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Reformers, Critics, and the Paths of German Modernity: Anti-Politics and the Search for Alternatives, 1890-1914
     

Reformers, Critics, and the Paths of German Modernity: Anti-Politics and the Search for Alternatives, 1890-1914

by Kevin Repp
 

"Modernity" was an inescapable fact of life for the first generation to come of age in the German Empire. Even the most extreme political opponents saw the chaotic transformation of all spheres of life in the wake of industrial capitalism as the central problem facing young men and women at the fin de siècle. This fresh look at Wilhelmine perceptions

Overview

"Modernity" was an inescapable fact of life for the first generation to come of age in the German Empire. Even the most extreme political opponents saw the chaotic transformation of all spheres of life in the wake of industrial capitalism as the central problem facing young men and women at the fin de siècle. This fresh look at Wilhelmine perceptions of modernity challenges both the traditional emphasis on anti-modernism as a peculiarly German response that led to the rise of National Socialism, and the more recent post-Foucauldian studies on the "pathologies of modernity," which point instead to an unreflective faith in science and efficiency on the part of German progressives. Shifting the focus away from radical extremes on either side, Kevin Repp explores the more moderate agendas of hundreds of mainstream intellectuals and activists from diverse social backgrounds who sought to surmount the human costs of industrialization without relinquishing its positive potential.

Repp combines detailed case studies of Adolf Damaschke, Gertrud Bäumer, and Werner Sombart with an innovative prosopography of their milieu to show how leading reformers enlisted familiar tropes of popular nationalism, eugenics, and cultural pessimism in formulating pragmatic solutions that would be at once modern and humane. Easily obscured by radical voices on right and left, this quiet search for alternatives nevertheless succeeded in building a nationwide network of educational centers, associative ties, and institutions that substantially altered the landscape of Wilhelmine political culture in the decades before the First World War.

Editorial Reviews

Choice
A reexamination of Wilhelmine political culture and social thought...in a textured and nuanced discussion...Moving away from previous historians' emphasis on illiberalism and antimodernism, Repp seeks to locate cultural and social criticism among intellectuals who wished to integrate workers and women and otherwise enlarge the restricted notion of what constituted the national and the German.
From the Publisher
Repp shows quite convincingly that in the pre-1914 era, the use of such sensitive concepts in German history as nationalism, social Darwinism, and racial and eugenic notions, did not make one a proto-fascist. While the Nazi regime was certainly one possible outcome of these intellectual trends, it was not the only one, and other possibilities were far more benign.

Kevin Repp's richly textured account of the reformist milieu in Wilhelmine Germany is welcome for several reasons. This is the best collective portrait we have of the middle-class activists who came of age in the 1890s. It is also a valuable contribution to historical debates about modernity in prewar Germany and the figure of the 'unpolitical German.'

Kevin Repp‚s carefully-researched and powerfully-argued book is an important contribution to the scholarly reassessment of German politics and culture at the beginning of the twentieth century. Repp focuses on three neglected social critics--Adolf Damaschke, Gertrud Bäumer, and Werner Sombart--and on the institutional milieu that sustained and amplified their ideas. The range and richness of Repp's book invites comparison with Fritz Stern's classic, The Politics of Cultural Despair, whose interpretation of German modernity he both extends and challenges. This is a stunning scholarly debut.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674000575
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
06/28/2000
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.48(w) x 9.62(h) x 1.19(d)

What People are Saying About This

Kevin Repp‚s carefully-researched and powerfully-argued book is an important contribution to the scholarly reassessment of German politics and culture at the beginning of the twentieth century. Repp focuses on three neglected social critics--Adolf Damaschke, Gertrud Bäumer, and Werner Sombart--and on the institutional milieu that sustained and amplified their ideas. The range and richness of Repp's book invites comparison with Fritz Stern's classic, The Politics of Cultural Despair, whose interpretation of German modernity he both extends and challenges. This is a stunning scholarly debut.
Jonathan Sperber
Repp shows quite convincingly that in the pre-1914 era, the use of such sensitive concepts in German history as nationalism, social Darwinism, and racial and eugenic notions, did not make one a proto-fascist. While the Nazi regime was certainly one possible outcome of these intellectual trends, it was not the only one, and other possibilities were far more benign.

Jonathan Sperber, University of Missouri-Columbia

David G. Blackbourn
Kevin Repp's richly textured account of the reformist milieu in Wilhelmine Germany is welcome for several reasons. This is the best collective portrait we have of the middle-class activists who came of age in the 1890s. It is also a valuable contribution to historical debates about modernity in prewar Germany and the figure of the 'unpolitical German.'

David G. Blackbourn, Harvard University

Geoff Eley
This is an extremely interesting and valuable book, one of great intelligence, well attuned to the state of discussion among German historians of the 19th and 20th centuries, with a strong grasp of the theoretical and comparative dimensions of Germany's socio-economic, cultural-intellectual, and political development, and a solid combination of contexts for exploring the chosen question of modernity and its varying trajectories. The view of Wilhelmine politics presented here is thoroughly persuasive. The text is beautifully put together, the organization of the argument is clear, and it is excellently well-written.

Geoff Eley, University of Michigan

James J. Sheehan
Kevin Repp‚s carefully-researched and powerfully-argued book is an important contribution to the scholarly reassessment of German politics and culture at the beginning of the twentieth century. Repp focuses on three neglected social critics--Adolf Damaschke, Gertrud Bäumer, and Werner Sombart--and on the institutional milieu that sustained and amplified their ideas. The range and richness of Repp's book invites comparison with Fritz Stern's classic, The Politics of Cultural Despair, whose interpretation of German modernity he both extends and challenges. This is a stunning scholarly debut.

James J. Sheehan, Stanford University

Meet the Author

Kevin Repp is Assistant Professor of History, Yale University.

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