Hans-Ulrich Wehler

Hans-Ulrich Wehler

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Hans-Ulrich Wehler is a German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 known for his role in promoting social history through the "Bielefeld School", and for his critical studies of 19th century Germany.

Career


Wehler was born in Freudenberg, Westphalia
Freudenberg, Westphalia
Freudenberg is a town in the Siegen-Wittgenstein district, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.The town lies on the German-Dutch holiday road called the Orange Route, joining towns, cities and regions associated with the House of Orange.- Location :...

. He studied history and sociology in Cologne, Bonn and, on a Fulbright scholarship, at Ohio University
Ohio University
Ohio University is a public university located in the Midwestern United States in Athens, Ohio, situated on an campus...

 in the United States; he worked for six months as a welder and a truck driver in Los Angeles. He took his PhD in 1960 under Theodor Schieder
Theodor Schieder
Theodor Schieder was one of the most influential German historians of the 20th century.Schieder was born in Oettingen and lived in Königsberg in East Prussia since 1934. In the interwar period Schieder became a part of a group of German conservative historians antagonistic towards the Weimar...

 at the University of Cologne
University of Cologne
The University of Cologne is one of the oldest universities in Europe and, with over 44,000 students, one of the largest universities in Germany. The university is part of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, an association of Germany's leading research universities...

. His dissertation examined social democracy and the nation state and the question of nationality in Germany between 1840 and 1914. His postdoctoral thesis on Bismarck and imperialism, opened the way for an academic career. His habilitation project on "American imperialism between 1865 and 1900", supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, permitted him to do research in American libraries in 1962-3 and led to two books. In all he spent six years in the U.S. and was strongly influenced by its academic structures and by research in comparative modernization.

Wehler taught at the University of Cologne
University of Cologne
The University of Cologne is one of the oldest universities in Europe and, with over 44,000 students, one of the largest universities in Germany. The university is part of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, an association of Germany's leading research universities...

 (1968–70), at the Free University of Berlin
Free University of Berlin
Freie Universität Berlin is one of the leading and most prestigious research universities in Germany and continental Europe. It distinguishes itself through its modern and international character. It is the largest of the four universities in Berlin. Research at the university is focused on the...

 (1970–71) and at Bielefeld University
Bielefeld University
Bielefeld University is a university in Bielefeld, Germany. Founded in 1969, it is one of the country's newer universities, and considers itself a "reform" university, following a different style of organization and teaching than the established universities...

 (1971–96).

Wehler and his colleagues Jürgen Kocka
Jürgen Kocka
Jürgen Kocka is a German historian.A university professor and former president of the Social Science Research Center Berlin , Kocka is a major figure in the new Social History, especially as represented by the Bielefeld School...

 and Reinhart Koselleck founded the Bielefeld School of historical analysis. Instead of emphasizing the political aspects of history, as in the conventional approach, its proponents concentrate on socio-cultural developments. History as "historical social science" (as Wehler described it) has mainly been explored in the context of studies of German society in the 19th and 20th centuries. He served as editor of the new journal Geschichte und Gesellschaft: Zeitschrift fur Historische Sozialwissenschaft from 1975.

He married Renate Pfitsch in 1958, by whom he has two children.

Wehler won the 2003 NRW State Prize; the premier of North Rhineland Westphalia Peer Steinbrück praised Wehler:
"Hans-Ulrich Wehler clearly and persuasively demonstrated over 30 years ago that modern historiography has a socio-political mission. He regards it as "critical social science" which aims "above all … to make a conscious contribution to honing a freer and more critical awareness of society". He has always lived up to this aim, with trenchant insights and courageous political judgment.

Bielefeld School


Wehler is a leader of the so-called Bielefeld School
Bielefeld School
The Bielefeld School is a group of German historians based originally at Bielefeld University who promote social history and political history using quantification and the methods of political science and sociology. The leaders include Hans-Ulrich Wehler‎, Jürgen Kocka and Reinhart Koselleck...

, a group of historians who use the methods of the social sciences
Social sciences
Social science is the field of study concerned with society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences usually exclusive of the administrative or managerial sciences...

 to analyze history.

Social history developed within West German historiography during the 1950s-60s as the successor to the national history discredited by National Socialism. The German brand of "history of society" - Gesellschaftsgeschichte - has been known from its beginning in the 1960s for its application of sociological and political modernization theories to German history. Modernization theory was presented by Wehler and the Bielefeld School as the way to transform "traditional" German history, that is, national political history, centered on a few "great men," into an integrated and comparative history of German society encompassing societal structures outside politics. Wehler drew upon the modernization theory of Max Weber, with concepts also from Karl Marx, Otto Hintze, Gustav Schmoller, Werner Sombart and Thorstein Veblen.

Wehler's Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, (1987- ) is a comprehensive 5-volume history of German society in the 18th-20th centuries. Each volume approaches historical processes from a social history perspective, organized under the themes of demographics, economics, and social equality. His detailed structural analysis of developmental processes supported by a vast body of notes and statistics sometimes obscures the larger context. Nonetheless, patterns of continuity and change in the social fabric are emphasized. More than a historiographical synthesis of Ranke and Marx (envisioned by some German historians after the catastrophe of World War I), Wehler's work incorporates Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

's concepts of authority, economy, and culture and strives toward a concept of "total history."

Volumes 1-2 cover the period from feudalism through the Revolution of 1848. Volume 3 Von der "Deutschen Doppelrevolution" bis zum Beginn des Ersten Weltkrieges 1849-1914 (1995) employs Wehler's longtime emphasis on a German Sonderweg or "special path" as the root of Nazism and the German catastrophe in the 20th century. Wehler places the origins of Germany's path to disaster in the 1860s-1870s, when economic modernization took place, but political modernization did not happen and the old Prussian rural elite remained in firm control of the army, diplomacy and the civil service. Traditional, aristocratic, premodern society battled an emerging capitalist, bourgeois, modernizing society. Recognizing the importance of modernizing forces in industry and the economy and in the cultural realm, Wehler argues that reactionary traditionalism dominated the political hierarchy of power in Germany, as well as social mentalities and in class relations (Klassenhabitus). Wehler's Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte: Vom Beginn des Ersten Weltkrieges bis zur Gründung der Beiden Deutschen Staaten 1914-1949 (2003) is the fourth volume of his monumental history of German society. The catastrophic German politics between 1914 and 1945 are interpreted in terms of a delayed modernization of its political structures. At the core of Wehler's fourth volume is his treatment of "the middle class" and "revolution," each of which was instrumental in shaping the 20th century. Wehler's examination of Nazi rule is shaped by his concept of "charismatic domination," which focuses heavily on Adolf Hitler. The fifth volume will extend to 1990; none of the series has yet been translated into English.

From the 1980s, however, the Bielefeld school was increasingly challenged by proponents of the "cultural turn" for not incorporating culture in the history of society, for reducing politics to society, and for reducing individuals to structures. Historians of society inverted the traditional positions they criticized (on the model of Marx's inversion of Hegel). As a result, the problems pertaining to the positions criticized were not resolved but only turned on their heads. The traditional focus on individuals was inverted into a modern focus on structures, the traditional focus on culture was inverted into a modern focus on structures, and traditional emphatic understanding was inverted into modern causal explanation.

Champion of the Sonderweg theory


Wehler's speciality is the Second Reich. He was one of the more famous proponents of the Sonderweg
Sonderweg
Sonderweg is a controversial theory in German historiography that considers the German-speaking lands, or the country Germany, to have followed a unique course from aristocracy into democracy, distinct from other European countries...

 (Special Path) thesis that argues Germany in the 19th century had only a partial modernization
Modernization
In the social sciences, modernization or modernisation refers to a model of an evolutionary transition from a 'pre-modern' or 'traditional' to a 'modern' society. The teleology of modernization is described in social evolutionism theories, existing as a template that has been generally followed by...

. Wehler has argued that Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 was the only nation to be created in Western Europe through a military "revolution from above", which happened to occur at the same time that the agricultural revolution was fading while the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 was beginning in Central Europe
Central Europe
Central Europe or alternatively Middle Europe is a region of the European continent lying between the variously defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe...

. As a result, the economic sphere was modernized and the social sphere partially modernized. Politically, in Wehler's opinion the unified Germany retained values that were aristocratic and feudal, anti-democratic and pre-modern. In Wehler's view, it was the efforts of the reactionary German élite to retain power that led to the outbreak of the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 in 1914, the failure of the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

 and the coming of the Third Reich
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

. Wehler has asserted that the effects of the traditional power elite to maintain power up to 1945 "and in many respects even beyond that" took the form of:
"a penchant for authoritarian politics; a hostility toward democracy in the educational and party system; the influence of preindustrial leadership groups, values and ideas; the tenacity of the German state ideology; the myth of the bureaucracy; the superimposition of caste tendencies and class distinctions; and the manipulation of political antisemitism".
Wehler has in particular been critical of what calls Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...

's strategy of “negative integration” in which Bismarck sought to create a sense of Deutschtum (Germanism) and consolidate his power by subjecting various minority groups such as Roman Catholics, Alsatians, Poles, and Social Democrats to discriminatory laws. Wehler is one of the foremost advocates of the “Berlin War Party” historical school, which assigns the sole and exclusive responsibility for World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 to the German government.

Wehler has argued that the aggressive foreign policies of the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

, especially under Kaiser Wilhelm II, were largely part of an effort on the part of the government to distract the German people from the lack of democracy
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 in their country. This ("primacy of domestic politics") argument to explain foreign policy, for which Wehler owes much to the work of Eckart Kehr
Eckart Kehr
Eckart Kehr was one of the first historians to emphasize the importance of social structure and economic interests in influencing political decisions...

, puts him against the traditional ("primacy of foreign politics") thesis championed by historians such as Gerhard Ritter
Gerhard Ritter
Gerhard Georg Bernhard Ritter was a conservative German historian.-Before the Third Reich:...

, Klaus Hildebrand
Klaus Hildebrand
Klaus Hildebrand is a German conservative historian whose area of expertise is 19th-20th century German political and military history.- Biography :...

, Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Fritz Hillgruber was a conservative German historian. Hillgruber was influential as a military and diplomatic historian.At his death in 1989, the American historian Francis L...

, and Ludwig Dehio. Wehler is an advocate of the concept of social imperialism
Social-imperialism
Social-imperialism is a Marxist expression, typically used in a derogatory fashion, to describe people, parties, or nations that are "socialist in words, imperialist in deeds"...

, which he has defined as "the diversions outwards of internal tensions and forces of change in order to preserve the social and political status quo", and as a "defensive ideology" to counter the "disruptive effects of industrialization on the social and economic structure of Germany" In Wehler's opinion, social imperialism was a device that allowed the German government to distract public attention from domestic problems and preserve the existing social and political order Wehler argued the dominant elites used social imperialism as the glue to hold together a fractured society and to maintain popular support for the social status quo Wehler argued German colonial policy in the 1880s was the first example of social imperialism in action, and was followed up by the "Tirpitz plan" for expanding the German Navy starting in 1897 In this point of view, groups such as the Colonial Society and the Navy League
Navy League (Germany)
The Navy League or Fleet Association in Imperial Germany was an interest group formed on April 30 1898 on initiative of Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz through the German Imperial Naval Office which he headed to support the expansion of the Imperial Navy ...

 are seen as instruments for the government to mobilize public support The demands for annexing most of Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 are seen by Wehler as the pinnacle of social imperialism

In the 1970s, Wehler was involved in a somewhat discordant and acrimonious debate with Hildebrand and Hillgruber over the merits of the two approaches to diplomatic history
Diplomatic history
Diplomatic history deals with the history of international relations between states. Diplomatic history can be different from international relations in that the former can concern itself with the foreign policy of one state while the latter deals with relations between two or more states...

. Hillgruber and Hildebrand argued for the traditional Primat der Aussenpolitik approach with empirical research on the foreign-policy making elite while Wehler argued for the Primat der Innenpolitik approach by treating diplomatic history as a sub-branch of social history
Social history
Social history, often called the new social history, is a branch of History that includes history of ordinary people and their strategies of coping with life. In its "golden age" it was a major growth field in the 1960s and 1970s among scholars, and still is well represented in history departments...

 with the focus on theoretical research. The two major intellectual influences Wehler cites are Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 and Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...


Philosophy of History


Wehler has often criticized traditional German historiography
Historiography
Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

 with its emphasis on political events, the role of the individual in history and history as an art as unacceptably conservative and incapable of properly explaining the past. In a 1980 article, Wehler mocked those who sought to explain Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 as due to some defect in Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

's personality by commenting:
"Does our understanding of National Socialist policies really depend on whether Hitler had only one testicle?...Perhaps the Führer had three, which made things difficult for him - who knows?...Even if Hitler could be regarded irrefutably as a sado-masochist, which scientific interest does that further?...Does the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" thus become more easily understandable or the "twisted road to Auschwitz" become the one-way street of a psychopath in power?".
Wehler sees history as a social science and contends that social developments are frequently more important than politics. In his view, history is a "critical social science" that must examine both the "temporal structures" of a society and encourage a "freer critical awareness of society". Wehler has advocated an approach he calls Historische Sozialwissenschaft (Historical Social Science), which favors integrating elements of history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

, economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 and anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 to study in a holistic fashion long-term social changes in a society In Wehler's view, Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 between 1871–1945 was dominated by a social structure which retarded modernization in some areas while allowing it in others. For Wehler, Germany's defeat in 1945 finally smashed the "pre-modern" social structure and let Germany become a normal 'Western' country.

The Historikerstreit and other controversies


Wehler is a leading critic of what he sees as efforts on the part of conservative historians to whitewash the German past. He played an important part in the Historikerstreit
Historikerstreit
The Historikerstreit was an intellectual and political controversy in late 20th-century West Germany about the historical interpretation of the Holocaust. The German word Streit translates variously as "quarrel", "dispute", or "conflict"...

 (historians' dispute) of the 1980s. The debate began after the publishing of an article by the philosopher Ernst Nolte
Ernst Nolte
Ernst Nolte is a German historian and philosopher. Nolte’s major interest is the comparative studies of Fascism and Communism. He is Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the Free University of Berlin, where he taught from 1973 to 1991. He was previously a Professor at the University of Marburg...

 in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , short F.A.Z., also known as the FAZ, is a national German newspaper, founded in 1949. It is published daily in Frankfurt am Main. The Sunday edition is the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung .F.A.Z...

 on June 6 of 1986. In his article, Nolte claims that there was a connection by cause between the Gulag
Gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

 and the Nazi extermination camps, the previous supposedly having effected the latter, which he called an überschießende Reaktion ("overshooting reaction"). This infuriated many (and mainly left wing) intellectuals, among them Wehler and the philosopher Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'...

. They strongly rejected Nolte's thesis and presented a case for seeing the crimes of Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 as uniquely evil (something which in the view of Nolte's defenders, Nolte never disputed in the first place). Wehler was ferocious in his criticism of Nolte and wrote several articles and books that by Wehler’s own admission were polemical attacks on Nolte. In his 1988 book about the Historikerstreit entitled Entsorgung der deutschen Vergangenheit?: ein polemischer Essay zum "Historikerstreit" (Exoneration of the German Past?: A Polemical Essay about the 'Historikerstreit), in which Wehler criticized every aspect of Nolte's views, and in which Wehler called the Historikerstreit a "political struggle" for the historical understanding of the German past between "a cartel devoted to repressing and excusing" the memory of the Nazi years, of which Nolte was the chief member, against "the representatives of a liberal-democratic politics, of an enlightened, self-critical position, of a rationality which is critical of ideology". Besides for Nolte, Wehler also attacked the work of Michael Stürmer
Michael Stürmer
Michael Stürmer is a right-wing German historian best known for his role in the Historikerstreit of the 1980s, for his geographical interpretation of German history and for an admiring 2008 biography of the Russian leader Vladimir Putin .Born in Kassel, Germany, Stürmer received his education in...

 as “a strident declaration of war against a key element of the consensus upon which the socio-political life of this second republic has rested heretofore" During the Historikerstreit, Wehler was one of the few historians who endorsed Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'...

 method of attacking Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Fritz Hillgruber was a conservative German historian. Hillgruber was influential as a military and diplomatic historian.At his death in 1989, the American historian Francis L...

 by creating a sentence about “tested senior officials in Nazi Party in the East” out of a long sentence in which Hillgruber had said no such thing under the grounds that it was a secondary issue of no real importance. The British historian Richard J. Evans
Richard J. Evans
Richard John Evans is a British academic and historian, prominently known for his history of Germany.-Life:Evans was born in London, of Welsh parentage, and is now Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and President of Wolfson College...

, who was normally a fierce critic of Hillgruber felt that Habermas and Wehler went too far in attacking Hillgruber with the line about "tested senior officials".

In another essay during the Historikerstreit, Wehler wrote of Nolte and Hillgruber's that:
"Hitler supposedly believed in the reality of this danger [of Communism threatening Germany]. Moreover, his dread of being overwhelmed by the "Asiatic" Bolsheviks was allegedly the prime motivating force behind his policies and personality. Nolte restated his axiom-one which perhaps reflects the naiveté of an historian who has devoted his life's work to the power of ideologies-in a blunter, more pointed form than ever before in the fall of 1987: "To view Hitler as a German politician rather the anti-Lenin", he reproved hundreds of knowledgeable historians, "strikes me as a proof of a regrettable myopia and narrowness". Starting from his premise, and falling under the sway of the very fears and phobias he himself has played up, Nolte once again defiantly insisted: "If Hitler was a person fundamentally driven by fears-by among others a fear of the "rat cage"-and if this renders "his motivations more understandable", then the war against the Soviet Union was not only "the greatest war ever of destruction and enslavement", but also "in spite of this, objectively speaking [!], a preemptive war.

While Nolte may like to describe his motive as the purely scientific interest of (as he likes to put it) a solitary thinker in search of a supposedly more complex, more accurate understanding of the years between 1917 and 1945, a number of political implications are clearly present. The basic tendency of Nolte's reinterpretation is to unburden German history by relativizing the Holocaust. Nolte claims the Nazi mass murder was modeled on and instigated by the excesses of the Russian Revolution, the Stalinist regime and the Gulag; that it countered this "Asiatic" danger by imitating and surpassing it. This new localization of "absolute evil" in Nolte's political theology leads away from Hitler, National Socialism and German history. It shifts the real origins of fascist barbarism onto the Marxist postulate-and the Bolshevik practice-of extermination. Once again the classic mechanism of locating the source of evil outside one's own history is at work. The German war of destruction certainly remains inhuman. But because its roots supposedly lie in the Marxist theory and Bolshevik class warfare, the German perpetrator is now seen to be reacting in defensive, understandable panic to the "original" inhumanity of the East. From there, it is only one more step to the astounding conclusion that Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the war of conquest and extermination that followed were "objectively speaking"-one can hardly believe one's eyes-"a preemptive war...

An even closer connection between academic and political interests is apparent in Andreas Hillgruber's Zweierlei Untergang, where the plight of the German Army on the Eastern Front and the civilian population of eastern Germany is treated without any countervailing consideration for the fate of the Jewish and Slavic "subhumans", the members of the German opposition, and incarcerated groups, or indeed for the Europeans subject to German occupation, and the German people themselves, all caught up in a senselessly prolonged "total war". Such a position unavoidably carries immensely oppressive political implications. His laments over the destruction of the "European center", Germany's intermediary position between East and West, and her loss of great power status is shot through with countless political value judgments. His guiding position (later admitted openly), according to which the loss of the eastern provinces and the expulsion of the German population westward represented "probably the most burdensome consequence of the war", is in itself a matter for political discussion.

Such political implications can only lead us down the wrong path-not to mention a scientific dead-end. In all likelihood it was Hillgruber's aversion to methodological and theoretical reflection that was largely responsible for this wrong turn. Be that as it may, the political effect of Zweierlei Untergang has been downright fatal. It has led to the return of an unreflecting nationalism, in which sympathetic identification with the German Army on the Eastern Front and with the German civilian population has become dogma. Such a worldview has led an otherwise extremely knowledgeable historian to extrude and exclude the victims of National Socialism from his narrative, an omission that would once have been unimaginable but that we now see in black and white. The consequences of a naive attempt to identify with the subjects of historical writing could hardly be demonstrated more drastically"


In Entsorgung der deutschen Vergangenheit?, Wehler writing not only of the work of Nolte, but also of the work and intentionist theories about the Holocaust of Klaus Hildebrand
Klaus Hildebrand
Klaus Hildebrand is a German conservative historian whose area of expertise is 19th-20th century German political and military history.- Biography :...

, Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Fritz Hillgruber was a conservative German historian. Hillgruber was influential as a military and diplomatic historian.At his death in 1989, the American historian Francis L...

, Joachim Fest
Joachim Fest
Joachim Clemens Fest was a German historian, journalist, critic and editor, best known for his writings and public commentary on Nazi Germany, including an important biography of Adolf Hitler and books about Albert Speer and the German Resistance...

 and Michael Stürmer
Michael Stürmer
Michael Stürmer is a right-wing German historian best known for his role in the Historikerstreit of the 1980s, for his geographical interpretation of German history and for an admiring 2008 biography of the Russian leader Vladimir Putin .Born in Kassel, Germany, Stürmer received his education in...

, declared:
"This survey is directed-among other matters-against the apologetic effect of the tendency of interpretations that once more blame Hitler alone for the 'Holocaust'-thereby exonerating the older power elites and the Army, the executive bureaucracy, and the judiciary ...and the silent majority who knew".
The American historian John Lukacs
John Lukacs
John Adalbert Lukacs is a Hungarian-born American historian who has written more than thirty books, including Five Days in London, May 1940 and A New Republic...

 writing of Entsorgung der deutschen Vergangenheit? in his 1997 book The Hitler of History noted that he was impressed by many of Wehler's points, but felt that he made them with an unnecessarily aggressive and polemical style.

Speaking of the political importance of the Historikerstreit, Wehler described the debate as "The Historikerstreit is, in sum, more than a strictly scholarly controversy within scholarly limits". In a 1989 essay, the American historian Jerry Muller criticized Wehler as a "leading Left-Liberal historian" who used the Historikerstreit to unjustly smear neo-conservatives with the Nazi tag Muller went on to write of the "interesting peculiarity of the political culture of German Left-liberal intellectuals" such as Wehler, in that Wehler referred to repression in the Stalin-era Soviet Union as "the excesses of the Russian Civil War", and argued that there was no comparison between Soviet and German history. Instead Wehler suggested that the only valid comparisons were between German history and those of other Western nations. Muller criticized Wehler for his lack of interest in Soviet history, and unwillingness to engage in a comparative history between Eastern and Western nations, instead of just Western nations.

Along somewhat similar lines to the stance he took during the Historikerstreit, in September 1990 Wehler strongly condemned a newspaper opinion piece by Harold James
Harold James (historian)
Harold James is a renowned historian, specializing in the history of Germany and European economic history. James is a prolific author, having published dozens of books and articles in his field...

 which suggested national legends and myths were needed to sustain national identity.

Criticism


Wehler's work has faced criticism. From the right, Otto Pflanze claimed that Wehler's use of such terms as "Bonapartism", "social imperialism" "negative integration" and Sammlungspolitik ("the politics of rallying together") has gone beyond mere heuristic devices and instead become a form of historical fiction. The German conservative historian Thomas Nipperdey
Thomas Nipperdey
Thomas Nipperdey was a German historian best known for his monumental and exhaustive studies of Germany from 1800 to 1918. As a close albeit critical follower of Leopold von Ranke's famous ideal of writing "history exactly as it happened," Nipperdey sought comprehensive coverage of every major...

 has argued that Wehler presented German elites as more united than they were, focused too much on forces from above and not enough on forces from below in 19th century German society, and presented a too stark contrast between the forces of order and stabilization vs. the forces of democracy with no explanation for the relative stability of the Empire. In Nipperdey's opinion, Wehler's work fails to explain how the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

 occurred since according to Wehler prior to 1918 the forces of authoritarianism were so strong and the forces of democracy so weak. In a 1975 book review of Wehler's Das Deutsche Kaiserreich, Nipperdey concluded that a proper history of the Imperial period could only be written by placing German history in a comparative European and trans-Atlantic perspective, which might allow for "our fixation on the struggle with our great-grandfathers" to end.

From the left, Wehler has been criticized by two British Marxist historians, David Blackbourn
David Blackbourn
David Gordon Blackbourn is the Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University and director of the university's Minda de Gunzberg Center for European Studies. Blackbourn teaches and researches primarily in the fields of German and modern European history...

 and Geoff Eley
Geoff Eley
Geoff Eley is a British-born historian of Germany. He received his D.Phil from the University of Sussex in 1974, and has taught at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor since 1979...

 who in their 1980 book Mythen deutscher Geschichtsschreibung (translated into English in 1984 as The Peculiarities of German History) rejected the entire concept of the Sonderweg as a flawed construct supported by a "a curious mixture of idealistic analysis and vulgar materialism" that led to an "exaggerated linear continuity between the nineteenth century and the 1930s". In the view of Blackbourn and Eley, there was no Sonderweg, and it is ahistorical to judge why Germany did not become Britain for the simple reason that Germany is Germany and Britain is Britain. Moreover, Eley and Blackbourn argued that after 1890 there was a tendency towards greater democratization in German society with the growth of civil society as reflected in the growth of trade unions and a more or less free press.

In addition, Eley contends that there are three flaws to Wehler's theory of social imperialism. The first is that Wehler credits leaders such as Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz
Alfred von Tirpitz
Alfred von Tirpitz was a German Admiral, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, the powerful administrative branch of the German Imperial Navy from 1897 until 1916. Prussia never had a major navy, nor did the other German states before the German Empire was formed in 1871...

 and Prince Bernhard von Bülow
Bernhard von Bülow
Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin von Bülow , named in 1905 Prince von Bülow, was a German statesman who served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for three years and then as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1900 to 1909.Bülow was described as possessing every quality except greatness...

 with a greater degree of vision then what they in fact possessed The second is that many of the pressure groups on the right who advocated an imperialist policy for Germany were not the creations of the government, and in fact often demanded an far more aggressive policies then what the government was willing to undertake The third was that many of these imperialist lobbying groups demanded a policy of political and social reform at home, in addition to imperialism abroad Eley argued that what is required in thinking about social imperialism is a broader picture with an interaction from above and below, and a wider view of the relationship between imperialism abroad and domestic politics

Later career


During the "Goldhagen Controversy" of 1996, Wehler was a leading critic of Daniel Goldhagen
Daniel Goldhagen
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is an American author and former Associate Professor of Political Science and Social Studies at Harvard University. Goldhagen reached international attention and broad criticism as the author of two controversial books about the Holocaust, Hitler's Willing Executioners and...

, especially in regards to the latter's claims in his book Hitler's Willing Executioners
Hitler's Willing Executioners
Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust is a book by American writer Daniel Goldhagen that argues that the vast majority of ordinary Germans were as the title indicates "willing executioners" in the Holocaust because of a unique and virulent "eliminationist antisemitism"...

 about alleged culture of murderous German "eliminationist anti-Semitism", through Wehler was more sympathetic towards Goldhagen's claims about the motives of Holocaust perpetrators. The Canadian historian Fred Kautz called Wehler an anti-Semite for his attacks on Goldhagen Kautz wrote that "He [Wehler] doesn't dare say it openly that he thinks Goldhagen is incapable of writing about the Holocaust because he is a Jew...It's flabbergasting what perverse ideas are dreamt up in the studies of German professors, where according to an ancient legend, one seeks the truth unperturbed, "sine ira et studio" ("with diligence and without anger"): the victims of history should not be allowed to write their own history!"

In 2000, Wehler became the eighth German historian to be inducted as an honorary member of the American Historical Association
American Historical Association
The American Historical Association is the oldest and largest society of historians and professors of history in the United States. Founded in 1884, the association promotes historical studies, the teaching of history, and the preservation of and access to historical materials...

. Wehler accepted this honor with some reluctance as previous German historians so honored have included Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke was a German historian, considered one of the founders of modern source-based history. Ranke set the standards for much of later historical writing, introducing such ideas as reliance on primary sources , an emphasis on narrative history and especially international politics .-...

, Gerhard Ritter
Gerhard Ritter
Gerhard Georg Bernhard Ritter was a conservative German historian.-Before the Third Reich:...

 and Friedrich Meinecke
Friedrich Meinecke
Friedrich Meinecke was a liberal German historian, probably the most famous German historian of his generation. As a representative of an older tradition still writing after World War II, he was an important figure to the end of his life.-Life:Meinecke was born in Salzwedel in the Province of Saxony...

, none of whom Wehler considers to be proper historians.

In a 2006 interview, Wehler supported imprisonment of David Irving
David Irving
David John Cawdell Irving is an English writer,best known for his denial of the Holocaust, who specialises in the military and political history of World War II, with a focus on Nazi Germany...

 for Holocaust Denial
Holocaust denial
Holocaust denial is the act of denying the genocide of Jews in World War II, usually referred to as the Holocaust. The key claims of Holocaust denial are: the German Nazi government had no official policy or intention of exterminating Jews, Nazi authorities did not use extermination camps and gas...

 in Austria under the grounds that “The denial of such an unimaginable murder of millions, one third of whom were children under the age of 14, cannot simply be accepted as something protected by the freedom of speech”. In recent years, Wehler has been a leading critic of Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

's possible accession to the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

.

Work

  • Bismarck und der Imperialismus, 1969.
  • "Bismarck's Imperialism 1862–1890" Past and Present, No. 48, August 1970. pages 119–155 online edition
  • "Industrial Growth and Early German Imperialism" from Studies in the Theory of Imperialism edited by Roger Owen and Bob Sutcliffe, London: Longman, 1972
  • Das Deutsche Kaiserreich, 1871-1918, 1973; translated from the German by Kim Traynor as The German Empire, 1871-1918, Leamington Spa : Berg Publishers, 1985, ISBN 0907582222.
  • Geschichte als historische Sozialwissenschaft, 1973.
  • Krisenherde des Kaiserreichs, 1871-1918, 1973.
  • Modernisierungstheorie und Geschichte, 1975.
  • Historische Sozialwissenschaft und Geschichtsschreibung, 1980.
  • ""Deutscher Sonderweg" oder allgemeine Probleme des westlichen Kapitalismus" pages 478-487 from Merkur, Volume 5, 1981.
  • "Historiography in Germany Today" from Observations on "The Spiritual Situation of the Age": Contemporary German Perspectives, edited by Jürgen Habermas, 1984.
  • Preussen ist wieder chic: Politik und Polemik in zwanzig Essays, 1985.
  • Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, vol. 1-5, 1987-2008.
    • David F. Crew. "Review of Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte--Vierter Band: Vom Beginn des Ersten Weltkriegs bis zur Gruendung der beiden deutschen Staaten 1914-1949," H-German, H-Net Reviews, June, 2005. online
  • Entsorgung der deutschen Vergangenheit: ein polemischer Essay zum "Historikerstreit", 1988.
  • "Unburdening the German Past? A Preliminary Assessment" pages 214-223 from Reworking The Past : Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Historians' Debate edited by Peter Baldwin, Boston : Beacon Press, 1990, ISBN 0807043028.
  • Nationalismus und Nationalstaat: Studien zum nationalen Problem im modernen Europa, co-edited with Otto Dann and Theodor Schieder, 1991.
  • Die Gegenwart als Geschichte, 1995.
  • "The Goldhagen Controversy: Agonising Problems, Scholarly Failure, and the Political Dimension" pages 80–91 from German History, Volume 15, 1997.

External links