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German Expansionism, Imperial Liberalism and the United States, 1776–1945

$31.99 (C)

  • Date Published: October 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107622616

$ 31.99 (C)

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About the Authors
  • This book traces the importance of the United States for German colonialism from the late eighteenth century to 1945, focusing on American westward expansion and racial politics. Jens-Uwe Guettel argues that from the late eighteenth century onward, ideas of colonial expansion played a very important role in liberal, enlightened, and progressive circles in Germany, which, in turn, looked across the Atlantic to the liberal-democratic United States for inspiration and concrete examples. In the early years of the twentieth century, this America-inspired and -influenced imperial liberalism dominated German colonial discourse and practice. Yet following this pre-1914 peak of liberal political influence on the administration and governance of Germany's colonies, the expansionist ideas embraced by Germany's far-right after the country's defeat in the First World War had little or no connection with the German Empire's liberal imperialist tradition. German Expansionism, Imperial Liberalism, and the United States, 1776–1945 therefore shows that, for example, Nazi plans for the settlement of conquered Eastern European territories were not directly linked to pre-1914 transatlantic exchanges concerning race and expansionism.

    • Shows that a normative and presentist understanding of the term 'liberal' does not capture the racist, expansionist and potentially exterminatory attitudes embraced by nineteenth-century liberals, in Germany and elsewhere
    • Argues that nineteenth-century liberalism was inseparably tied to an expansionist mindset
    • Argues that in the nineteenth century, German liberals did not only admire the United States for its republican and democratic constitution, but also for its continental expansion, which, in turn, rested at times upon brutal actions against Native Americans reaching from expulsion to extinction
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "This impressive monograph offers a provocative new look at Germany’s imperial imaginary. Jens-Uwe Guettel expertly shows how pre-World War I German liberal imperialists were attracted to the United States because they saw it as a model empire and racial state. Here, then, is a tightly argued intellectual history of a transatlantic connection and its legacy, a history that takes its readers beyond notions of national exceptionalism and linear continuities and asks us to rethink both the trajectories of nineteenth-century liberalism and the origins of Nazi imperialism."
    Dirk Bönker, Duke University

    "Nuanced and compelling, Jens-Uwe Guettel’s fascinating study of the deep and complex entanglement of German and American ‘imperial liberalism’ offers many new insights that promise to reshape the debates over German and American exceptionalism. This is a most welcome contribution to the transatlantic history of ideas and colonial practices that will help bridge historiographical divides."
    Erik Grimmer-Solem, Wesleyan University

    "Guettel’s book makes several important historiographical interventions, regarding transnational history, the nature of liberalism, continuities of empire, and German exceptionalisms. It is informative, mind-changing, and brilliant."
    Lora Wildenthal, Rice University

    "Jens-Uwe Guettel simultaneously challenges American and German exceptionalism by revealing how the United States served as a model for German expansionism in Europe and overseas in the long period from the American Revolution to the end of the Second World War. German Expansionism, Imperial Liberalism and the United States, 1776–1945 portrays imperial liberalism in its full complexity, beyond the bowdlerized Atlanticism cooked up to nourish Cold War alliances. It will be of great interest to readers interested in political thought, imperial and colonial studies, and transnational history."
    Andrew Zimmerman, George Washington University

    "Guettel’s book is admirable for a number of reasons. It expertly dissects the twin myths that U.S. expansionism was uniquely devoid of violent, imperialist characteristics, and that the history of German imperialism is somehow reducible to proto-Nazi violence … The book also successfully contextualizes prewar German imperialism within a liberal milieu which shared a set of assumptions with its American counterpart regarding the correct forms of imperial penetration and the requisite means for dealing with recalcitrant indigenous populations … As Guettel shows, imperialism and the forms of socio-racial knowledge it engendered were an integral part of liberalism on both sides of the Atlantic."
    Matthew P. Fitzpatrick, H-Diplo (

    "Highly recommended."

    "This ambitious work is at once a major contribution to transnational history and a provocative meditation on the nature of nineteenth-century German liberalism. In short, Guettel has crafted an insightful, stimulating, and well-argued contribution to the history of ideas."
    Larry L. Ping, German Studies Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107622616
    • length: 292 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.43kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Soil, liberty, and blood: Germans and American westward expansion before 1871
    2. From theory to practice: German colonialism and American westward expansion before the Great War
    3. The American South and racial segregation in the German colonies
    4. America, race, and German expansionism from the Great War to 1945
    Conclusion. Imperial liberalism, Nazi expansionism, and the continuities of German history

  • Author

    Jens-Uwe Guettel, Pennsylvania State University
    Jens-Uwe Guettel is Lecturer in the Department of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

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