material becomes the basis for an ideological attack. In a series of tenuously connected essays on selected topics--the German Enlightenment, the German soldier, women, money, religion, Romanticism--Stanford historian Craig (The Politics of the Prussian Army, 1640-1945; Germany, 1866-1945) contrasts some aspects of German history with the period since World War II (sometimes including East Germany, sometimes not). In the essay on money, for example, Craig reflects on the psychological import of money for the Germans--noting that the capitalist spirit did not really take hold in Germany until the 19th century when rapid industrial development transformed the economy while political and social relations lagged behind. From this, in Craig's view, came the image of the industrialist as hero and the financier as villain, as well as a general antagonism toward commercial values among the intellectuals. He ends the essay by pointing to the profound impact that runaway inflation had upon 1920s Germany and its contribution to the rise of Nazism; and closes with a paean to the monetary reform that stabilized German currency immediately after the war, made possible the ensuing ""economic miracle,"" and saved West Germany from the scourge of socialism. The full meaning of this line of thinking doesn't become apparent, however, until the other essays are read in conjunction with it. An essay on Berlin brings the observation that German students--already castigated for resuscitating the anti-rational Romanticism that substituted in Germany for the rational Enlightenment (treated in yet another essay)--were threatening economic stability when they rioted in Berlin against the Vietnam War, or subsequently occupied vacant buildings in a squatter movement; and any threat to the economy revives pre-Nazi fears of collapse. The wrenching of historical material out of context, with the aim of discrediting challenges to the German status quo from the left, is effective polemics; it isn't, however, good history.

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 1981
ISBN: 0452010853
Publisher: Putnam