logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: German-history
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-11-14 15:44
What is fascism?
The Anatomy of Fascism - Robert O. Paxton

Over the past few years, the word "fascist" has been deployed increasingly to describe modern-day political movements in the United States, Hungary, Greece, and Italy, to name a few places. The word brings with it some of the most odious associations from the 20th century, namely Nazi Germany and the most devastating war in human history. Yet to what degree is the label appropriate and to what extent is it more melodramatic epithet than an appropriate description?

 

It was in part to answer that question that I picked up a copy of Robert O. Paxton's book. As a longtime historian of 20th century France and author of a seminal work on the Vichy regime, he brings a perspective to the question that is not predominantly Italian or German. This shows in the narrative, as his work uses fascist movements in nearly every European country to draw out commonalities that explain the fascist phenomenon. As he demonstrates, fascism can be traced as far back as the 1880s, with elements of it proposed by authors and politicians across Europe in order to mobilize the growing population of voters (thanks to new measures of enfranchisement) to causes other than communism. Until then, it was assumed by nearly everyone that such voters would be automatic supporters for socialist movements. Fascism proposed a different appeal, one based around nationalist elements which socialism ostensibly rejected.

 

Despite this, fascism remained undeveloped until it emerged in Italy in the aftermath of the First World War. This gave Benito Mussolini and his comrades a flexibility in crafting an appeal that won over the established elites in Italian politics and society. From this emerged a pattern that Paxton identifies in the emergence of fascism in both Italy and later in Germany, which was their acceptance by existing leaders as a precondition for power. Contrary to the myth of Mussolini's "March on Rome," nowhere did fascism take over by seizing power; instead they were offered it by conservative politicians as a solution to political turmoil and the threatened emergence of a radical left-wing alternative. It was the absence of an alternative on the right which led to the acceptance of fascism; where such alternatives (of a more traditional right-authoritarian variety) existed, fascism remained on the fringes. The nature of their ascent into power also defined the regimes that emerged, which were characterized by tension between fascists and more traditional conservatives, and often proved to be far less revolutionary in practice than their rhetoric promised.

 

Paxton's analysis is buttressed by a sure command of his subject. He ranges widely over the era, comparing and contrasting national groups in a way that allows him to come up an overarching analysis of it as a movement. All of this leads him to this final definition:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. (p. 218)

While elements of this are certainly present today, they are hardly unique to fascism and exist in various forms across the political spectrum. Just as important, as Paxton demonstrates, is the context: one in which existing institutions are so distrusted or discredited that the broader population is willing to sit by and watch as they are compromised, bypassed, or dismantled in the name of achieving fascism's goals. Paxton's arguments here, made a decade before Donald Trump first embarked on his candidacy, are as true now as they were then. Reading them helped me to appreciate better the challenge of fascism, both in interwar Europe and in our world today. Everyone seeking to understand it would do well to start with this perceptive and well-argued book.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-10-25 16:08
The imperial German way of war
Imperial Germany and War, 1871-1918 - Richard L. DiNardo,Daniel J. Hughes

Though Daniel Hughes and Richard DiNardo call their book an "institutional history" of the imperial German army, a more precise description of it would be an examination of the imperial German way of war. In it they detail the evolution of the army's doctrine and strategic planning, from the post-Napoleonic ideas of Carl von Clausewitz and their application by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder to the subjection of their preparations to the test of war in 1914. As they explain, the experience of combat on the Western Front forced the army to abandon their emphasis on mobile warfare and the battle of annihilation in favor of a less costly employment of positional warfare while trying to defeat the Russians in the East. While the army attempted to switch back to mobile warfare in 1918, the units in the west (most now manned primarily by wartime inductees) had to relearn the prewar concepts, only now mobile warfare was reapplied without a clear strategic goal to pursue.

 

While this focus dominates Hughes and DiNardo's book, readers will find much besides this within its pages. Rooted in a vast range of sources in both German and English, its descriptions of the various branches of the German army, its analysis of the army's place within the German constitutional structure, and its assessment of its institutional deficiencies provides readers with an in-depth examination of a feared fighting force. Though missing any description of the combat experience of the soldiers themselves, this is nonetheless the most comprehensive single-volume study of the imperial German army available in English, one that is both a valuable starting point for the novice and a useful reference work for those more knowledgeable about the subject.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-09-22 15:12
Deservedly regarded as a classic
The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-1871 - Michael Eliot Howard

Michael Howard's history of the Franco-Prussian War has long been regarded as a classic of military history, and after reading it it's easy to see why. His book is a incisive recounting of the combatants and the operations they undertook over the course of the ten-month-long conflict. In the process he identifies the elements that defined the conflict, showing how just ill-prepared the French were for the war they faced, how poorly suited the French generals were for the type of war they were in, and how precarious Prussia's victory was after their ostensibly decisive victory in the battle of Sedan. While Geoffrey Wawro's history of the war serves as a better introduction to the subject thanks to its broader coverage of the context of events, nobody interested in understanding the course of the fighting can afford to skip Howard's perceptive and enduring examination of it.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-09-08 17:47
A formidable examination of Wilhelm's development
Young Wilhelm: The Kaiser's Early Life, 1859-1888 - John C. G. Röhl

Perhaps the first question that arises when confronted with a three-volume biography of the German emperor Wilhelm II is: "Why?" Specifically, why does the failed ruler of a fallen dynasty deserve such attention? For some, the question answers itself, given that Wilhelm's reign ended in a war that defined the 20th century and reshaped the map of the Europe. But does his life warrant the three substantial tomes John Röhl has written about it?

The answer is a definitive "Yes," because what Röhl provides is not just a finely detailed account of the first three decades of Wilhelm's life, but a close examination of the family politics surrounding them. In doing so, what he offers his readers is a study that encompasses Wilhelm's parents — the future emperor Frederick III and his English wife Victoria — and the politics of the German court and the imperial Germany. This context is of particular relevance in Röhl's view given the vision that Frederick and Victoria had of a more liberal Germany than the monarch-dominated empire constructed by Otto von Bismarck, and their efforts to pass along their values to their eldest son. Their total failure to do so is an important part of the story of the Second Reich, and one that requires explanation.

Providing it serves as the focus of Röhl's first volume. In it he describes a childhood of constant pressures, ones that increased after Prussia established the German empire in 1871. Yet Wilhelm faced the additional problem of a physical handicap resulting from a difficult birth, one that left him with Erb's palsy on his left arm. Unable to accept this, Wilhelm's family employed often painful medical procedures and corrective devices designed to "correct" it, yet this could only moderate the effects of the paralysis. While many have speculated on the impact of such a paralysis on his emotional development, just as important was how it defined his relationship with his parents at his early age, which Röhl considers in detail. Relying upon a Freudian approach, he diagnoses many of Wilhelm's subsequent issues as stemming from his flawed relationship with his parents, ones that were often exacerbated by their best efforts to aid their son.

As heir to the throne from the moment of his birth, both Frederick and Victoria devoted considerable attention to the selection of Wilhelm's tutor, Georg Hinzpeter, and insisted that he attend a gymnasium and university. Yet for all of their efforts, Wilhelm grew into a temperamental young man who reveled in masculine martial activities. Rejecting his parents political values, increasingly he gravitated towards conservative, even reactionary figures, who welcomed his interest for the opportunity it provided to advance their vision of Germany and the world. Their political maneuvering increased as the emperor, Wilhelm I, neared the end of his long life and Frederick's illness from cancer promised a short reign. With their deaths in 1888 Wilhelm was poised for a long reign with enormous consequences for the entire world.

Röhl's book is an enormous achievement. Based on decades of research in the royal archives, it provides a careful examination of WIlhelm's personal and political development. At times the degree of detail can be wearying, and Röhl's reliance on Freudian explanations is a little questionable, but given the solid footing in the family papers it's impossible to dismiss altogether the arguments he makes. The result is a book that is unlikely ever to be surpassed as a thorough examination of Wilhelm's early years, one that lays a formidable foundation for the study of the reign that followed.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-08-04 22:12
The Histories (Tacitus)
The Histories (Oxford World's Classics) - Tacitus;W. H. Fyfe,D.S. Levene,Tacitus

The death of Nero begins a Roman bloodletting that Augustus had thought he had completely ended as four men will within a year claim the title Emperor.  The Histories by Tacitus follows the aftermath of Nero’s death as a succession of men claimed the throne until the Flavians emerge to return the Roman Peace.

 

Tacitus begins his work with those who had prospered under Nero worrying for themselves while the rest of the populace celebrated and setting the stage for the eventual assassination for Galba and the rise of Otho, who the former had passed over as his chosen successor.  Yet at the time of his death Galba was facing a mutiny on the German frontier that had installed Vitellius as their choice as emperor, a task that Otho took to quash and retain his own throne.  The invasion of Italy by Vitellius’ legions brought war to the core of empire for the first time in almost a century and witnessed the defeat of Otho’s forces before he committed suicide.  The rise of Vitellius brought Vespasian, the leader of the legions fighting the Jewish War, into the fray as he accepted the proclamation of his legions as emperor and soon found the supporters of Otho and others joining him.  After the crushing defeat of his forces, Vitellius attempted to abdicate but the Guards wouldn’t let him resulting in his death by Vespasian’s soldiers.  On top of civil war in Italy and the final phase of the Jewish War under Titus, a Gallo-German uprising at first claiming support for Vespasian became an invasion and rebellion that took numerous legions to suppress and the aftermath would be alluded to in Tacitus’ own Germany.

 

Although The Histories are incomplete, from the beginning Tacitus brings his aristocratic ideology and politics in focus early by showing only someone with political realism and firm hand on the legions can prevent civil wars and the rioting of the masses.  The writing is quick-paced, going hand in hand with the rapid succession of events but Tacitus does give excellent portraits on the prime actors in this historical drama the played across the Roman world.  The only thing a historian would have against Tacitus would be the twisting of the chronology to suit his own purposes.  Yet like Agricola and Germany, my biggest complaint is how Oxford World Classics edition is structured with the Notes at the very end of the piece and making the reader use two bookmarks so they could go back and forth.

 

The Histories, the first of Tacitus’ two large scale historical works, shows the horrors of civil war and the according to Tacitus the dangers of leader who cannot control the legions and masses.  Even though the we are missing over two-thirds of the overall work, the portion we have that covers the Year of Four Emperors shows the breakdown of society in vacuum of strong leadership that is important not only in that time but throughout all of history including down to our own time.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?