IN the "Cahiers" of the French philosopher Montesquieu we find the pensive lines: "One has to know the prejudices of one's century, in order neither to offend nor follow them too much." If Montesquieu had lived recently he most likely would not only have pointed to the prejudices of one's time as constituting a great political danger but would have added a warning against collective judgments and might have suggested a way to avoid them in the sociological ideas which he himself put forward. In the following reflections I shall try not to overlook the fact that the politician and diplomat as well as the historian must utilize collective terms like "Germany" or "the Germans;" but I want to warn my readers not to confuse collective conceptions and terminology with reality. For the reality is not a firm element but a strange agglomeration which to some extent is on the point of genuine development and to some extent is about to dissolve.

I might illustrate what is to me the political meaning of this situation by an example from history. One can have strong doubts as to whether Germany really has ever been correctly referred to as "a nation of poets and thinkers." But it is not open to doubt that belief in this general conception has for years prevented the world from making an accurate and understanding appraisal of Nazi crimes and Nazi criminals. This was true, moreover, not only of the outside world but also of Germany herself. Today it is equally dangerous to regard Germany or Western Germany as a state like the United States or any country of Europe and to imagine that the Germans form a nation either in disposition or structure similar to the western democracies. The reality about Germany becomes evident only through a sociological analysis which reveals the unique evolution of this fateful European country since 1914 -- an evolution in which the years of Nazi terror were only a ghastly interlude.


Whereas the other European countries had already gotten rid of the remnants of the preceding feudal era -- either by revolution as in France, or by evolution as in England -- Germany was the only one of the great western industrial Powers that entered the twentieth century with a social structure in which the old feudal class was still of considerable importance -- not on account of its strength in numbers but because of its power. The influence of the Junkers has often been overestimated outside Germany. Actually they played a minor rôle in the German economy, and no rôle whatsoever in German intellectual life. However, apart from representing a conspicuous abnormality in the eyes of capitalist society, they held essential key positions in the Army and Government and maintained their place as an established caste of the old order alongside the modern classes: the bourgeoisie and the working class. In addition, the bourgeoisie itself still contained remnants from the feudal era; for it must not be forgotten that originally the so-called middle class included influential Junker elements among its officials and representatives of the old guilds among its tradespeople. Also, within the peasant class the feudal peasant of the old order was more strongly represented than the modern capitalist landowner.

Upon this sociological system of rank the First World War and the so-called revolution of 1918 had comparatively little influence. The representatives of power, of course, changed places. Thus the government departments formerly controlled by members of the aristocracy, both old and new, were taken over by members of the bourgeoisie and the working class, and the officer corps in the new Reichswehr had a somewhat smaller percentage of members from the aristocracy than had been the case in the old Army. However, the "revolution" left feudal property almost untouched, and thus -- precisely because the owners of this property now moved only rarely into powerful public positions -- created a dangerous discrepancy between the social and economic groundwork and the political superstructure. An actual change in the social structure was of course brought about by the great inflation of 1919-23 -- but this caused a disintegration of the old system without forming a new one.

Every inflation is disadvantageous to creditors and those who own funds, advantageous to debtors and those who own real values. Every inflation is disadvantageous to recipients of regular wages and salaries (which as a rule are raised only after a time-lag following the devaluation of the currency), advantageous to shopkeepers, middlemen and industrialists who can increase their prices as the currency falls and who may even profit from it. A process like the German inflation, which with true German thoroughness was carried right to the verge of making the old money completely worthless, necessarily produced all these consequences in an extreme degree never before seen in history.

The result was that when the new Reichsmark was created in 1924, the old feudal class and a large part of the peasant class had almost no debts, though they felt the lack of working capital. Likewise, the upper middle class (including the industrial class grouped around the heavy industries of the Rhineland and Westphalia and the big chemical industries) had emerged from the inflation not only without losses but with increased power. On the other hand, the lower middle class had been severely hit. Its savings were rarely invested in stocks, but mostly in loans and saving accounts; these (except for minor remnants) disappeared. Contrary to the predictions of Karl Marx, however, this impoverished middle class was by no means willing to join the ranks of the old proletariat, either spiritually or politically. Thus there existed a wide, romantically-minded and reactionary mass which was ready to listen to any appeal for a rightist revolution. Meanwhile, social unrest had also increased within the working class. The old cadres of the social democratic system were still intact, but they did not receive reinforcements from the younger generation, who realized the failures of their "revolutionary" elders and, viewing the decomposition of the old society, inclined toward parties which like the Communist on the one hand or National Socialist on the other promised them a "new order."

Unless one has a clear perception of this preceding disintegration it is impossible to understand the rise of National Socialism. It was unscrupulous enough to promise each class what it wanted -- to the aristocracy, national grandeur and posts in the Army; to industry, capacity orders and the smashing of the unions; to the middle class and the peasants, freedom from capitalist tyranny; to the workers, full employment and Socialism. Thus it came to exercise a wide and enormous attraction. The combined efforts of the officials and the workers were able to crush the forces of reaction which were behind the "Kapp Putsch." But the inflation deprived the officials and intellectuals of their material strength; and its progress from 1929 to 1933 resulted in increasing unemployment, which in turn deprived social democracy of its most effective weapon -- the general strike.

The National Socialist "new order" did not really create a new social structure, but continued the process of disintegrating the old social structure to the utmost limit. Gleichschaltung (coordination) meant the end of the old political parties. The Storm Troopers, the S.S. and the Reichswehr disoriented the whole nation -- uprooted the peasants, "purged" the middle class, and deprived the working classes of their rights. As for the aristocracy and the moguls of heavy industry, though they were able to set down in their books a few temporary profits, they also earned -- a well-deserved reward for their stupidity -- the final loss of their power. The "new order" which frightened and later almost subjugated the world was not a living social body, developing and subsisting on the successful coöperation of individuals, but a machine in which millions of robots were moved in accordance with the cool decisions of a ruling clique of criminals.


Nomadism -- history shows -- very often marks not only the beginning but also the end of large empires and eras. When roaming tribes settle, states begin to form. Then the migration of the countryfolk into the towns and the growth of population of the cities creates a new type of people, and clears the countryside for other wandering peoples. Toward the end of the Roman Empire the great Caesars combated this process and actually succeeded in suppressing it for centuries. In the Third Reich, such a development was encouraged by the rulers of the state for the first time in history, and was designed to be spread destructively over a whole continent.

The diverse social body of the German nation was transformed into what might be termed a marching organization. This was the first step in the nomadizing process. The second step was the displacement and resettlement of millions of Volksdeutsche, as the German minorities in border-countries, especially in Eastern Europe, were called. Whatever ingenious ideas may have been in the minds of the German authorities when they recklessly brought the South Tyrolese "home into the Reich" and shifted the Volga Germans to areas which had been cleared in western Poland, the actual results were two: first, all those people were deprived of their homes; later -- today -- they have been funnelled into already overcrowded Western Germany. Nor did the men in charge of German destinies at that time foresee that hundreds of thousands of the foreign workers who were driven to Germany as slave labor would never find their way back. These are the Displaced Persons -- the third category of nomads. Besides these deliberate acts of policy, war forced involuntary acts on the German people. Air warfare made millions of Germans nomads in the most literal sense of the word, and even though the majority of these evacuées who were dispersed all over Germany have returned to their former places of residence, the cellars and tumble-down rooms in which many of them have to exist cannot be called homes. Even the most deplorable slums of the big cities provided better shelter in the old days.

One more category of nomads developed during the last months of the war when the Russians flooded over East Prussia and West Prussia, Pomerania and Brandenburg, sending long columns of refugees streaming westward. These were followed by further millions when the Germans from the Sudeten and Hungary had to leave their homes. Thus, if we include the people who lost their homes through bombing, at least one-fifth of the population of Western Germany today are nomads. (In Eastern Germany this ratio is likely to be higher.) Even if we exclude the Displaced Persons, the territory between the line of the Oder-Neisse and the west German border holds 11,000,000 to 12,000,000 refugees and expellees (7,000,000 of them living in Western Germany). Furthermore, 2,000,000 to 2,500,000 of the total Western German population of 45,000,000 have been nomadized by evacuation from the bombed cities or by migration from the Soviet zone. The number fleeing from the Soviets increases from day to day. Thus, an overcrowded country with a currency which was virtually useless had to admit more people in the course of three years than entered the United States in the decade from 1901 to 1910 when immigration was at its height.

The number of refugees and expellees varies considerably within the different zones and areas of Western Germany. There are comparatively few in the French zone, but Bavaria has one refugee for every three residents and Schleswig-Holstein one refugee per resident; and there are areas where the refugees considerably outnumber the residents. Some refugees have been moved out of Schleswig-Holstein, and the French zone has recently been opened to others, but such measures cannot solve the problem. Those who are thus shifted about are no more welcome in the new location than in the old and tend to aggravate conditions in districts relatively better off.

Possibly the refugees could have been assimilated if the social structure had been intact, as the Huguenots once were absorbed, though in smaller numbers, in Switzerland, Italy and Prussia. But in Germany the middle classes had supported the Fascist revolution because they expected that it would break the process of "proletarianization" to which they already felt themselves subjected, and as a result millions more of them were uprooted, spiritually no less than physically. These people, desperately clinging to the memories of past glory and lost wealth, refuse to take their place in the real life of the present. No matter to which party they give their votes, they cannot be dependable elements in the state.

It is particularly relevant to note that the once reigning Junker class must be included in this "nomad" category. Their estates east of the Elbe River have been flooded by the Russian tide. Some of the Junkers who succeeded in escaping to the west may have found an adequate existence with relatives; others may find an outlet for their energy and ability as tenants of estates in the west or as managers of stock farms owned by wealthy western industrialists. But the remnants of German feudalism have been eliminated; the class that always exerted a particular influence for stability in the state, which sought to preserve the old social structure, and which, despite its political mistakes, still possessed a background of political and diplomatic knowledge and manners, must now share the fate of the "have-nots." As in similar cases in the past, some very strong individuals will be able to avoid the fate of their class, but these exceptions make the destruction of the class as a whole only more apparent and more final.

Are there, however, any forces within the German social structure which, when examined from the point of view that I have expressed here, may be regarded as sound? In the first place there is that part of the agricultural class that was not detached from the soil. It is not very numerous, especially as peasant families suffered many casualties in the war. A good many members of the industrial middle class also seem to have survived in fairly good shape. They are to be found in the small and medium industries rather than in the big ones, since these have been more affected by dismantling and decartelization. These two groups form the nucleus and supply the strength of the Christian Democrat Union. There are, furthermore, the remains of the middle-class artisans -- the bakers, the butchers, shoemakers, owners of garages and small machine shops, etc., who work with their hands. Finally, and above all, there is the bulk of the Socialistically trained working class. Even though this group was by no means immune to National Socialism, it was the one that best kept its identity and social consciousness -- the important qualities in periods of social decomposition. It was the most effective bulwark against Communism before 1933, and in many eyes seems the most reliable cornerstone on which democracy can be built in Germany. That the Communists treat the Socialists as their primary enemies in Germany today is relevant evidence in this regard.


The classical form of democracy has been bourgeois. Democracy was won by the bourgeoisie in a fight against absolutism and feudalism, and was maintained by them. The idea of this democracy (combined with the ancient elements of a peasant democracy) is still realized in Switzerland; and in spite of certain changes in form it still represents the political ideal in the United States. In Germany it failed at the time of the Weimar Republic.

One would certainly be incorrect to assume that the German national character makes democracy impossible. Toward the end of the Middle Ages the German boroughs had a genuine and flourishing democracy which the authoritarian state defeated only after a severe struggle. Since the time of Luther and the Peasant War, however -- i.e. for more than 400 years -- democratic institutions in Germany have deteriorated, except perhaps in Swabia-Württemberg; and when toward the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries a new historical hour struck for democracy, the German middle class had neither the strength nor the boldness to take command of the state and establish a democratic system. The catastrophe of 1918 gave the German bourgeoisie another chance. But the opportunity was all too literally "given," and those to whom power is offered as a gift seldom know how to use it. If, as seems to have been the case, the objective preliminary conditions of bourgeois democracy were missing in Germany at that time, can they be present now when the process of disintegration has gone so much further? If not, the only possible democracy in Germany seems to be a social democracy.

A realistic view of the social forces in Germany today suggests that we would be mistaken to think of the Christian Democrat Union as a kind of "Third Force" in Germany and a bulwark against totalitarianism, as many Americans seem to do. To avoid misunderstandings, I take pains to say that I do not entertain any doubts whatever as to the democratic intentions of the Christian Democrat leaders. There are no better democrats or Europeans than Dr. Adenauer and Dr. Kogon, to mention only two names. However, a very considerable number of the votes that won a majority for this party came from political chaff which drifted together mainly because it feared "international" Socialism and as yet had no opportunity to give its vote to a new Fascist party. I use the word "Fascist" intentionally, as a term which includes National Socialism and every neo-Nazi movement. If the Fascisms of the twenties and thirties are to be understood -- sociologically and politically -- as revolutions of the dispossessed middle classes, then we must conclude that the military defeat of Nazi Germany has increased the number of those who have a vital interest in either a restoration of Nazism or a new revolution motivated by resentment.

The fighting spirit of the old German bourgeoisie was feeble, compared to that of the middle classes in England, the United States and France, and now the absence of the former strong Jewish element adds to this weakness. Reactionary quarters in Germany frequently denounced the liberal and democratic parties as "Judaized," and the attack was by no means irrational, for German middle-class Jews, who had had to hold their ground in the face of prejudice and discrimination in the Army and in public life, had developed the very fighting spirit so sadly lacking in their Christian fellow citizens. They were not submissive, and from Ludwig Bamberger up to Walter Rathenau had provided opposition to absolutism. By expelling the Jewish élite and by killing the masses of the German Jews, the Nazis eliminated a factor of strength within the German middle class.

The cadres of the C.D.U. were recruited from the Catholic ranks, and to a certain extent the Catholic tradition and the power of the Church may be able to provide a substitute for this lost element of strength. But Catholic influence should not be overestimated. For one thing, Western Germany does not have a Catholic majority; for another, the Roman Catholic Church has never committed itself to moving in one political direction only. German Catholicism does not possess that innate humanism which is to be found in France and Italy as a result of the Roman heritage. Above all -- though this comes as a shock to anyone who did not set foot in Germany after 1933 -- the Nazi régime succeeded in its 12 years of power in estranging many Germans from the Christian religion. True, a considerable number of voters in Bavaria and the Rhineland will continue to cast their ballots according to the advice of the local priest, but this does not provide sufficient foundation for a modern political party. There is strength in the politically active and fairly large section of the party which is recruited from the Catholic unions. But we should note that this group is nearer to the Socialists than to the C.D.U. leadership on many matters of policy, and it is no secret that Catholic labor would have welcomed a coalition with the Social Democrats in the present government.

In his excellent book, "Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy," Professor Schumpeter points out that everywhere, with the exception of Switzerland, democracy has reached a stage in which its essential difference from totalitarian forms of government is that it permits competition for political leadership. In short, it permits free elections. The German working class, which has in so many respects taken over the heritage of the bourgeoisie, now has a chance to acquire power under such a system. And its experience in the Nazi years made it understand better than any other group, I think, how much it has to gain from freedom. Both factors might be expected to recommend to the workers a "democratic solution" to their problems. It may be appropriate, at this juncture, to point out that the writer is not and never has been a Socialist. But the conclusion seems inescapable that the success of democracy within the disintegrated German social structure depends upon whether the working class can be won to support a democratic system and will remain steadfast to it. Since a good part of the German intelligentsia is aware of this, the Social Democrats have received considerable reinforcements from intellectuals, notably Professor Carlo Schmid, one of the most capable of German postwar politicians, and Alfred Weber, a gifted teacher of prewar days.

It is to be hoped, then, that any American aversion to Socialism will not weaken Allied relations with Socialist quarters. That would not only separate the Allies from strong forces in Germany but would make it easy for the opponents of democracy to denounce the Allies as supporters of "reaction." The democratic idea can be effectively promoted only if political and economic support is given to all genuine German democrats, no matter to which class or to which party they belong. To fail to do so is to risk repeating the mistakes of the twenties, when everything that had been denied to democracy was thrown into the lap of the Nazis.


Observers agree with no little alarm that nationalism is on the upsurge everywhere in Germany. Perhaps if this problem is viewed in perspective it can be made more manageable. The world looks upon German nationalism as a threatening, overbearing and aggressive force, whereas patriotism in most other nations is taken to be welcome evidence of inner soundness. The main reason that German national consciousness is such an undisciplined force is that German patriotism developed only as a reaction to the Napoleonic conquest, and not, as in countries already consolidated, in connection with the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The failure of the revolution of 1848 marked the failure of the democratic idea to fuse with the idea of patriotism in Germany. Thus German nationalism failed to find roots in domestic policy and found expression only in the field of foreign policy. Bismarck deliberately used national feeling, fanned through foreign wars, to frustrate democratization within the country -- that is to say, he used "national liberalism" to defraud the middle classes of liberalism in the same way that Hitler used National Socialism to defraud the working class of Socialism. Both used the satisfaction of national desires as a drug -- and now, as after 1918, the German people, bereft of these satisfactions of an exaggerated nationalism, show the erratic behavior of an addict suddenly deprived of his stimulant.

Moreover, every foreign occupation, even the wisest and most considerate (and wisdom and forbearance are rare qualities in a period of occupation), is bound in the long run to arouse resistance. The first step in dealing with the problem, therefore, is for occupation Powers who are planning for the long term to distinguish between patriotic national consciousness, with which their own citizens are imbued and which they should respect and even welcome in others, and nationalism which is running amok. Neither one kind of nationalism nor the other is the possession of any particular social class. Obviously, however, those whom I have called the nomads are the least secure and the most easily swept off their feet by blind passions; a good deal of the shrillness of the recent electoral campaign in Germany resulted from attempts to compete for the vote of this group, which either major party needs to gain a majority. And any German government which hopes to stay in power must build up a life worth living for all those millions of displaced and impoverished people, with the support of the social forces that are still intact. The process will take many years and can succeed only with help from abroad.

It is dangerous to believe that the experiences which Germans have had with the Russian occupation will cause them to turn to the west under any and all circumstances. When D. H. Lawrence visited Germany in 1924 he wrote: "The great leaning of the German spirit is eastward towards Russia, towards Tartary." There is even more need to remember this today. Not only the German Communists, but millions of refugees have their eyes fixed toward the east. Many of them are ready for a new war if that is the only way they can regain their old homes. And never in history has there been a war in which hired soldiers have not been found to fight for the party which promised the greater profit. The payment desired in this case cannot be made by the west. It might be taken in alliance with the west; but it may be freely promised by the east as a reward of service, at the expense of Poland. How willing and able the Soviet Union may become to destroy her system of satellite states in Eastern Europe -- which is what the policy suggested would amount to -- is, of course, another question. Few men will offer a confident answer to a situation so obscure and so fluid. But we can be sure that expediency will be the determining factor in any Soviet decision.

However this may be, we must, I think, conclude that the first phase of the occupation policy has ended badly. The policy of "denazification" has not "denazified" Germany. The Nuremberg trials did not appeal to the German sense of justice. The currency reform succeeded in its objective of increasing production, but it squeezed savings and now unemployment is mounting and prices are rising. In short, the prestige of the occupation Powers is low. The Allied "democratization" policy has tried to do what can in fact be accomplished only by the Germans themselves through the gradual construction of a German democracy. Unfortunately, every attempt at "democratizing" Germany from outside has a result opposite to that intended. Reëducation of adults has always been an insoluble problem, and when attempted by foreigners or emigrants is bound to arouse distrust that will destroy all chances of success.

Yet if the problem is correctly diagnosed, the situation does not seem hopeless. A clarification of Allied policy toward Germany is certain to come, since even though Western Germany has not been admitted to the Atlantic Pact as a junior partner, it constitutes an advance position of vital importance for Western Europe, and, no doubt, for the entire western world.

There are three ways, at the moment, in which it seems to me that the growth of German democracy may best be aided. In devising means to follow any of them it is essential to remember that German democratic leaders must not be exposed to the charge of "collaboration" -- that is, must not in appearance or in fact be made the puppets of foreign rulers. Most urgently, economic support is needed. Americans are being blamed for the undesirable consequences of the currency reform, and a rapid relaxation of the tight credit situation is in the American interest as well as in the German interest. I will not attempt to discuss the solutions that might be found. German industry might be aided by private capital investments, or it might be more useful to increase credit in Western Germany by a revival of the so-called shadow-accounts. It matters less which method is chosen than that action be prompt and vigorous. Incidentally, the release of the frozen German foreign assets seems overdue.

Next is the need for measures to advance the social consolidation of the country, using as the nucleus the social forces that are still intact, in particular the working class. Above all it is essential that the process of nomadization -- actual and potential -- as described above, be checked. The fate of the European Continent may depend upon whether, gradually, a solution is found for the refugee problem. Those who are really aware of the situation -- as are the representatives of the Church -- realize that it cannot be mended by German strength alone and probably not in Western Germany alone. In this connection we may compare the calming effect of the free immigration and emigration of the nineteenth century with the results of autarchy and isolationism in the twentieth. Those who regard the immigrant just as an undesirable competitor might be reminded of the wise words of Adam Smith, that labor is the source of wealth.

But the success or failure of the second phase of Allied policy in Germany will not be decided in the economic field nor the social field, but by politics. The third and most important way to aid democracy in Germany is by promoting the consolidation of Europe. The fact that this is essential for the success of the Marshall Plan is better understood in the United States than in most European countries. The need for this broader consolidation should be the decisive factor in charting economic policy. The further Western Germany recovers economically, the more unwilling Germans will be to accept measures which they think -- perhaps unjustly -- are motivated by hatred, whether in regard to the application of the Ruhr Statute, against the revival of heavy industry or the chemical industries, or in questions of foreign trade. But the wider the aims of the Allies, the more readily the Germans will coöperate. Successful steps toward the integration of Europe would furnish the most effective kind of support for German democracy.

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  • EDGAR SALIN, Professor of Political Economy, University of Basel, Switzerland; former Professor at the Universities of Heidelberg and Kiel; author of many biographies, histories and economic works
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