diagram illustrating 4 "special paths"
Diagram illustrating 4 "special paths"

UCSB Hist 133c, L04:
Germany's "Special Paths"
lecture on Jan. 18, 2006 (L03; L05)

by Professor Harold Marcuse (homepage)
contact: marcuse@history.ucsb.edu

created Jan. 18, 2006, updated 3/9/07; 1/12/19

Four "Special paths"
Description of Paths
Consequences of post-1945 planning

"The" Sonderweg: Germany's four special paths to modern statehood
(back to top)

Guiding question: How do different views about unique features of Germany's history prior to 1945 affect what happens after 1945?

  • Fulbrook's textbook, pages 2-5, gives a capsule summary of various possible special paths, "turning points where Germany failed to turn."
  • For the sake of simplicity, I'll outline 4 different "special paths"  (they overlap and have variations):
    1. Ideological-Cultural (long-term--since Luther, ca. 1500): traditions of obedience, militarism, bureaucracy, antisemitism

      Ditty in satirical magazine Punch, 1913
      illustrates special path 2:

      Once the land of poets, seekers, sages
      Who enchant us with their deathless pages
      Now the Prussian Junker, blind with fury
      Claims to be God's counsel, judge and jury

    2. Political (middle-term--during 1800s): Germany's unification "from above" by elites, instead of "from below" by economic middle class (bourgeoisie) during industrialization,
    3. Economic (middle-term--early 20th century): unique circumstances after World War I
    4. Accidental (also ideological-cultural, but very short term): "Factory accident," (in German: Betriebsunfall): German historians after 1945 postulated that Germany actually had especially good traditions (a superior special path) until things just "broke down" for the 12 years under Hitler.
  • Link: see Prof. Raffael Scheck's Germany and Europe lecture notes on the Sonderweg
    (see especially the summary of positions in his 4 bullet points [2013 Internet Archive version])

Description of paths (back to top)

  • Each diagram illustrating 4 German "special paths"path emphasized different unique features of German history.
    1. Ideological-Cultural: Germany has been bad, authoritarian, exclusionary since the time of Martin Luther in the 1500s, certainly since Frederick the Great (1780s)
    2. Political: things started to go wrong when the 1848 democrats failed to unify the country. When Bismarck succeeded in the 1860s, the wrong track was solidified.
    3. Economic: the large landowners and industrialists were never curbed by the working classes; instead the state stepped in and mediated after the 1870s.
    4. Accidental: Germany has been an exceptionally progressive nation since the middle ages, and was only hit by temporary insanity after the Great Depression in the 1930s, but will rebound immediately once Hitler and his henchmen no longer wield power.

Consequences for post-1945 planning (back to top)

  • Each of the special paths had different implications for "bringing Germany back" to the "normal" state of western Europe after 1945.
    1. Ideological-Cultural: unconditional surrender and long occupation (see the film Here is Germany--L03)(so-called Morgenthau Plan)
    2. Political: need to purge military, civil service bureaucracy, and reform institutions (West German model)
    3. Economic: need to purge economic elites and reform economic system (East German model)
    4. Accidental: no need for long occupation, just leave the Germans alone to do it themselves

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, Jan. 17, 2006, updated: see header
lecture 3: Here is Germany; lecture 5: Political Parties
back to top, Hist 133c homepage