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German Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democratic Renewal
Culture and Politics after 1945


  • Date Published: March 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107627833

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About the Authors
  • This book examines how democracy was rethought in Germany in the wake of National Socialism, the Second World War, and the Holocaust. Focusing on a loose network of public intellectuals in the immediate postwar years, Sean Forner traces their attempts to reckon with the experience of Nazism and scour Germany's ambivalent political and cultural traditions for materials with which to build a better future. In doing so, he reveals, they formulated an internally variegated but distinctly participatory vision of democratic renewal - a paradoxical counter-elitism of intellectual elites. Although their projects ran aground on internal tensions and on the Cold War, their commitments fueled critique and dissent in the two postwar Germanys during the 1950s and thereafter. The book uncovers a conception of political participation that went beyond the limited possibilities of the Cold War era and influenced the political struggles of later decades in both East and West.

    • Examines how democracy was rethought in Germany in the wake of National Socialism, the Second World War and the Holocaust
    • Focuses on a wide array of familiar and lesser-known figures involved in far-ranging intellectual debates
    • Links developments from the immediate post-war years to developments in subsequent decades
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'German Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democratic Renewal is fascinating, even revelatory. By bracketing the Cold War that soon supervened after World War II, Sean Forner recaptures how the world looked to contemporaries, and how many possibilities were seen to beckon.' Samuel Moyn, Harvard University, Massachusetts

    'This book tells a gripping story about political regeneration in the immediate aftermath of Germany's abject military defeat. In doing so, Sean Forner's 'engaged democrats' are revealed as intellectuals of lasting significance for Europe as a whole. A major achievement.' A. Dirk Moses, European University Institute, Florence

    'Sean Forner paints a brilliant, dynamic picture of intellectuals in East and West Germany, who grasped the Nazi defeat as an opening for a new kind of democratic culture - participatory, argumentative, and public. A brilliant contribution to post-1945 German history.' Peter C. Caldwell, Rice University, Houston

    'Forner takes us inside the dilemmas of democratic reconstruction after 1945, in which he shows us a series of unlikely convergences on the part of strange bedfellows who made common cause around the reclaiming of democratic values. The vision pursued by these intellectuals emerges as a specifically German answer to broader post-war questions concerning the promises and perils of mass democracy.' Geoff Eley, University of Michigan

    'This book is a highly original exploration of a network of antifascist intellectuals who sought to create a participatory democracy in defeated Germany between the front-lines of the Cold War.' Konrad H. Jarausch, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    'Meticulously researched, elegantly written and forcefully argued, this study analyzes how left-wing intellectuals breathed new life into ideas of equality and cvility in the most unlikely place, occupied postwar Germany, a polity in the shadow of genocide. This is a gem of a book of interest to anyone who cares about the fragile nature of democracy, past, present and future.' Till Van Rahden, Université de Montréal

    'Sean Forner's book on a group of unlikely affiliates within the intellectual elite of postwar Germany offers a timely and original insight into the history of the prolonged 'zero hour.' … The book graciously combines a specific interest in intellectuals' politics with a broader interest in the study of political cultures. … Forner's book brings to life an era of intense intellectual engagement, reconstruct[ing] their networks, interactions, and exchanges …' Christina Morina, H-Net

    'What makes Forner's treatment of these diverse intellectuals special is his multidimensional analysis of their activities. Unlike Greven and Kieβling, he not only considers texts and ideas but also examines these individuals' networking, their interactions and their political initiatives.' Jens Hacke, German History

    'Sean A. Forner's German Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democratic Renewal: Culture and Politics after 1945 joins a growing body of scholarship that offers a refreshing challenge to this story. It grippingly surveys a galaxy of scholars and journalists who spent the occupation years (1945–1949) crafting intellectual support for a new democratic society.' Udi Greenberg, American Historical Review

    'Sean Forner has produced an impressive work of contemporary intellectual history. While the focus on a group of German intellectuals whom Forner calls 'engaged democrats' in the immediate post-war period may sound limited in scope, he actually deals with a considerable number of significant figures, and the study reaches beyond the period of four-power occupation of Germany from 1945 to 1949 to follow the trajectories of a range of key political thinkers into the 1960s.' Andrew G. Bonnell, European History Quarterly

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107627833
    • length: 396 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 150 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.56kg
    • contains: 10 b/w illus. 1 map
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: democratic renewal and Germany's 'zero hour'
    1. Germans, occupiers, and the democratization project
    2. Rethinking democracy: freedom, order, participation
    3. Renewing culture: the 'unpolitical German' between past and future
    4. Subjects of politics: publicness, parties, elites
    5. A parliament of spirit? Mobilizing the cultural nation
    6. Into East Germany: intelligentsia and the Apparat
    7. Into West Germany: nonconformists and the Restoration
    8. 1968, 1989, and the legacies of participation
    Select bibliography

  • Author

    Sean A. Forner, Michigan State University
    Sean A. Forner is a historian of twentieth-century Europe and Germany interested in the intersections of intellectual history and the history of political culture. His primary focus is on post-war ideas and practices of democracy, especially in moments when debate and experimentation intensified (for example, around 1945, 1956, 1968 and 1989). He also has long-standing interests in memory and representation, social and political thought, and historical methods. His teaching ranges from surveys of the European Union and twentieth-century Europe to upper-level topical courses and a graduate seminar on social theory and historiography.

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