Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
2021-077
20 Sept. 2021
Review by Thomas E. Hanson, US Army School of Advanced Military Studies
Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany
By Noah Ben Ezra Strote
New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 357. ISBN 978–0–300–21905–0.
Descriptors: Volume 2021, 20th Century, Weimar Germay, Postwar Germany Print Version

When I was a undergraduate in the 1980s, scholarly explanations of German political developments from 1871 to 1945 rested largely on the arguments of the "Bielefeld (University) School." Hans-Ulrich Wehler and others argued that the idea of a uniquely German evolutionary path (Sonderweg)—that is, the 1871 consolidation of a unified polity dominated by Prussia—reinforced older cultural and social traits that virtually guaranteed a National Socialist dictatorship.[1] This argument stressed the critical importance of Allied and especially American influence on postwar West German political development.[2] Except for special studies,[3] English-language historiography has not given much attention to the issue of the personal agency of individual Germans in developing an organic German democracy. Even deeply empathetic works published in this century,[4] have hewed to the Bielefeld School's core premise of an innate flaw in Germany's political DNA.


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Given the above, historian Noah Ben Ezra Strote's Lions and Lambs offers a welcome revisionist examination of Germany's evolution from the failed Weimar state to the robust republican democracy of Germany since the mid-1960s. Strote (North Carolina State Univ.) proceeds topically through specific conflicts in German political life, from the perspective of several protagonists active before, during, and after the Hitler dictatorship. These include West German chancellors Konrad Adenauer, Ludwig Erhard, and Willi Brandt, along with less well remembered but equally important figures like Ernst Fraenkel, Gerhard Leibholz, Helmuth Plessner, and Theodor Adorno. Strote tracks the intellectual continuities of German history that persisted through the deviations of the Nazi era or re-emerged in the postwar era with a new orientation on conflict avoidance.

Lions and Lambs comprises two five-chapter parts. Part I, "Conflict," lays out discrete areas of political disagreement between the various actors under the Weimar Constitution. In chap. 1, Strote discusses the bitter fights over the question of Germany's adoption of the principle of judicial review. In the mid-1920s, only the United States among Western democracies recognized judicial supremacy; European democracies viewed it as "inherently undemocratic" (26). This little-remembered controversy had an outsize effect on future events. Specifically, "it required a decision between two competing claims of legal sovereignty and equality," espoused by the two largest groups that had most vigorously supported establishment of a republic in 1919: the business-owing middle class and the workers they employed. "Its lack of resolution helped undermine the already precarious popular support for a liberal democracy" (27).

In chap. 2, Strote exposes the deep sectarian divides that characterized German society well into the twentieth century. The Catholic vs. Protestant divide over social value systems underlay (Protestant) Pres. Paul von Hindenburg's choice of Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Catholic "Center" party, as chancellor in 1930. Brüning portrayed himself as a Christian statesman who saw beyond the narrow confines of confessional dogma. Appointing younger economists like Wilhelm Röpke as his advisors, Brüning oversaw a shift of official policy from welfare spending to free trade and capital formation. Against this, Jesuit scholars promoted a philosophy of economic morality that forbade free markets and stressed autarky. Already popular among Protestants as a result of increased interest in Catholic theology in Europe after 1918, economic ideas about the superiority of "orders" or "estates" over class reappeared in Nazi rhetoric and won widespread support among Catholics and Protestants (63).

Chapter 3 concerns the battle over national education policy waged in summer 1932. Franz von Papen, who replaced Brüning in May of that year, immediately initiated plans to increase the power of the central government to set school curricula. His goal, as described by Wilhelm von Gayl, was to "weed out all un-German influences in artistic and intellectual realms." Strote ably illustrates the interdependence of chapter themes and their relevance to larger disagreements about whether Germany was a European nation or something unique. Education advisor Friedrich von der Leyen wrote that those responsible for education policy and curriculum must decide if they were internationalists or nationalists, teaching "national exceptionalism" or "self-criticism and global citizenship." Strote comments:

national education and foreign policy [became] linked because German educators did not agree on the question of whether the League of Nations, and the ideal of international law it represented, should be taught to German youth as an unequivocal good. (70–72)

Chapter 4 addresses the battles over culture and the character of the German state that bedeviled Weimar Germany in its last months. Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher, a former army general who ousted von Papen in November 1932, based his legitimacy on his status as a "soldier" for the German state and its people. He assured Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities who demonstrated loyalty to the German state that they need not fear it. Ironically, those who most feared Schleicher's new non-sectarian approach were the leaders of the nation's churches and religious school networks. Dependent on the state's tax revenues for their very survival, Protestant and Catholic leaders worried about losing their influence, while average Germans of both faiths wanted religion to play a role in the education of their children. This motivated them to reject an inclusive and nonsectarian philosophy. In opposing Schleicher's non-denominational philosophy, religious Germans and their theological leaders gave critical electoral support to political parties with outspokenly anti-foreign and anti-Semitic platforms.

In chap. 5, "Two Competing Ideals for a Third Reich," the author deftly combines the themes of his previous chapters to expose the conflicts churning beneath the Nazis' seemingly placid communitarian ideology. One of the many strengths of this chapter is his characterization of much scholarship on the prewar Hitler dictatorship as "backshadowing," not explicitly adopting a deterministic interpretation, but still reducing the agency of both perpetrators and victims. Strote, by contrast, argues that Nazi policy in 1933–37 stemmed from opportunism and reaction to events or pressures as much as from deliberate planning. This reflected the full historical weight of the previous fifteen years of political dysfunction. For example, one day before the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act (23 Mar. 1933), Hitler implicitly condemned the old political parties for putting politics above national interest: "The splitting up of the nation into groups with irreconcilable worldviews means the destruction of the basis of a possible communal life" (143). Despite this, throughout its course, the regime was marked by significant tensions between advocates of ever-greater revolutionary change that would wipe away the old elites, and those who sought to preserve an explicitly Christian, conservative German state. As late as autumn 1937, despite having created the first national ministry of education, Hitler had taken no steps to consolidate primary education curricula or end the reliance on parochial education that he had declared to be an obstacle to national unity.

Part II of Lions and Lambs, "Partnership," follows the thematic framework of Part I. In chap. 6, "The Creation of Constitutional Consensus," Strote demonstrates that the issue at hand after 1945 was whether the previous twelve years had invalidated the concept of "politicized Christianity"; if so, what alternatives remained (162)? The division of Germany into occupation zones fostered competing visions of a postwar non-Nazi state. Ultimately, Strote contends, the argument put forth by the socialist Walther Menzel prevailed: "the 'common denominator' that linked [Christians and Socialists] genetically was the idea of 'natural law' and commitment to universal 'truth and justice'" (168).

In chap. 7, "Christian Economics?" Strote shows how the experience of dictatorship, war, and national humiliation enabled Protestant and Catholic economic planners to overcome their prejudices and forge a consensus rather than repeat their failure of 1930. Rökpke reappears as the champion of a free-market liberalism couched in the prewar language of the Catholic moralists. This "middle way" drew sharp criticism from Röpke's contemporary, Friedrich Hayek (181–82), but his phrasing gained sufficient Catholic support to allow Minister of Economics Ludwig Erhard to promulgate the reforms that led to the "Economic Miracle."

The postwar debates about education highlighted in chap. 8 reflected the recent past and drew attention both inside and outside Germany. By the mid-1950s, "Germans from across the Federal Republic's political spectrum [had contributed to] the creation of educational institutions designed to shape a generation of young people capable of overcoming centuries of conflict in a common 'European' identity" (198). Strote uses Helmuth Plessner and Arnold Bergsträsser to demonstrate how two bitter opponents of each other's philosophy in the Weimar and early Nazi eras found common cause in promoting an educational philosophy of anti-radical, non-ideological humanism that explicitly rejected any partnership with the Communists (208–11). Nevertheless, this achievement was not an unadulterated good. From the very foundation of the Federal Republic, "West German laws made it clear that certain types of Christian values, which in many areas were Catholic values in particular, were still privileged" (241). As a result, many "non-conforming" minorities (e.g., Turkish guest workers, homosexuals) found the atmosphere less than welcoming.

The eighth and final chapter, "Living with Liberal Democracy," highlights intellectual inconsistencies and cognitive dissonances that remade German politics and society in the latter part of the 1960s. By 1965, "the economic growth rate, so robust for the past decade … was beginning to flatten out" (264). And, too, there was a growing disenchantment among German youth with Chancellor Adenauer's conservative policies and open subservience to the United States. Strote uses the example of the returned émigrés Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno to show how opposites both collaborated and sought primacy. Both men had spent the Nazi years in exile, working at the Institute for Social Research in the United States before bringing that body to Frankfurt after the war. Horkheimer "used his platform as government advisor to critique the dominant post-Nazi ideology of Christian humanism from within itself," while his close colleague Adorno eventually championed the leftist causes of the German Socialist Student League. His uncompromising criticism of West German culture led him to argue that by "submitting to a powerful foreign authority [the United States] to protect them against Communism, they were retroactively justifying their old support for Hitler" (261). Here, Strote comes full circle, showing that the "nationalist" vs. "internationalist" argument from Weimar days remained unsolved well after the war.

Lions and Lambs is not for casual readers or anyone with only a basic grasp of German history in the twentieth century. But it is indispensable for scholars, diplomats, policy-makers, and those seeking to better understand not only what happened but what groups and values influenced German decision-makers from 1919 to 1965. It also has applicability to senior-level professional military education. It provides an antidote to stereotypes regarding both the nature of the destruction of republican government and the development and flourishing of democracy after the cataclysm of 1945. Strote's writing is crisp, engaging, informative and free of academese.

[1] Cf. Hans-Ulrich Wehler, "'Deutscher Sonderweg' oder allgemeine Probleme des westlichen Kapitalismus," Merkur 5 (1981) 478–87; David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley, The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany (NY: Oxford U Pr, 1984).

[2] See, e.g., John Ardagh, Germany and the Germans: An Anatomy of a Society Today (NY: Harper and Row, 1987) 9–10.

[3] Donald Abenheim, Reforging the Iron Cross: The Search for Tradition in the West German Armed Forces (Princeton: Univ. Press, 1984).

[4] E.g., Konrad Jarausch, After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans 1945–1955 (NY: Oxford U Pr, 2008).

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