The Peculiarities of German History

In the fortieth anniversary of the defeat of Hitler, the problem of why the land of Goethe and Beethoven should have unleashed such destruction and degeneration is once again on the agenda. As Ralf Dahrendorf once phrased it, why was Germany not England? An answer of seductive simplicity had been proffered after the Second World War by A.J.P. Taylor, who wrote that Germany had reached the turning point of 1848 and failed to turn. Even earlier, in 1915, Thorstein Veblen had remarked on the tensions emanating from a country which had undergone capitalist modernisation but was still ruled by a feudal political structure. It was not only Marxists who came to see the key to subsequent developments in Germany's apparent lack of a bourgeois revolution such as that assumed to have occurred in Britain and France. Yet the idea that there was a long-term structural explanation for Nazism did not prosper among the German conservatives who dominated the universities of the Federal Republic after 1945.

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