Wilhelminism and Its Legacies: German Modernities, Imperialism, and the Meanings of Reform, 1890-1930: Essays for Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann, edited by Geoff Eley and James Retallack. New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2003. ix, 269 pp. $75.00 US (cloth).
Of the many passionate debates that rent the historiography of modern Germany in the 1980s, only that about the nature of Germany's path to modernization retains any relevance. The so-called Historikerstreit over the provenance of Hitler's genocide, the debate over "functionalism" and "intentionalism" in Holocaust studies, and other ephemeral historical tempests have subsided to reveal themselves as historiographical dead ends. The challenge to the conventional historiography of Wilhelmine Germany that was launched by Geoff Eley and David Blackbourn in 1984 with The Peculiarities of German History, on the other hand, continues to bear substantial historical fruit, of which the present volume is a mostly very fine example.
The prevailing paradigm confronted by Eley and Blackbourn--largely successfully, most would now concede--was the so-called Sonderweg thesis, capsulized by this volume's editors as "German exceptionalism," which saw Nazism as proof of the failed modernization or backwardness that shaped Germany's allegedly unique political development (p. 2). As the plural form of "modernity" in the subtitle suggests, the dissenters from the old orthodoxy insist instead on attention to paradox and nuance. The cultural, social, and political structures of the Kaiserreich, they argue, must be taken on their own terms as legitimate expressions of the multiple, complex, and often countervailing tendencies which characterized modernity throughout the West. Any detailed consideration of the merits and defects of their argument stands beyond the scope of a review. This collection, however, stands as a powerful contribution to their demand for the historicization of Wilhelmine Germany.
The fourteen essays gathered here embrace a range of issues which perhaps transcend the limits...