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The German Problem

In response to:

The German Leviathan from the January 25, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

Felix Gilber’s review (NYR, January 25) of Gordon Craig’s Germany 1866-1945 and David Calleo’s The German Problem Reconsidered: Germany and the World, 1870 to the Present raises issues that go beyond the critical judgments he makes, although they are related to them.

It is the great merit of Craig’s book, generously acknowledged by Gilbert, to have demonstrated how a variety of internal factors predisposed the Germans toward a particular response to their international environment. Craig’s demonstration demands, and receives, an analytical emphasis that tends toward the particular rather than the general, and that highlights the unique configurations of the German political setting rather than the general features of European power politics that affected all participants.

It is the great merit of Calleo’s book, to which Gilbert is totally insensitive, to have demonstrated how a variety of international factors created a setting which presented Germany with certain problems and opportunities. Calleo’s demonstration demands, and receives, an analytical emphasis that tends towards the general rather than the particular, and that highlights the international configurations of power rather than the unique features of German society that influenced the Germans’ response to it.

It seems to me that neither Craig nor Calleo push their analytical emphases to questionable extremes—Craig does not ignore the general international context and Calleo does not ignore the particular German domestic context. One would think that a historian of Professor Gilbert’s stature would recognize that either approach, one stressing the general and one the particular, has its own strengths and shortcomings, raises different questions and therefore provides different answers, and illuminates different features of the historical process. The combination of both approaches, in this case the combined analysis of international and domestic factors, could not help but enrich our understanding of how a state’s foreign policy responds to both its internal and external environments. It is this very confluence, however, of the domestic and international, of the internal and the external, which Professor Gilbert denies so vehemently. Toward the end of his review, Professor Gilbert writes:

I submit that a satisfactory discussion of this problem [about the important of traditions in present-day Germany, and the relation between Europe today and the Europe before World War II] must start by recognizing one fundamental change: the emergence of new world powers and new economic forces has widened the distance between the spheres of foreign policy and of domestic policy. European governments have less power over foreign policy than over domestic policy. Admittedly the bonds which tied foreign policy and domestic policy together have not entirely snapped; but the lines which connected them have loosened and lengthened.[Page 21]

This is a quaint interpretation of the historical process of the last decades. During the last three decades the elements of international power, as well as its overall configuration, have changed considerably. New purposes have suggested new techniques. Access rather than acquisition, presence rather than rule, penetration rather than possession, control rather than coercion have become the ligaments of power. At the same time, the modern state is compelled, in order to meet rising domestic welfare demands, to interact with other states in ways which, although not lacking in conflict and competition, demand cooperation, the acceptance of the logic of interdependence, and a willingness to condone restraints on state behavior and sovereign perogatives. Internal state power is sustained by external cooperation. All of this has led to the confluence of domestic and foreign policy. I submit that it would be difficult to find a statesman, of whatever ideological persuasion or geographical origin, who would agree with Professor Gilbert’s suggestion that (of all things!) new economic forces have widened the distance between foreign and domestic policy. It is in the very nature of economic interdependence and economic integration to have rendered meaningless the distinction between domestic and foreign policy. One wonders from what vantage point Professor Gilbert has viewed the postwar world.

Wolfram F. Hanrieder

Department of Political Science

University of California

Santa Barbara, California

Felix Gilbert replies:

I don’t intend to enter into a discussion about Professor Hanrieder’s distinctions between an analytical approach, which emphasizes the particular, and one which emphasizes the general. I may briefly remark that, in my opinion, the ideal history presents a fair balance between the general and the particular.

The problem of this distinction is certainly irrelevant to my criticism of David Calleo’s book, The German Problem Reconsidered.. The impact of “a variety of international factors” on “certain problems and opportunities” of German policy can be analyzed and appreciated only on the basis of a correct description and evaluation of the nature and strength of the forces which acted and reacted in German political and social life. My objection to Calleo’s book is that it is wrong in its presentation of the facts of the German political and social situation. In my review I justified my judgment by pointing to Calleo’s under-estimation of the influence of the Junkers and their militaristic outlook. I also could have discussed his treatment of anti-Semitism in which the importance of this trend was diminished by distinguishing between less pernicious forms of anti-Semitism—objective and social anti-Semitism—and the poisonous form of political anti-Semitism. I could also have mentioned his praise of German universal education without noting the class character inherent in it, or his excursion into intellectual history when he attributes to authoritarianism and conservatism an idealistic ingredient but denies it to liberalism. Errors and misinterpretations form a shaky foundation for a reconsideration of the German problem.

I ought to add a few remarks on Professor Hanrieder’s objections to the last paragraph of my review. I tried to say—and Professor Hanrieder seems to share this opinion—that the rise of superpowers and of economic interdependence have strongly limited the freedom of action of European states in foreign affairs; the alterations which a change of government—the rise of a new party to power—can bring about in the direction of foreign affairs are small. The contrasts and conflicts of parties therefore are primarily concerned with issues which have little to do with foreign policy—with the right of workers and trade unions, with educational policy, with distribution of the tax load—whereas the issues which in previous times divided political parties were closely connected with the course which foreign policy was taking or ought to take—eastern or western orientation, relation to supranational organization, treaties and alliances, distribution of the budget between army and navy, “Realpolitik” and ideology, etc. I still believe that I expressed the differences of the present from the past correctly when I wrote “the bonds which tied foreign policy and domestic policy together have not entirely snapped; but the lines which connected them have loosened and lengthened.”

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