The Weimar Century

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The Weimar Century – German Emigres and the Ideological Foundations of The Cold War
By Udi Greenberg
Princeton University Press – £24.95

There’s absolutely no denying that Weimar Germany was a most interesting, if not turbulent time in (world) history. Not only within the borders of Germany itself, but primarily that of its immediate neighbours – Poland and Denmark to name but two.

Indeed, far more fissiparous than the EU and with an overtly fraught social, political and ideological trajectory to say the least, Weimar was many things to many people; the resulting and most catastrophic outcome of which lie with a racial lunatic from Austria by the name of Adolf Hitler.

Replete with a certain academic persuasion that alerts the reader to an array of differeing arguments in relation to Weimar, Udi Greenberg’s The Weimar Century – German Emigres and the Ideological Foundations of The Cold War is a clearly written, concise and above all, asute publication that towers way beyond many of its contemporaries.

That said, feel free to not just take my word alone – as here’s both an interesting and more than pertinent quote from Susannah Heschel – author of The Aryan Jesus: ”An extraordinary and highly original study of two historical fronts: the fate of German political theorists exiled by Hitler, and the shaping of American Cold War ideology by those same Weimar intellectuals. With his remarkable archival discoveries and brilliant interpretations, Udi Greenberg has written a dramatic book that will reshape scholarship.”

It’s true – The Weimar Century may well reshape Weimar scholarship. And if not scholarship per se, it will quite possibly alter one’s approach to how Weimar was, and still is perceived; primarily because it reveals the origins of two dramatic events. That of Germany’s post-World War II transformation from a racist dictatorship to a liberal democracy, and the ideological genesis of the Cold War.

No more is this better brought to bear than in the third chapter (‘Conservative Catholicism and American Philanthropy’), where Greenberg asserts: ”The years after World War II witnessed not only democratic rebuilding but also an unprecedented outburst of Catholic activity. Across Germany and Western Europe, Catholic communities emerged as a commanding force in postwar reconstruction. They feverishly built new cultural centres and formed powerful political organizations. For U.S. occupation officers in Germany, this vibrancy raised both hopes and concerns. German Catholics had not been among Hitler’s most enthusiastic supporters, leading some U.S. officials to proclaim that they would act as ”the spiritual foundation of the new democracy.” Yet historically, German Catholics had an uneasy relationship with democratic politics. Many of them had regarded the Weimar Republic as a secular threat to their values and instead supported authoritarian leaders and ideas. Moreover, as Cold War tensions rose in the late 1940s, numerous Catholic politicians and journalists declared that Germany should look not to a secular and materialist United States but should ally itself only with other European countries as part of the Abendland (European and Christian West). Throughout the early Cold War, Catholic ambivalence cast a shadow over American reconstruction efforts in Europe and the emerging transatlantic alliance.”

By blending intellectual, political, and international histories, Greenberg – who is Assistant Professor of History at Dartmouth College – substantiates how the foundations of Germany’s reconstruction ultimately lay in the country’s first democratic experiment: The Weimar Republic of 1918-33.

He has done so by examining the unexpected stories of very diverse individuals such as the Protestant political thinker Carl J. Friedrich, the Socialist theorist Ernst Fraenkel and the Catholic publicist, Waldemar Gurian (to name but three), all of whom partook in Weimar’s most intense of political debates whilst living in the United States during the Nazi era – before addressing the rebuilding of Europe after the devastation of World War II.

Whether or not The Weimar Century bequeaths colossal food for thought from that of a wayward Catholic perspective, really isn’t really for me to validate nor decide. But if you’re interested in said period of German/European history, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this most invigorating and enlightening of books.

David Marx

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