The rise of Nazism in Germany continues to attract the interest of many historians who attempt to understand the underlying causes of this catastrophe.
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Much attention is usually paid to the political and economic development of this country in the nineteenth century. It is possible to refer to the ideas of Ralf Dahrendorf who argues that the problems faced by this country after World War I could be explained by the absence of liberal revolution in this state and the failure of the German bourgeoisie to declare and protect their political interests (40).
In contrast, Geoff Eley believes that this explanation is not quite adequate since it does not throw light on other factors that could increase the popularity of totalitarian ideologies in the country (123). Furthermore, Eley believes that Dahrendorf’s interpretation cannot explain the interests of German bourgeoisie and their attitude toward the state. In my opinion, the political history of this country was affected by a variety of economic and geopolitical factors that could be both internal and external.
In his discussion, Ralf Dahrendorf points out that the industrial development in Germany was relatively late, but it was very rapid. To illustrate this argument, the author looks at such an indicator as the production of pig-iron in the country (Dahrendorf 34). Yet, the author also notes that the state possessed a large sector of economy, and the market was highly regulated (Dahrendorf 40).
Moreover, in his opinion, the owners of enterprises reconciled themselves to the idea that the state interests had been superior to the interests of separate individuals. For instance, such arguments were often advanced by Bismarck and other political leaders. To a great extent, the representatives of the bourgeoisie were willing to play an important economic role, but they were not actively involved in the political life of the country.
Overall, Ralf Dahrendorf says that “Germany developed into an industrial, but not into a capitalist society“ (Dahrendorf 41). This is why the liberal democracy of Germany was not ready to sustain the political turmoil that engulfed the country in the first half of the twentieth century. This is why Nazis were able to assume political power in Germany. These are some of the details that should be considered.
This opinion is debated by Geoff Eley who argues that this interpretation is not sufficient for explaining the rise of authoritarian regime in the country. First of all, this historian notes that the political role of German bourgeoisie is often underestimated. For instance, the unification of this country can be largely explained by the liberal opposition to sovereign authorities of the country (Eley 119).
Moreover, one should keep in mind that the policies of the Prussian government often suited the owners of German enterprises (Eley 123). Yet, it is not possible to say that German liberals were willing to submit to the will of the Prussian government. So, Geoff Eley challenges some of the stereotypes about the behavior of German bourgeoisie. This author believes that German state was consistent with “legitimate bourgeois interests and aspirations” (Eley 123).
Furthermore, this historian believes that it is not possible to blame the legacies of the nineteenth century for the political calamities of Germany. In particular, one should pay more attention to the impact of World War I, the political crisis of the post-war years, and the impact of the Great Depression (125). These trends could dramatically increase the popularity of the totalitarian and chauvinistic ideologies. These are some of the objections that should not be overlooked.
In my opinion, Geoff Eley’s interpretation of this question is more plausible since it throws light on a variety of factors that could have shaped German political history. Ralf Dahrendorf’s approach is too deterministic. In other words, this historian describes the rise of the authoritarian regime in Germany as some inevitable process that could be easily predicted. The main problem is that such trends cannot be predicted.
As a rule, they can depend on the decisions of political leaders who often have a conflict of interest. Additionally, Nazis could come to power because their political opponents were not unanimous. These arguments indicate that Dahrendorf’s explanation has significant limitations. These are some of the main details that should be considered.
Overall, this discussion shows that the political history of Germany is a question which is open to many interpretations. The debate between Ralf Dahrendorf and Geoff Eley shows that historians may identify different factors that could have contributed to the collapse of the democracy in the country. Ralf Dahrendorf focuses on the historical legacies that could have weakened the liberal democracy of the country.
In his turn, Geoff Eley argues that the political and economic trends of the nineteenth century cannot fully explain the rise of totalitarianism in Germany. It seems that the establishment of the totalitarian regime in Germany can be explained by the economic and geopolitical development of this state after World War I. Moreover, one should not accuse German bourgeoisie of the political calamities faced by this nation.
Dahrendorf, Ralf. Society and Democracy in Germany. New York: Gregg Revivals, 1992. Print.
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Eley, Geoff. In Search of the Bourgeois Revolution: The Particularities of German History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1997. Print.