Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler; drawing by David Levine

The centenary of the foundation of the Second German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on January 18, 1871, was no occasion for celebration, but it provided at least an opportunity to take stock of the vast output of writing on recent German history and draw up a provisional balance sheet. My conclusion, after reading a score of recent books (some of which it is charitable to pass over in silence), is that we have gotten about as far as we are likely to reach along the road most historians have trodden since 1945, and that the time has come for new directions and new goals.

In saying this I am not, of course, presuming to pass judgment on a generation of historical scholarship. Nothing would be more arrogant or futile. Whatever else, the intense preoccupation of historians since 1945 with the Nazi experience—its origins and antecedents as well as its revolting brutalities—has brought together a mass of detailed information unequaled for any other comparable period of history. Whether it has brought more understanding is another question. In any case, we may ask whether the law of diminishing returns is not beginning to operate, whether historians are not starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel. When the Olympic Games of 1936 are dredged up and exhibited in full array as “an obscuring layer of shimmering froth on a noxious wave of destiny,”1 it is time to call a halt and ask where all this is getting us.

I shall, no doubt, be told that there is always something to be retrieved from the inexhaustible reservoir of captured German documents. The question is what and how much. In the end little is gained if their exploration becomes a mechanical industry providing raw material for an unending series of dissertations and monographs which only embellish and amplify what we already know. Everyone is aware of the beastliness of Nazism; a few more illustrative facts do not add to our loathing; on the contrary, if they are piled up incessantly, the effect may be to dull rather than heighten our revulsion. This is something Richard Grunberger might have borne in mind before he set about compiling his huge scrap-book of the horrors and absurdities of The Twelve-Year Reich; it is a bit late in the day for 500 pages of scorn, contempt, and hatred.2

In the end even the richest vein of gold-bearing ore is bound to be exhausted. What I am suggesting is that we are reaching—if we have not already reached—the stage where the few remaining nuggets no longer justify the capital outlay, and it is time to sink new shafts in different territory. Furthermore, preoccupations and preconceptions that were understandable in the 1950s are no longer necessarily the best guide for the 1970s. Confronted in 1945 by the horrifying reality of Auschwitz and Belsen, historians had every reason to concentrate on the central experience of Nazism. People not only wished to know how anything so beastly could erupt so suddenly; they also wished to know whether Nazism was an aberration or the end product of German history.

Thus the inquest on Nazism merged with the inquest on German history, and the whole period from 1871 to 1945 came under scrutiny. It would be absurd to suggest that the resultant controversies were unproductive, but it is also true that they were inspired as much by indignation, resentment, and parti pris as by a disinterested search for historical truth. English and American historians scoured German history for the “roots” of National Socialism; surviving German historians of an older generation indignantly rejected the suggestion that Nazism was inherent in German history and sought instead to show that Hitler’s seizure of power was a misfortune that might befall any people in the modern age. Left-wing writers indicted the Nazis as instruments of German capitalism; the right wing maintained that, on the contrary, they climbed to power on the shoulders of the “masses,” mesmerized and bamboozled by Hitler’s demagogy.

When the dust settles, the verdict on these controversies is likely to be that they engendered more heat than light. Nor, more surprisingly, has much illumination come from the attempt to understand National Socialism by lifting it out of its historical setting and treating it instead as a particular manifestation of a world-wide trend toward fascist or totalitarian rule. The debate on fascism is justifiable in itself and has produced some lively writing; but one has only to read the useful collection of representative essays edited by Gilbert Allerdyce3 to see that, historically, it raises as many questions as it answers. For one thing, as Allerdyce points out, it is still an open question whether Nazism—as most writers have assumed—was the ultimate “fulfillment of fascist potentialities” or whether it was really “an aberration from fascist norms.” And if it is agreed that fascism is an adequate characterization of Hitler’s movement in 1923, there is still the question whether it accurately describes the Nazi dictatorship as it developed after 1933.


Until such basic questions have been thoroughly ventilated, which is not the case so far, it is unlikely that general studies of fascism will cast much new light on the specific problems of German Nazism. What is necessary is a rigorous structural comparison of all different fascist (or putatively fascist) movements on the basis of a careful analysis of all available evidence. Unfortunately the pioneering efforts of Nolte and Weber to lay the foundations for such an analysis have not been systematically followed up.4 Instead, we have had a spate of endlessly repetitive accounts, loosely strung together, of the external history of different European fascist movements, of which H. R. Kedward’s is the latest and arguably the worst.5

The trouble, as Allerdyce says, is that historians, instead of relating the facts to an intelligible conceptual pattern, “use the term ‘fascist’ without agreeing how to define it,” while sociologists, psychologists, and philosophers “interpret fascism in terms of their own political beliefs” and “find in its sordid history confirmation of their own opinions.” No wonder that Mr. Kedward ends his desultory survey with the chastening confession that all “the real difficulties of interpretation and historical understanding remain.”

The current preoccupation with fascism has also reinforced the tendency, already strong, for historians to look for abstruse, recondite, and, if possible, psychological explanations of the German descent into National Socialism. There was a time when I was much impressed by this line of thought. Perhaps I was cajoled by the brilliance of its early exponents. Today I am not so sure. It is easy to see why writers struggling to distill the essence of fascism from a multiplicity of forms and variations should move away from the concrete to the abstract and from the historical to the psychological. But when I am told that fascism is, in the last analysis, a state of mind, my reply is that it is a long way from a state of mind to the concrete reality of Belsen and Auschwitz, and the road is not quite so direct or well signposted as people seem to assume. Nolte’s famous definition of fascism as “resistance to transcendence” may be profound; but just what it tells us about the Nazi seizure of power is not self-evident.

It is now thirty years since Rohan Butler inaugurated the endless search in the great quarry of German history for the “intellectual origins” of National Socialism.6 Since then the intellectual historians have had a field day. Fritz Stern directed us persuasively to the cultural pessimism of Langbehn and Lagarde, the emergence of a pervasive Social Darwinism, and Moeller van den Bruck’s vision of a “Third Reich”; Mosse turned our attention to the “Volkish interpretation of history” and the “Volkish ideology” of the German Youth Movement.7

These were enlightening studies, but the question is where to stop. Search the libraries and you will find hundreds of obscure Germans who scribbled obscure and incriminating thoughts, among them Ernst Haeckel, the once famous exponent of an exploded pseudo-scientific mythology. Eventually his forgotten corpse was bound to be exhumed and exhibited as still another archpriest of German infamy, and this is what Daniel Gasman has now done.8 And then there is the great anonymous cohort of professors, the “mandarins” of the German academic establishment. As a body, perhaps, they were more conformist than wicked; but were they not, nevertheless, through their abandonment of “intellectual responsibility,” the gravediggers of the Weimar Republic? So Fritz Ringer would have us believe, and he is a man of immense erudition.9 To me, I confess, it sounds suspiciously like blaming the defects of American education for My Lai. In a vague, transcendental way it may even be true, but it is not very illuminating.

No one can fail to admire the erudition, ingenuity, and combinative skill of these recondite essays in intellectual history. The problem about them, as J. P. Stern has said, is that they depend upon “an aprioristic concept of causality whose actual working is shrouded in mystery.”10 No one, for example, is likely to deny that the prevalence of crude “social Darwinist” beliefs among the educated (and semi-educated) German middle classes may have been a precondition—one precondition among many—for Hitler’s success. But when Mr. Gasman describes it as “one of the most important formative causes for the rise of the Nazi movement” (the italics are mine), I can only reply that he is making a gratuitous leap in the dark.

This is not to say that Mr. Gasman is not an intelligent and perceptive writer when he sticks to his last. If he had been content to give us an account of some of the aberrations of pseudoscience at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—there were plenty of them, in England and the United States as well as in Germany, every bit as absurd as the “monism” Haeckel offered as a solution to the “riddle of the universe”—we should be in his debt. It is when he tries to draw a line from Haeckel to Hitler that doubt creeps in. No one denies that Hitler picked up a smattering of Haeckel’s ideas somewhere along the line. His mystical belief in the laws of nature, as P.E. Schramm has pointed out, was nothing but “a variant of the monism so common before the First World War.”11 But it is another thing to argue, as Mr. Gasman does, that the “fundamental presuppositions” of Haeckel’s evolutionary monism were “obviously” and “in all important respects identical with those of fascism and National Socialism” and that there is “an uninterrupted line of development from one to the other.”


The “methodological fallacies” involved in this sort of argument have been pointed out convincingly enough in Schramm’s book. As a study of Hitler’s personality it may not be the last word; but it does at least make clear the futility of trying to “explain” Hitler by “focusing on his petty bourgeois origins” and “early environment,” or of attempting “to locate Hitler in terms of intellectual history.” Hitler’s mind may have been a rag bag of the half-baked philosophies of his youth, but “his most essential characteristics,” Schramm insists, “were singular and unique.” It follows that “all attempts to trace Hitler’s intellectual history from one or another source are foredoomed” to failure because the decisive factor was not the derivation of his ideas but the entirely personal “order and logic” he imposed upon them and the “grotesque combinations” into which “he arbitrarily forced them.”

Nothing is easier than to range through German history picking out individuals and movements and labeling them “proto-Nazi.” Schramm shows—I think convincingly—that “the Hitler problem simply cannot be forced into that frame of reference.” Anyone who looks closely at the evidence will soon discover that the most striking thing about the alleged precursors of Hitler is the way they either stopped short of his characteristic attitudes or were held at arms’ length by the Nazis. Haeckel himself, Mr. Gasman concedes, “did not figure in Nazi propaganda as a major prophet of National Socialism.” Furthermore, far from there being “an uninterrupted line of development,” the Monist League which Haeckel founded in 1906 “underwent a significant shift from racism and Volkism in the direction of radical liberalism” between 1919 and 1933.

Nor is Haeckel an exception. Moeller van den Bruck, unhesitatingly described by Mr. Gasman as a “proto-Nazi,” had no use for Hitler, and the Nazis responded by repudiating any connection between their Third Reich and his. “Most members of the Youth Movement,” Mosse observes, “were openly hostile towards National Socialism,” and Mr. Ringer scrupulously records that “the orthodox mandarins did not actively desire the triumph of the Third Reich” and were not “to blame for the actual propositions of National Socialist propaganda.” The honesty of these admissions is admirable, but they seem to me rather like sawing away the branch upon which you are sitting. If, as Fritz Stern concludes, Moeller’s “direct influence on the National Socialists was not very great,” and if he actually rejected Hitler, is it really meaningful to describe the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 as “the ultimate fulfillment of his prophecies”?

To many historians these observations will seem obtuse. The question at issue, they will reply, is not direct affiliation but indirect influence. Moeller, the university “mandarins,” and the rest may not have been direct ancestors of Nazism; but indirectly they fostered it by creating a climate of opinion the Nazis could exploit.

I cannot, with all respect, think that it is a very good answer. Of course there was a climate of opinion in which, given the right conditions, Nazism throve; there is no mystery about that. The real question is whether it had to thrive, whether given that climate of opinion there could have been no other outcome but the Third Reich. To understand Nazism and its place in German history it is necessary to take account not only of the similarities with earlier movements but also of the observable dissimilarities. Even on so central an issue as anti-Semitism the range of difference is profound. How odd, for example, considering the role anti-Semitism plays in National Socialist ideology, that “the proto-Nazi writer” Moeller betrays scarcely a sign of it! And Haeckel’s solution for the “Jewish problem” was assimilation. It is, to say the least, hardly the same as Hitler’s, and I would submit that to bring both together under the common heading of “anti-Semitism,” as though there were no difference between them, begs more questions than it answers.

I do not for one moment wish to suggest that the distinguished historians who have sought to lay bare the roots of National Socialism have taught us nothing. Far from it. If old-fashioned narrative accounts of the political events leading up to Hitler’s seizure of power, such as Erich Eyck’s History of the Weimar Republic, no longer seem adequate, it is because they have shown us—what we all felt—that there was more to Nazism than could be explained in that way. This widening of vision is a major achievement, but it does not mean that the line of approach they have developed can profitably be used forever. The study of the intellectual origins of the Third Reich may be infinitely suggestive, but it is not infinitely probative. It makes us aware of a hundred reasons why National Socialism might suddenly erupt in Germany; but it does not explain why it did or how it did, and certainly does not prove that it had to. As Mr. Ringer rather woodenly but perfectly correctly puts it, “at bottom it is based on an inappropriate use of the logical sequence in historical explanation.”

Ralf Dahrendorf has written, more caustically, of “the tedious fog of arbitrariness” that overhangs all “quasiliterary” analysis of the German past.12 The point is not only, as Michael Hamburger has said, that “no history of ideas can possibly get to the heart of a phenomenon that consists in the denial of reason.”13 More simply, it is that writers of intellectual history, knowing the outcome, too often embark on “an erratic chase through the whole of German history” (the phrase is J.P. Stern’s) for expressions of opinion which support their diagnosis. Perhaps we should not take too seriously a recent writer who assures us that “Hitler’s later actions and attitudes were strongly influenced by his reading of Karl May,” the German writer of Wild West fiction;14 but no one should be surprised if, confronted by such statements, we are tempted to echo Dahrendorf’s description of intellectual history as “the catch-as-catch can of historical scholarship, where anything goes because everything is arbitrary.”

As Fritz Stern has recently pointed out, the study of German history has suffered from a surfeit of “exaggerated exegesis.”15 That is why one turns with relief to Hajo Holborn and Karl Dietrich Bracher. 16 Their books are not particularly exciting or original, but they are at least sober and balanced. Their task, as they see it, is to sort and sift and set the record straight, not to propound challenging theories or novel interpretations. This may seem dull, but it is immensely useful. Anyone who has read Holborn and Bracher will know the considered verdict of modern scholarship on what traditionally have been regarded as the main issues. At the same time they provide a yardstick by which to measure the results of a quarter of a century of writing and research.

The first thing to be said about Holborn and Bracher is that, taken together, they epitomize the liberal view of German history which has prevailed since 1945. In this sense, they set the seal on a whole period of historiography. They also complement each other admirably. Holborn was one of the wisest and most distinguished of the German liberal historians who took refuge in the United States after 1933. Bracher is by common assent the leading figure in the subsequent generation that after the war broke with the past both in method and in its unflinching resolve to subject the whole Nazi experience, both its immediate impact and its long-term implications, to pitiless analysis. They share a basic liberal philosophy, but it is a liberalism tempered by a keen eye for social realities. Bracher was one of the first to apply the analytical techniques of social science to the history of National Socialism, and Holborn criticizes his own teacher, Meinecke, for underestimating “the conflict of social forces” and overrating “the power of pure ideas.”

It is characteristic of Holborn and Bracher, therefore, that while in no way neglecting the findings of intellectual history, they consistently resist the temptation to let it get out of bounds. It is only necessary to compare Holborn’s brief, balanced, but entirely adequate remarks on Haeckel with Mr. Gasman’s exaggerated exegesis to see the difference. And it is equally characteristic that, far from attributing the “lamentable weakness” of the German bourgeoisie in the face of autocracy and totalitarianism to the insidious influence of intellectuals such as Langbehn or Lagarde, he ascribes it without hesitation to “the strength of bourgeois class interest.”

What Holborn and Bracher put before us, in short, is a reasoned, fair-minded, liberal interpretation of German history, which carefully avoids all extremes. But it is also clear that the antithesis of liberal history for them is the conservative interpretation so prevalent in the Weimar Republic and still a powerful force in the Germany of Adenauer. This is their target, and their aim is deadly. One by one they demolish the myths upon which the conservative view of German history rests—beginning, in the case of Holborn, with the old and ingrained myth that Hitler would not have come to power if the Versailles treaty had not imposed an intolerable burden of reparations on Germany.

In particular, neither Holborn nor Bracher has any sympathy with the once fashionable myth that Nazism was a revolt of the masses. They establish beyond doubt—Bracher naturally more specifically and in greater detail—that the hard core of Hitler’s following was “the lower middle classes of town and countryside.” It may be true that Nazism attracted “the driftwood” of “young, unstable workers” who voted for the first time after 1930, but “the representation of workers” in the Nazi party was always “relatively small.” Even in March, 1933, after the seizure of power, Bracher points out, the Nazis in many working-class areas polled less than 20 percent and in some districts less than 10 percent of the votes, and as late as April, 1935, between 60 and 70 percent of the shop stewards voted against the Nazi ticket.

These facts are also an answer to the facile attempt to identify the German people with National Socialism. Holborn has little to say in detail about popular resistance to Hitler, but he at least draws attention to the “network of small cells” built up by the Social Democrats and Communists “over a major part of Germany.” Bracher is more specific. He pays tribute to the “far flung, anonymous opposition” of the working classes, and at the same time questions the justification for the usual concentration on the military opposition which “did not exist at all” before 1938. Not that, in opposing the views of conservative historians such as Rothfels and Ritter, Holborn and Bracher have in any sense a left-wing approach. Their main characteristic, on the contrary, is their refusal to countenance doctrinaire, one-dimensional explanations, from whatever side they come.

In the final analysis, Bracher insists, “Hitler came to power as a result of a series of avoidable errors.” But these errors cannot be reduced, as both right-wing and left-wing writers have attempted to do, to a single formula or attributed to a single party. On the contrary, all parties and all segments of society were implicated. The Communists totally misjudged the situation. The Social Democrats were passive and inert, crippled by a “feeble power drive” which prevented them from taking over the reins of government in 1930 and led to their supine capitulation when Papen put through the coup d’état in Prussia in 1932. On the other hand, the Nazi party would not have survived at all without the financial support of industrialists such as Kirdorf and Thyssen, and even at the end “Hitler probably could not have come to power” except for the intrigues and maneuvers of the slippery right-wing politicians around Hindenburg.

As this analysis shows, the essential point, both for Holborn and for Bracher, is the extreme complexity of the German situation and the impossibility of finding any satisfactory single explanation of the turn of events which brought Hitler to power. Bracher is explicitly, Holborn implicitly, committed to “the multi-causal nature of historico-political processes.” On the one side, they repudiate the view that National Socialism was the “logical end-product of German historical development.” On the other, they insist that Hitler’s conquest of power was not, in Holborn’s words, “a fortuitous event.” When Bracher tells us that National Socialism “cannot be equated with German history” and yet at the same time was completely attuned to the German situation,” he is giving notice that we must not expect easy answers. What Holborn and Bracher are saying, in effect, is that the whole enterprise of explaining why Nazism happened—whether we seek the answer in the deep recesses of the German mind or in the social and intellectual climate of the 1920s and 1930s—is doomed to failure and that the most we can hope to do is to discover how it happened.

The result is a richly differentiated view of German history, marked by a deliberately empirical approach, a deep suspicion of dogmatic conceptual schemes, and an instinctive conviction that the truth lies somewhere in the middle ground between conflicting interpretations. This is what Bracher calls “an integrating approach.” It has already won the highest praise. Holborn’s book has been described as “the finest study of Germany in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in any language,” and Bracher’s book has been acclaimed as “a masterpiece of historical and political analysis” and “the most comprehensive and illuminating account of National Socialism to appear to date.” I have no desire to cavil at these judgments. Granted their basic assumptions, neither book could easily be bettered. What I am less happy about are the basic assumptions. For Holborn and Bracher, like other historians, operate consciously or unconsciously within the frame of a particular philosophy of history which colors their intellectual approach and determines their methods. We may call it a liberal philosophy, and the question is the adequacy of its underlying presuppositions.

In the first place, one may question the adequacy of the methodological postulates which Holborn and Bracher adopt. To put the record straight is all very well; but is it enough? Admirable as is the cool empiricism with which Holborn and Bracher demolish right-wing and left-wing myths, this does not automatically guarantee the validity of their liberal approach. When Bracher, for instance, insists that Hitler’s conquest of power was the result of “a series of avoidable errors,” we may well reply, with Fritz Stern, that when we come across a business in which “avoidable errors” are always occurring, it is not unreasonable to conclude that there must be something fundamentally wrong with the whole enterprise. To know “how,” in short, is no substitute for knowing “why,” and one is left with the uneasy suspicion that liberal historiography, with its emphasis on the singularity of events, is leaving out a whole dimension.

Methodologically, again, one may question the validity of Bracher’s “integrating approach.” It looks at first glance like the straightforward application of the rules of common sense; but is it not, perhaps, the common sense of the schoolboy who was asked the square number of 2, and, with one well-wisher whispering 4 in one ear, and another whispering 8 in the other, cautiously plumped for 6? The truth is not a sort of half-way house between right and left, still less an assemblage of bits and pieces from the repertory of intellectual, social, economic, and political historians; and if Bracher’s account of the German path into Nazi dictatorship is extraordinarily complex and intricate, the reason may be not that the facts are too complicated for clear-cut answers, but that he has failed to find, or deliberately abstained from seeking, the intellectual criteria which might have enabled him to cut a way through the maze.

The assumption from which Holborn and Bracher proceed is that the necessary preliminary work has been done and that their task is to sift and sort, not to break new ground but to garner the fruits of a generation of liberal scholarship. But what if the last generation of historians, because of its preoccupation with such things as the intellectual roots of Nazism, has bypassed some of the central problems? It is useful to have the answers to the old controversies authoritatively set out; but as one by one the protagonists on both sides—Holborn himself and Gerhard Ritter—disappear from the scene, the controversies which so engrossed them begin to look stale and threadbare.

This is true, in particular, of their preoccupation with the genesis of National Socialism. There is no doubt that this, for Holborn and Bracher, is the central thread running through German history since 1870 and determining its pattern. Like the postwar liberal historians whose work they epitomize, they are haunted by the question of why German liberalism failed to withstand the Nazi onslaught. This is a perfectly legitimate question, but it is not necessarily an adequate yardstick for measuring a whole century of German history.

When Holborn tells us, for example, that the handbook of legal philosophy which Ihering wrote between 1877 and 1884 had “a devastating influence on the events of the Hitler period,” the point is not only that this is a subjective judgment which can be neither proved nor disproved, but, more seriously, that the habit of looking forward to 1933 at every turn of German history is bound to result in distortion. Perhaps the most revealing fact about Bracher’s book is that, although its subject is The German Dictatorship, very nearly one-half deals with the period before there was a German dictatorship, and here again the question arises whether it is a sound approach to review a period of sixty or seventy years as though the only criterion of judgment is the Nazi terror which emerged at its close.

No one in his right mind is going to write off National Socialism as a mere episode in German history. What I am suggesting, rather, is that the almost obsessive preoccupation with the origins of National Socialism, particularly with its intellectual origins, has long outlived its usefulness. There are, after all, other questions about Nazism of equal if not greater importance—for example, its impact and lasting effects on the structure of German society—and it sometimes seems as though the ceaseless preoccupation with its origins is more a reflection of an uneasy liberal conscience than of an unflinching concern to examine it from every angle.

Though Holborn and Bracher are too experienced and level-headed to be carried away by the fashionable preoccupation with the intellectual background of Nazism, it remains true that their work is permeated and colored by a characteristically liberal emphasis on causes and origins. According to Bracher the “ultimate cause” of National Socialism, reaching “back to the beginning of the nineteenth century,” was “the deep schism between German and Western political thought.” If everything that happened in the past is held in some way to be responsible for everything that happened in the future, this statement is, perhaps, unexceptionable. In any other sense it rests, like Holborn’s attempt to saddle Rudolf Ihering with responsibility for Carl Schmitt and Judge Freisler, on assumptions which can be neither proved nor disproved. For one thing, it assumes that the Western (English, French, American) form of political democracy was the only workable model and that the German Rechtsstaat was bound to “degenerate into self-destructive criminality.” As Fritz Stern has pointed out, neither proposition is self-evident; but they color Bracher’s view of a century of German history.

More fundamental, however, is the intellectualist bias which such a statement reveals, the implication that the moving force of history is ideas, rather than social relations, or fundamental structural changes, such as were produced by the impact of industrialization. It would not be difficult, if one so wished, to trace the so-called “schism” between Germany and the West back to the twelfth century; but to what avail? The books of Holborn and Bracher reflect the positive qualities of liberal historiography at its best; but it is a mandarin view of history, and it is necessary that one be aware of its limitations. It has produced a lot of stimulating insights but no real clarification. As Gilbert Allerdyce puts it, “our knowledge of what happened at Auschwitz has vastly increased, but not our understanding.”

The question that arises is why, after twenty-five years of assiduous research, this should be the case. One answer is that historians, led astray by what Marc Bloch once called the false idol of origins, have gone about their task in the wrong way. If the answers still elude us, the easiest assumption is that what is necessary is more fact, more information, more burrowing among the “roots” of National Socialism. It is the obvious answer but not necessarily the right one. If the jigsaw puzzle does not work out, the reason may be not that some pieces are missing but that we have set it up wrongly. What is at issue, in other words, is the validity of the assumptions and methodology of the prevailing liberal approach to modern German history.

My reservations about the books of Holborn and Bracher therefore shade off into a criticism of the liberal philosophy of history which they represent. I do not question their achievement; they mark in many respects a milestone in historiography. But when one reaches a milestone, it is the moment to halt, take stock of the road traveled, and make sure it is leading in the right direction. That is why reconsideration of the basic assumptions which have dominated the writing of German history for the last twenty-five years has now become urgently necessary. The questions historians are asking today are not the questions Holborn and Bracher were primarily concerned to answer. Among the younger historians change is in the air. In the second part of this review I shall try to indicate what form it is taking and how it differs from the conventional liberal interpretation.

(This is the first of a series of three essays.)

This Issue

October 19, 1972