Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: German Visions of Europe (1926-1950).
In his fascinating political history of German visions of Europe from the 1920s through to the 1950s, Christian Bailey sets out to complicate the history of European unity. Thanks to a large and growing body of scholarship, we know a great deal about how the European Union was formed. In recent years scholars have focused on the project's extensive intergovernmental negotiations. This includes the examination of how countries manoeuvred for the advantage, the defense of perceived national interests, and the balance of making sufficient concessions to its negotiating partners to prevent the project's collapse. Bailey brings a refreshing perspective to this hard-headed realist history. An example of this is his revival of the history of ideas approach that seriously considers how politically-active Europeans conceived of a united Europe before the political agreements that serve as historical milestones: the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, the Schuman Plan, the European Coal and Steel Community, the failed European Defence Community, and the Rome Treaties. This history of ideas approach is best exemplified by the work of Walter Lipgens and his collaborators, who sought to trace the historical origins of European federalism. This method was largely abandoned because of its presumed inability to explain why European integration took the precise form it did when it did.
As Bailey's study shows, there are good reasons to return to this earlier approach. Its value lies not so much in identifying the lineages of the European Union, as in making clear that Europe was not simply an instrument of international cooperation and progress for some of its most fervent proponents on both the political left and right. Perhaps the most intriguing argument in the book concerns attitudes toward parliamentary and majoritarian democracy. Bailey examines the case of the Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund (ISK), a splinter group founded in the 1920s and situated between the German socialist and communist parties. He argues that the ISK leaders, several of whom would assume prominent roles in the post-war German Social Democratic Party (SPD) (among them Willi Eichler), distrusted parliamentary democracy because of their belief that the masses could be too easily manipulated. This distrust was fuelled by the breakdown of the Weimar democracy, beginning in the late 1920s, followed by the experience of the Nazi regime with its popular/plebiscitary practices. Democracy might be judged preferable to dictatorship for Germany, but it had to be a democracy capable of curbing the masses. In this context, European unity presented itself as a possibility. For these socialists or social democrats, writes Bailey, a democratic Germany integrated into a larger European framework appeared to offer the "best way of constraining the domestic and foreign policy of future democracies" (p. 105).
Also interesting is Bailey's argument that Eichler and his colleagues envisaged European unity less in Christian and abendlandische terms, or even as part of the American-led Cold War alliance against the communist East, but more as an updated version of Mitteleuropa that could develop a Third Way, between the two worlds of the superpowers. If this vision could shade into the advocacy of neutralism, it also presaged the SPD's later Ostpolitik under Willy Brandt, which partly aimed to overcome Cold War divides in Central and Eastern Europe. The study, however, does not concentrate on German socialists alone. In two chapters on Das Demokratische Deutschland, a group of political activists close to Christian democracy, Bailey charts how this group also viewed European integration as a "means of constraining the practice of parliamentary democracy at the national level" (p. 147). Rooted in southern Germany and Bavaria in particular, over time the group also placed increasing emphasis on protecting sub-national particularities. "[M]uch of the support for European integration in post-war Germany," Bailey remarks on this score, "rather than being a symptom of a breathless enthusiasm for a universal superstate, was primarily conceived of as a means of protecting local and regional rights" (p. 174).
All told, there is much to admire in this book. It is well-researched, tightly argued, and ambitiously constructed, which allows Bailey to address several important topics. He examines the transnational links between German and other European groups; the influence of wartime exiles on post-war German politics; the convergence of conceptions of Europe among the left and right; and the processes by which Germans came to accept democracy not simply as something imposed but also as a regime that reconciled their own hopes and fears. Notwithstanding the book's many merits, one possible weakness is its focus on political "groupuscules," whose small size and perhaps even marginality, raises the question of their ultimate influence. Bailey might have made more of an effort to integrate the history of these groups clearly into a larger history of the political parties in whose ambit they often operated. But this is arguably the subject of another book project--one that Bailey would be ideally placed to undertake.
Talbot C. Imlay, Universite Laval
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|Author:||Imlay, Talbot C.|
|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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