H-Diplo Roundtable XIX, 41 on Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany

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Roundtable Review

Volume XIX, No. 41 (2018)

25 June 2018



Roundtable Editors: Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse

Roundtable and Web Production Editor: George Fujii


Introduction by Thomas Maddux


Noah B. Strote.  Lions and Lambs:  Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany.  New Haven and London:  Yale University Press, 2017.  ISBN:  9780300219050 (hardcover, $40.00).


URL: http://www.tiny.cc/Roundtable-XIX-41


Introduction by Mark Edward Ruff, Saint Louis University. 2

Review by Jennifer Allen, Yale University. 5

Review by James Chappel, Duke University. 9

Review by Sean Forner, Michigan State University. 15

Review by Terence Renaud, Yale University. 20

Author’s Response by Noah B. Strote, North Carolina State University. 24


© 2018 The Authors.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.



Noah B. Strote’s new book, Lions and Lambs, could not be more timely. Arriving when liberal democracies are being battered by those rejecting consensus in favor of conflict and exclusion, it tells us of the reverse—how intellectual luminaries chose to forego models of extreme partisanship in favor of partnership. Why did leading West German intellectuals opt to build bridges rather than walls in the post-1945 era? His investigation leads him to a deeper question that underlies this entire book: what allowed Germany’s rebirth as a liberal democracy to produce a healthy adult and not a stillborn child?

Strote dispenses with explanations traditionally offered to account for this success story. He disputes long-held claims that it was either the trauma of the catastrophic outcome of the war or American-led policies of reeducation that changed hearts and minds. Similarly, he argues against narratives of modernization that attribute the stability of the West German political system to Germany’s “coming of age,” however belatedly, in the postwar era. It was the Germans themselves, Strote argues, that propelled this about-face.


To create this counter-narrative, Strote turns not primarily to politicians but rather to intellectuals. Some of them, of course, had been deeply involved in politics either during the Weimar Republic or in the Federal Republic (or in some cases, both). But even here, Strote challenges recent orthodoxies. It was not those thinkers like Kurt Sontheimer, Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, Ralf Dahrendorf, Jürgen Habermas or Günter Grass, who were born in the late 1920s and early 1930—the so-called “generation of 1945”—that took the lead. It was not the so-called 68ers. Rather, it was those from a generation earlier, born in the first decade after 1900 more commonly associated with militant Nazi stormtroopers and Communist fighters. These political philosophers, sociologists, economists, theologians, jurists and political scientists included Ernst Benz, Arnold Bergsträsser, Ernst Fraenkel, Max Horkheimer, Gerhard Leibholz, Helmut Plessner, Wilhelm Röpke, Hans-Joachim Schoeps, among many others. And hence this book’s dialectical structure—a juxtaposition of these intellectuals and their political views before and after 1945.


That Strote should focus on intellectuals should not surprise. Lions and Lambs began as a dissertation guided by the renowned intellectual historian at the University of California at Berkeley, Martin Jay. Like many trained by Jay and his students Peter Gordon and Samuel Moyn, Strote underscores the role played by Christian thinkers in the conflict-ridden landscape of the early twentieth century and again in the era of reconstruction, the first two decades following the Second World War. Strote quotes Moyn, who described the immediate postwar era as “Christianity’s last golden age on the continent” (13). The reasons behind this “remarkable return or restoration of Christianity,” Strote claims, have remained “largely unexplained” (13).


It is the mark of a powerful book with potentially transformative claims that it evokes not just encomiums but reflection and critical analysis. Our four reviewers all provide healthy portions of both. Specialists in postwar German intellectual and cultural history, the reviewers all praise Strote’s ability to re-periodize this era. All grapple with how he has reconceived narratives of the remarkable West-German political turn-around.


Their criticisms center overwhelmingly on omissions. Which groups and persons were left out of his selection of West German intellectuals brokering consensus? Jennifer Allen focuses on the exclusion of women from both categories of lions and lambs, taking issue with Strote’s claim that women played almost no role in the high politics of the eras under consideration. Terence Renaud, Sean Forner, and James Chappel hone in on the absence of Communists and left-socialists, arguing that West German politics was not determined solely by social reformists, Christian democrats, and neoliberals. All argue that the consensus that emerged between these three groups could not have been shaped without reference to opponents on the left. These also called for partnership, if only for limited periods of time and for tactical reasons.


That there should be disagreement on Strote’s claims is a reflection not only of the high quality of his work. It is a reflection of the renewed urgency of his analysis of liberal democracy in an era of exclusionary nationalism, political polarization and subversion of democratic norms. The concerns of his intellectuals writing in the first two decades following the catastrophe of the Second World War are thus once again on the front-burner: what caused the destruction of the norms and laws of liberal democracies and what does it take to restore them? How can excessive partisanship be transformed into consensus?


Unfortunately, the consensus that these intellectuals helped forge has since come to be taken for granted, paving the way for its disregard and dismantling. Holding on to democratic norms and building partnerships requires constant vigilance and action. Strote’s volume tells us how a belief in ‘the end of ideology,’ which was prevalent in many intellectual circles from the late 1950s on, has now been supplanted by trepidation. Ironically, it was ‘Vital Center’ and Cold War liberals who were animated by these fears. History does not always move forward.




Noah B. Strote is an Associate Professor of European history at North Carolina State University. He is the author of Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017). His current research projects include a study of recent anti-leftist discourse in the United States and Germany as well as a study of intellectual exchange between African-Americans and European immigrants in the nineteenth century.


Mark Edward Ruff is Professor of History at Saint Louis University. He is the author of The Battle for the Catholic Past in Germany, 1945-1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017) as well as The Wayward Flock: Catholic Youth in Postwar West Germany, 1945-1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005). He has co-edited volumes on Christian Workers’ Movements in Europe and the Catholic Church in the Third Reich. He is beginning work on a monograph comparing German reactions to allegations of collective guilt after the First and Second World Wars.


Jennifer Allen is an Assistant Professor of Modern European history at Yale University. She is currently completing a book titled “Sustainable Utopias: Art, Political Culture, and Historical Practice in Late Twentieth-Century Germany,” which charts Germany’s postwar efforts to revitalize the concept of utopia. Her other research focuses on counterculture and grassroots activism in the twentieth century, utopianism, the cultural politics of Cold War and post-Cold War Europe, and the theories and practices of memory in modern Europe.


James Chappel is the Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History at Duke University. He works on the intellectual and cultural history of modern Europe. His first book is Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018).


Sean Forner is Associate Professor of history at Michigan State University. His interests center on 20th-century Europe and Germany, with a focus on intersections of intellectual history and the history of political culture, or political imaginaries. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. His book German Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democratic Renewal: Culture and Politics after 1945 was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014. Sean’s current project explores the emergence of Europe’s “First New Left” in the 1950s.


Terence Renaud is a postdoctoral associate and lecturer in the Humanities Program and Department of History at Yale University. He works on modern European intellectual history, and his current book project is called New Lefts: The Making of a Radical Tradition, 1920-1970.


Whose Consensus?


The French novelist François Mauriac once said that he loved Germany so much he was glad there were two of them. Mauriac of course had in mind the pair of Germanys whose delicate coexistence served for four decades as a barometer of the peace and stability of postwar Europe. Mauriac’s bon mot could apply just as well, however, to the narrower world of mid-twentieth-century German domestic politics that Noah Strote explores in Lions and Lambs. From the Weimar Republic to the student activism of the 1960s, the fate of liberal democracy in Germany hinged, Strote argues, on the ability of Germans to negotiate twin visions for their country’s future. He attributes the spectacular collapse of the Weimar experiment not to the insufficiency of economic recovery plans or to an anti-democratic predisposition among the German electorate but to a fundamental lack of consensus on the values and institutions that would legitimate the new state. Interwar Germans could not seem to agree on whether to support or oppose judicial review; whether to advocate a regulatory economic policy driven by Christian ethics or to embrace the free market; whether young people would be better served by a nationalist education policy or one committed to European integration; whether to prioritize cultural uniformity or cultural diversity.


The rebirth of liberal democracy after the Nazis followed from the successful reconciliation of these dueling agendas. A generation of postwar consensus-builders embedded into the very foundations of the Federal Republic a commitment to an independent judiciary that would check popular sovereignty; a politics inflected by Christian values; European integration; and cultural pluralism. The political and economic stability of the Federal Republic since has rested on its continued investment in these values.

Largely absent from Strote’s history of conflict and consensus is the United States. Strote proposes Lions and Lambs as a counterweight to a historiographical overemphasis on the American influence over postwar West German reconstruction. This is not a narrative in which the Federal Republic emerged from a long history of self-incurred tutelage under the watchful eye of its Western occupiers via what Konrad Jarausch has called West Germany’s “collective learning process.”[1] Instead, Strote offers a history of German agency, one in which the essential infrastructure of the contemporary Federal Republic was erected by German hands. West German intellectuals endowed the institutions of the fledgling Federal Republic with a distinct vocabulary and set of operational principles. They jettisoned the Weimar fixation on struggle, crisis, and chaos and substituted for it an investment in cooperation, order and, most importantly, partnership. From the late 1930s to the late 1960s, the principle of partnership became what Strote calls postwar West Germany’s “foundational ideology” (269).

Strote’s narrative of consensus-building—or at least collective concession-making—is largely compelling.


He convincingly demonstrates a convergence, beginning as early as 1937, in the programs of ten intellectuals, one half of whom had been at loggerheads with the other half just a few years earlier. As National Socialism became increasingly threatening, they began to abandon their “will to power” in favor of a “will to dialogue” (13). The reader often gets the sense, though, that such dialogue may have been mostly a mirage. Instead of meeting in the middle, someone always cried uncle: Social Democrats yielded to Christian Democrats on the creation of a Constitutional Court that would ensure an equilibrium of liberty and equality; Protestant neoliberals yielded to Catholic advocates of a social market economy to form an interconfessional bulwark against the Socialists; even Jews yielded to Christians on the importance of fortifying institutions that would instill in Germans traditional Christian values. Against an increasingly inconvenient Nazi politics, in other words, intellectuals entered into marriages of convenience that they consummated on a bed of resignation more often than genuine shared values (148).


If postwar West Germany was defined by a consensus of some sort—whether equitable compromise or merely willful concession—Strote’s book invites us to ask whose consensus it really was. Strote recognizes the necessity of approaching this subject gingerly. He opposes applying modernization theory to the history of West German reconstruction, for example, on the grounds that an essentially fragmented Germany never enjoyed a coherent body politic that could modernize as a unit. Instead, Germans had to negotiate a framework for stability out of many competing social-moral milieus. A careful reader, Strote suggests, needs to avoid oversimplifying this negotiation process. Yet Strote seems to fall prey to the expediency of his own analytical framework: after conceding Germany’s complex political topography, he never returns to the subject of German diversity to assess whether his leitmotif might obscure that nuance.


Strote underscores that the individuals who did the heavy lifting in building postwar West Germany were intellectuals of the political generation born between the years 1890 and 1910. Some played the role of lions in these efforts; others, lambs. There are many ways to parse the “lions and lambs” metaphor that gives the book its title. Strote, who indicates his own intentions on several occasions, (for example, 85, 149, 269), uses it largely to signal incompatibility rather than a battle between the strong and the meek. Strote, however, never subjects his central metaphor to any real test. He opts not to engage with counterexamples that might challenge his consensus-building paradigm. And there are many. He omits Communists because they did not play nice with the rest of Germany’s political leadership (13). He omits ordinary Germans because they, unlike intellectuals “who communicated for a living,” did not “leave abundant traces of their thinking” (12, 17). Perhaps most conspicuously, he omits women. The protagonists of Lions and Lambs belonged to a “cohort of young men—and significantly, they were all men, as males dominated public life” (11).


Pointing to sins of omission is among the more uninspired critiques one can offer of a text; both research timelines and word counts impose limits on the scope of a book. Still, the ease with which the book presumes, particularly, the absence of women from among either lions or lambs is striking. In justifying this omission, Strote claims that it was simply the men who played politics. Of the fourteen contemporary German women who appear in Strote’s index, most surface only incidentally as either students or wives of influential men. Few, like Elisabeth Blochmann, an expert in educational practices, are acknowledged to have had any real voice. And where they did, it never seemed to carry far enough to influence postwar debates. Not until the young far-left militant, Ulrike Meinhof, commanded her young compatriots in 1968 to give up passive protest in favor of active resistance does a woman exercise serious agency in Strote’s book, whether for or against the consensus.


Strote’s handy dismissal of Weimar women, however, clashes with the gender politics of this same period. Weimar’s extension of the franchise to women, the rise of the Women’s Movement, and the modest but important body of female parliamentarians meant that women were hardly absent from these discussions. In fact, when Friedrich Ebert opened the first Reichstag session in February 1919, forty-one female representatives, or roughly a tenth of parliament, were there to make their voices heard. Germany would not see that degree of female parliamentary participation again until 1983, when the young German Green Party made gender parity in politics a central aspect of its political platform.[2]


In what ways, then, did Weimar women either buttress or challenge the patterns of political conflict Strote observes in the interwar years? Might there have been a place in the book for Luise Zietz, a member of an older generation but also part of the leadership of the SPD and a Reichstag representative in the early Weimar years, a woman whose principled politics contributed to the fragmentation of the Left and who, much like the jurists Gerhard Leibholz and Ernst Fraenkel, participated actively in early constitutional discussions on the theme of equality?[3] Might there have been a place for a more sustained treatment of Antonie Hopmann, who receives only brief mention as one of the leaders of the Catholic German Women’s League which, together with the Union of German Protestant Women’s Organizations, committed itself to the Christian political education of women?[4] Might there have been a place for Elisabeth Selbert, a lawyer and representative on the Parliamentary Council tasked with drafting the Basic Law? Though Selbert soon became a vocal advocate of women’s equality in the constitution, as the historian Robert G. Moeller notes, she “had come to Bonn not as a spokesperson for women’s rights but as an expert on the problem of reconstituting the court system and establishing a national framework for judicial review.”[5] One need not wait for the defeat of gender inequality in politics and society—one may as well be waiting for Godot—to acknowledge that the agency of German women mattered in fueling conflict or forging consensus. A similarly nuanced attitude toward German agency in the postwar period would have invited productive questions about the backlash against partnership—among other things, a gendered debate—that Strote observes beginning in the 1960s.[6]


Throughout Lions and Lambs, one wonders whether the consensus Strote discerns was, in fact, Germany’s consensus. It has certainly become Germany’s consensus, as Strote persuasively explains. If the stability of the Federal Republic’s foundational institutions has derived, as Strote claims, from the willingness of the body politic to sanction their operation—from the establishment of a value consensus (8); if Strote wishes to argue that this value consensus was forged in the thirty years from the middle of the Nazi regime until the breakout of a new generation of political activists in the ‘60s; and if this study indeed aims to show the breadth and pervasiveness of the process of consensus building “in its totality” (12), then a more rigorous effort to bridge the work of the Federal Republic’s founding fathers and the views of “Germans themselves” (269) is necessary. If the question of judicial review provoked a healthy debate in the popular press (33, 40), one wishes to know more about the contours of and participants in these debates. If the economist Wilhelm Röpke’s proposals to dial back government regulation “did not enjoy general acceptance” (54), one wishes to learn how the electorate received his eventual collaboration with the Catholic economic and social theorist Oswald von Nell-Breuning. If ordinary Germans tended to see in “idealistic educators” like the philosopher Helmuth Plessner caricatures of a “stuffy bourgeois who can neither inspire nor control the middle-class students who grew up in a world blighted by the injustices of Versailles” (80), one wishes to find those in whom they saw themselves mirrored.


In a way, however, part of the contribution of this intelligent book to the field of modern German history derives from its very limits. It opens up opportunities to explore whether this pattern of conflict and consensus-building was as uniform as Strote’s case studies would have us believe. Strote invites us to ask whether we are content, somewhat like François Mauriac, to let a two-sided vision of mid-century West Germany—one of lions and of lambs—characterize the history of its reconstruction or if, perhaps, Strote’s generation of consensus-builders were actually not so different from the generation of activists that followed them, a generation that called us to recognize, instead, the importance of a more multifaceted network of solidarities: not two, but three or many Germanys.

The Divine Comity: On Partnership in Postwar Germany


Noah Strote’s Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany (Yale, 2017) is a remarkable work of intellectual and political history. It tackles one of the greatest puzzles of twentieth-century history: how did the chaos and violence of Nazi Germany give way to the relative placidity and stability of the Federal Republic? In some ways, this question lies at the heart of the age of extremes, for embedded within it is an even more fundamental one: why was the second half of Europe’s twentieth century so different from its first half? It was not writ in stone, after all, that levels of violence would decrease (or be outsourced to the colonies). And yet, they did. Whatever one thinks of the postwar European experience, it was clearly better than what came before. And this leads to perhaps the most fundamental question of our, or any, time: how does war give way to peace?


It is surprising how infrequently this question about the German twentieth century has been asked in a disciplined way. The massive scholarship on the National Socialist era infrequently troubles itself with the very different regime(s) that emerged in its wake. The somewhat smaller scholarship on postwar German history, in turn, tends to take the smoking ruins of the Third Reich as a starting point.[7] Both sets of scholarship, to be sure, have cast piercing light on twentieth-century European history, and on the modern experiment as a whole. And yet the nature of the transition between them has been difficult to discern.


One common answer is, perhaps, the simplest. The Nazi movement, in this story, ended because it was defeated in war, and a more peaceful era began because Germany was henceforth occupied and transformed by two armies (the American and the Soviet), neither of which was genuinely interested in sparking a third World War, and each of which was genuinely interested in ensuring that National Socialism remained a relic of the past. This narrative severs postwar German history from what came before, and it deprives Germans themselves of primary agency in remaking their country.


This is the story that Strote sets out to dismantle. In Strote’s view, West German democracy was too stable and resilient of a phenomenon to have had such shallow roots. Responsibility for its success, therefore, cannot lie primarily with the occupying Americans. As recent history has shown all too well, it is challenging to create a national consensus and a democratic culture where one did not exist. West Germany did not become Iraq, although it certainly could have (sectarian tensions simmered in Central Europe, too). The success of West Germany must lie, instead, with the Germans themselves.


This argument is not, so far, a new one: many have mused that there is a “good Germany” (Ludwig van Beethoven, Immanuel Kant) and a “bad Germany” (Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels), and that after the Götterdämmerung the former emerged in glory.[8] This is not how Strote narrates the story, and his scope is rather narrower (1919-1957, with a few forays in either direction). He accepts the fundamental premise that there was, at some point in the twentieth century, a rupture in German history. And yet he thinks that, from the perspective of ideas, it happened at a different time than is usually believed. While historians now agree that 1945 was not a Stunde Null, most understandings of twentieth-century Europe still rotate around that pole.[9] How could they not? At the level of geopolitics and political economy, the outcome of the war changed everything. Those are not, however, the only axes of modern history, and 1945 is not the only fulcrum around which the century might turn.


Strote’s novel periodization emerges from the book’s structure. The book is divided into two halves. The first (“Conflict”) details the intellectual chaos of the Weimar and early Nazi years, while the latter (“Partnership”) explores the forging of new intellectual alliances, and eventually new political programs, between the later Nazi years and the economic miracle of the 1950s.


The structure is ingenious. Each half of the book contains five chapters, and each chapter in the first half maps more or less neatly onto a chapter in the second half. In part one, for instance, there is a chapter on the idea judicial review in the Weimar Republic, detailing the disagreements between a socialist political scientist (Ernst Fraenkel) and a conservative jurist (Gerhard Leibholz). This disagreement is taken to be emblematic of broader failures, as judicial review came to nothing at the time. Part two has a kindred chapter on the same theme, showing how those same two individuals began to find common ground in the later years of the Nazi era, when intellectuals of many stripes were beginning to emphasize partnership and dialogue over dogmatism. In this case, both Fraenkel and Leibholz engaged with dissident, sometimes non-German, forms of Christianity that led them to converge around a notion of the judiciary that was compatible with democracy, social justice, and natural law thinking. This, too, is taken to be emblematic of a broader intellectual shift, to be held at least partly responsible for the victory of judicial review in the Federal Republic. The remarkable pairing of Fraenkel and Leibholz is mirrored in a number of other chapters, providing kindred stories about some of the other components of the West German experiment, notably schooling, international orientation, economic policy, and racial integration.


Essentially, therefore, the book makes a case for the later years of the Nazi era (1938-1945) as the ideological staging ground of the West German recovery to come. The idea is that, during those years, conservative and Christian intellectuals came to see that Hitler was leading their beloved nation into Armageddon, and moreover that he was not the cultural and religious conservative he had sometimes pretended to be. At the same time, leftist intellectuals came to see that their previous skepticism of Christianity and liberalism alike had led to a catastrophe far worse than Karl Marx could have anticipated. This sent the two camps crabwalking into an alliance—one that seemed marginal in the dark days of the war, but which provided the intellectual firepower and goodwill necessary to craft a new polity once the war came to a close.


In sum, Lions and Lambs puts forth the claim that West German reconstruction should be viewed less as a Cold War, American project than as a very German one, with conceptual origins in conservative and socialist grappling with Nazism before the war and the Holocaust. This argument is original, important, and impressively documented. Each chapter is brimming with insights and close textual analysis. The book brings to life a cast of characters and a world that is often neglected, especially by intellectual historians. Although a compact book covering many figures, it feels luxurious in the time that it gives to each of its themes and texts. This is important because the figures charted here are less studied than philosophical icons like Walter Benjamin or Jürgen Habermas (who come from, respectively, earlier and later generations than the one Strote deems crucial).


Strote is making studied interventions into the relatively narrow field of twentieth-century German intellectual history, and the comparatively massive and interdisciplinary one of statebuilding and democratic consolidation. Before turning to my more critical remarks, I’ll explain what I take these interventions to be.


As for twentieth-century intellectual history: while Lions and Lambs superficially resembles Udi Greenberg’s Weimar Century, it has more in common with Sean Forner’s German Intellectuals and the Challenges of Democratic Renewal and Dirk Moses’s German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past.[10] All three focus on domestic and generational histories, but in different ways. Forner and Moses dwell on the intellectual chaos of the late 1940s, asking how it morphed into the relative placidity of the long 1950s before exploding again at the end of the 1960s. Strote, instead, suggests that the 1950s should be viewed less as a suspension of the intellectual conflicts of the late 1940s than as the resolution of the ones that had rocked the 1920s. This gives that moment a legitimate intellectual history of its own, and one with deep roots. The difference in interpretation stems primarily from the generational protagonist in question (Strote focuses on those born around 1900, rather than those born around 1920). Together, therefore, the three books provide a complementary set of analyses, showing how West Germany grappled with race, social policy, and memory in the wake of the Holocaust. 


The best works of history are those that seek to stray beyond their subfield and engage with interdisciplinary and public debates. Strote rises to this challenge, pointing out that the West German experience has been taken as a model for nation-building experiments across the globe. He believes, though, that the wrong lesson has been learned. If West Germany is narrated as a success of transnational integration and the importation of American ideals and capital, it could legitimate an interventionist foreign policy seeking to do the same thing elsewhere. Strote views this as a misreading. In his view, West Germany was successful, at the ideological level, because Germans had already done the conceptual heavy lifting themselves. If Weimar had collapsed because of the incompatibility of its intellectual traditions, as Strote suggests, then the Americans could wield only the clumsiest of tools (publication bans and the like) to alleviate those ills. This becomes less a story of transformation from without, and more one in which changed circumstances allowed previously subterranean, and domestic, sets of ideas and alliances to emerge in public. This becomes a story, then, about the limits of nation-building, and about the power of striking new (domestic) alliances, even when the times seem hopelessly bleak (if liberal Americans think that 2018 feels hopeless, think of how antifascist Germans must have felt in 1939).


These are both important interventions, and Strote should be celebrated for making them. A forum like this provides a rare opportunity, though, to put pressure on a book’s argument, less in a spirit of criticism than of intellectual exploration. In recognition that Lions and Lambs is hoping to make a specific point about German history and a broader one about nation-building, I will offer a critical reflection on each of these fronts, inviting Strote to clarify his claims and consider what seem to me the most plausible objections to his powerful analysis.


When it comes to German history, I was most troubled by the minimal role of Communism in the analysis. In one sense, this is perfectly understandable. Strote is interested in the creation of West German political culture, in which Communists did not participate (and, in fact, were legally barred from doing so). But in another sense, Communism is completely central to this story, and its absence is jarring. It was, after all, the Communists—not the dissident Christians—who primarily defeated the Nazis on the battlefield. The majority of 1930s antifascists, too, were broadly in the orbit of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and the Popular Front. Strote does not dispute this, but he also does not explore the way in which Communism (another German tradition, after all) set the stage for the victory of his own more centrist protagonists. By excising Communists from the narrative, Strote tells a story about the overcoming of Nazism in which the heroes are anti-Communist liberals and socialists. This might be the way that the story eventually unfolded (in West Germany), but it seems like victor’s justice to narrate it that way, too.


Communism mattered intellectually, too, and even for the intellectuals traced in the book. In Strote’s emphasizing of anti-Nazism and the rupture of the late 1930s, he might downplay the persistence of anti-Communism: an important continuity across this period, and one that unites his otherwise diverse cast of characters from the beginning to the end (it was certainly not shared by all German intellectuals, either in the 1920s or the 1940s). The elision of anti-Communism as a force in its own right renders the alliances charted in Part 2 challenging to interpret. In Strote’s own telling, it was self-interest that brought his protagonists together in the first place. He is admirably hard-headed about the process of alliance formation—multiple times, he reminds the reader that he is charting the formation of a new ideology in the face of Nazi persecution, not a process of maturation that brought his figures towards some kind of humanist enlightenment (8, 149, 269). He seems to imply that the white heat of the late Nazi period was enough to weld these former foes together, indefinitely. It seems more likely that his figures were bound together already by anti-Communism, which explains why they were brought towards one another, and not towards Communists.


This leads to my question about the broader lesson of the book. Lions and Lambs is fundamentally a story about ten men getting older, having traumatic experiences, and learning to get along with one another. The structure of the book, therefore, seems to be a classic liberal narrative of ‘the end of ideology’: something like a German version of The God That Failed.[11] In the face of totalitarianism, this narrative would instruct, Germans learned to put their differences aside and play the game of liberal democracy, which counseled various forms of toleration and various constitutional compromises. This would be a story of maturation, and a Bildungsroman for the body politic. In contemporary terms, this would align well with the various forms of muscular liberalism that have emerged in response to the authoritarian trend in global politics.


And yet, one of the interesting things about the book is that Strote consistently urges the reader not to adopt such a reading, and even disputes the existence of a West German body politic. This is as it should be, in my view. These ten men are not a stand-in for German intellectual history as a whole, or even for this particular generational cohort. Consider a book about the martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the dissident Catholic Walter Dirks, the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, and the compromised philosopher Martin Heidegger: members of the same generation as Strote’s chosen cast, but whose stories would yield a very different book. Lions and Lambs is a history of a particularly important group of men, standing in for a particularly important set of processes. This is not a national parable, and the author, admirably, does not present it as one.


And yet if Strote does not mean to tell a story of national uplift and maturation, what type of story does he mean to tell? Even while Strote is clear that “partnership” is an exclusionary ideology and one that did not appeal to everyone (150), he uses it himself as a regulative principle in organizing the book. Part 2 is not about the ideology of partnership, but about actual alliance over very specific issues—just as Part 1 is about the reality, and not the ideology, of “conflict.” How, then, are we to understand “partnership,” which carries a great deal of analytical weight? When Strote explains the term, he gives the floor to a conservative British Christian (Max Warren) writing in the 1950s: a primary source, in other words, who reproduces the sanguine view of growth and freedom that Strote elsewhere counsels us to question (14).


If partnership does not come about through maturation, then what does bring it about? What is the explanatory principle that is at work here? The evidence can be interpreted in two ways, and it is unclear which of these interpretations Strote would endorse. It might be that the intellectuals in question legitimately saw the evils of totalitarianism, and came to see pragmatic partnership as the only path forwards, even if that partnership kept the most emancipatory forms of politics off the table and even if it endorsed a militaristic form of anti-Communism after the war. This would be a reading of mid-century history in the vein of Arthur Schlesinger’s The Vital Center (1949), which theorized a muscular liberalism as the only proper lesson to learn from the totalitarian experience.[12] Or it might be that Strote’s intellectuals (primarily elites, after all) were motivated primarily by fear: fear for their own lives, fear of the masses, and fear of transformational politics of left or right, which led them to create constitutional and economic structures designed to keep those forces at bay. This would be more in keeping with the analysis put forth in Corey Robin’s Fear: The History of a Political Idea, which is highly critical of these sorts of alliances, and of the ways in which anti-Communism had a deleterious effect on twentieth-century thought and politics.[13] Which of these positions, if either, does Strote wish to defend in the book?


As these remarks hopefully make clear, Lions and Lambs asks the reader to confront the deepest questions of modern European history, providing bracing new periodizations and dispelling old and comforting myths. It is a tour de force of intellectual history, tracing arcane debates from the university to the press, and from the judiciary to the school. It proves that ideas matter, even and especially when those ideas are not the stuff of phenomenology or critical theory. It proves, too, that the willingness to dialogue is a rare thing in human history, and one with quite specific institutional and intellectual preconditions. It is my hope that this forum might set the stage, in miniature, for the phenomenon that Strote has traced so expertly on a grand scale.



Noah Strote’s Lions and Lambs joins the debate on Germany’s path from the Weimar Republic to the Federal Republic (FRG) by pursuing the history of intellectuals as a dimension of the history of political culture. On the one hand, it offers a classically contextual and synoptic intellectual history, replete with insightful capsule treatments of difficult texts. On the other hand, it makes two interventions regarding West Germany’s arrival at liberal democracy after National Socialism. First, it denies that this miraculous turnaround can be ascribed to the influence of Germany’s Western occupiers or to a quasi-natural process of political maturation. Rather, the key actors were German, and the process was self-reflective and intentional. Second, it asserts that the impetus to self-transformation came not from the shock of defeat in 1945. Rather, it arose gradually and unevenly in the preceding decade, for tiny communities of exiles and the vast majority who remained inside the Reich.


Strote grounds the transition in a shift from contentious to cooperative relations among Germany’s major social groups, a sea change effected by the “generation of conflict and partnership” (9). Born between 1890 and 1910, they came of age amid the upheavals of the 1920s. Society in the prewar empire was divided along class, confessional, and urban/agrarian lines, and in the postwar republic, these politically antagonistic milieus or “conflict groups” remained, foreclosing the basic “value consensus” that might have sustained Weimar’s shaky institutions (8-9). Instead, a broad segment of the electorate and key conservative elites assembled behind Nazism’s promise to unify the nation by force. From the mid-1930s to early 1940s, however, the circles of persecution widened, the war the regime initiated deepened, and ever more Germans felt directly threatened. These experiences of endangerment brought them together across previously insurmountable barriers, and this “partnership ideal” (14) became West Germany’s “foundational ideology” (269). It was instituted by groups from across the socio-political spectrum—with the exception of “communists, who … did not participate with the others” (13)—and was rendered in an idiom of forgiveness and reconciliation, structured by a “deep grammar of Christianity” (272). Under its sway, social groups forged the common ground that had eluded them in their youth, coming to affirm constitutionally limited parliamentary government, regulated market economics, anti-militarism and pro-Europeanism, a place for religion in politics, and a measure of diversity in national culture. In these terms, Strote explains “the emergence of a liberal democratic, prosperous, peaceful, pluralistic” FRG by the 1960s (2). To illuminate the transformation, he turns to intellectuals as exemplary articulators of politically relevant positions.


The book’s two parts comprise two sets of five chapters. In the first part, each chapter introduces an arena of debate, two thinkers, and an intractable conflict, a conflict that is resolved through partnership in a corresponding chapter of part two. Strote’s narrative entwines the lives of ideas with those of cultural institutions, policy fields, political parties, and individuals—specifically, ten male intellectuals. Seven were of Jewish heritage, and although eight emigrated to western Europe or the United States (U.S.) in the 1930s and ‘40s, Strote emphasizes the domestic origins and national contexts of their ideas. He has examined a wide range of published works and assiduously tracked down personal papers and other archival materials that greatly enrich his presentation of several key figures.


Two pairs of chapters focus on constitutional law and economics. The first treats judicial review, which was hotly contested in the 1920s but enshrined in the FRG’s constitution by 1949. Initially, liberal jurists such as Gerhard Leibholz saw courts as a necessary check on legislative overreach—above all in social legislation—while those in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) such as Ernst Fraenkel privileged parliament over unelected judges. After 1933, Fraenkel stayed to defend Nazism’s opponents, and by 1937—after discussions with a Protestant fellow-lawyer, but before exile—he shifted decisively to embrace natural law as a bulwark against dictatorship and a basis for cross-class collaboration. Fraenkel’s SPD colleagues adopted his reasoning after 1945 (a compromise that jurists in the Soviet zone’s Socialist Unity Party [SED] decried). Leibholz, meanwhile, began to extend his natural rights commitments from a secular to a Christian footing, which also resonated with his peers. Thus a consensus on judicial review emerged, and by the time Fraenkel returned to the FRG in 1951, Leibholz sat on its new constitutional court. Christian remedies for class conflict were sought in the economy, too, but confessional divides presented significant hurdles. Through the economists Wilhelm Röpke and Oswald von Nell-Breuning, Strote shows the incompatible approaches of Protestant market liberalism and social-Catholic solidarism to economic depression and mass unemployment in the early 1930s. After crucial wartime realignments, such as Catholics taking their distance from Fascist corporativism and Protestants dressing liberalism in the rhetoric of Catholic social doctrine, a path was cleared to the so-called “social market economy” of the new Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Tensions persisted, but this cooperation saw concrete gains for both sides and a winning electoral formula that held the unions and the SPD in check.


The remaining chapters explore contests over culture and identity through debates on education and religion. Strote profiles partisans of internationalist versus nationalist pedagogy—Helmuth Plessner and Arnold Bergsträsser—and details their escalating clashes in the early 1930s. Developments thereafter, including Plessner’s warming to religion and Bergsträsser’s warming to “the West” as well as the Cold War and European integration, put them on compatible ground by the early 1950s. Both affirmed educating the FRG’s youth to identify with the Christian heritage of Western Europe. A related debate on religion’s place in public life, especially schooling, also sharpened in the throes of Weimar’s last crisis.


Defenders of the republic’s constitutional neutrality toward religion, including Jewish theologian Hans-Joachim Schoeps, clashed with advocates of a re-Christianization of the state, such as Protestant theologian Ernst Benz. As Strote shows, Christian conservatives’ fears of secularism led them to support Adolf Hitler even more than antisemitism did (95-96, but cf. 122). Their hopes, however, proved misplaced once the Nazi regime stopped courting Christian support and began remolding the churches. In the FRG’s first decade, the ideal of a uniform national culture gave way to a pluralist one, cultivated by both Benz and Schoeps, who returned from Swedish exile in 1946, having lost his parents in the Holocaust. Grounded in ecumenical Christianity, the new pluralism actively embraced Judaism, placing monotheistic faith at the heart of democratic citizenship. The threat of Communism as an atheist, materialist opponent as well as a political and geopolitical rival is a running theme of the book. From the 1930s through the 1950s, it proved a powerful amalgamating agent for the partnership ideal.


In a highly original final chapter, Strote follows the failed integration of conservative Christians in Nazi Germany with the more successful integration of the FRG’s leftist opposition. Here, his protagonists are Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno of the Frankfurt School. In the 1920s, he argues, their Institute for Social Research kept a revolutionary horizon, but as Marxist exiles in the anti-Communist U.S., they partnered with liberal institutions to study authority and prejudice. These strategies continued in the FRG, where Strote adapts their principle of “immanent critique” to make sense of their critically supportive position (245). Judging West German actuality by its own principles—chiefly, those that posited mature, tolerant, critical citizen-subjects—they sought not to subvert the system but to expose its tensions and reveal openings. Once “revolutionar[ies]” against liberalism and capitalism, they became “educator[s]” against national and religious prejudice (251), and thus even these “most radical” of the FRG’s early critics (267) sustained the partnership ideal. The young militants of ‘1968’ they helped inspire, by contrast, revolted against such compromises. Yet the culture of partnership and the values and institutions it had built withstood their assault.


Strote’s account thus breaks with explanations that privilege externally driven ‘Westernization,’ generationally driven ‘liberalization,’ or institutionally led ‘modernization.’[14] To support his alternative, he draws on intellectuals’ lives and discourses. But how important were intellectuals, and how do we best conceptualize their roles? In many accounts of postwar Western European democracy’s distinctive stability, of course, intellectuals do not figure.[15] And other models for understanding intellectuals’ relevance exist. Udi Greenberg, for instance, argues for five émigrés’ direct influence on the Cold War order in West Germany and the U.S.; he also claims that their ideas changed little from the 1920s to the 1950s.[16] Strote disagrees on both counts, stressing large-scale changes in the orientations of entire social milieus, of which intellectuals serve as barometers and bellwethers (307n3, 308n6).[17] Social groups are the key actors in his argument, but attending to intellectuals’ mental work—the production of “rationales,” “proofs,” and “theor[ies]”—also “allows us to see the difficult labor of building consensus in a divided nation” (149).


This rather rationalist image of mental activity prompts me to wonder whether cultures of conflict or partnership can be isolated at the level of concepts and cognition or are inevitably bound up with attitudes and affect. That question brings Strote’s work into potential dialogue with other recent scholarship. Till van Rahden’s work on the “moral history” of the early Federal Republic, for instance, treats related themes of civility, tolerance, and trust, also through the utterances of intellectuals. Van Rahden, however, draws attention to the affective dimension of principles and the private dimension of practices as a vital ground of liberal democracy.[18] The work of A. Dirk Moses also comes to mind. Like Strote, Moses examines the development of “value consensus” in the FRG, but he does so in terms of both “political languages” and underlying “political emotions,” whose existential significance registers, not least, in religiously inflected terminology.[19] Here too, the resonances are suggestive. Strote’s book raises important methodological issues, even if it does not engage them directly. And it certainly models one promising approach to integrating the history of intellectuals and the history of political culture.


Substantively, I wonder about Strote’s treatment of Communism. Excluded at the outset, it serves as a foil for partnership, but it is otherwise absent, as are the broader antifascisms it helped underwrite. This is puzzling because, during just the period where Strote locates the ideal’s emergence, Communists called for partnership, too. Between the confrontational late Weimar and early Cold War years, they came to advocate ‘united,’ ‘popular,’ or ‘national fronts’ against fascism, involving non-Communist leftists, liberals, and even moderate conservatives. How to evaluate these phenomena remains a matter of debate, and as Strote notes, efforts at a formal “united front” foundered on SPD leaders’ resistance (154). Yet the energies generated in the mid-1930s revived in resistance and liberation—after the shock of the Nazi-Soviet pact—and only began to dissipate after 1947-48.[20] Although they play no meaningful role in Strote’s account, they seep in at its edges. He mentions Leibholz’s praise for the Council for a Democratic Germany in 1944 (166), a typical popular front-style forum. He mentions Plessner’s early postwar vision of Europe’s geopolitical non-alignment (204-205), a common antifascist desideratum.


Conversely, he does not consider how and why SED jurists also came to worry about conflict-abetting institutions. Peter Alfons Steiniger’s “democratic bloc system” of 1946, for instance, mandated a coalition government of all parliamentary parties, an “alliance of friend and foe in mutual effort.” This principle percolated into the East German constitution, as so much window-dressing on de facto single-party rule.[21] The point, however, is that the official antifascism of the SED regime had its own “ideology of partnership,” as did the earlier, broader antifascisms to which it so stridently laid claim.


It seems implausible that the version that became hegemonic in West Germany developed without reference to the others. And while Communists were soon a non-factor there, antifascism was not; its legacies informed a different ideal of cooperation among small but vocal groups of ‘nonconformist’ intellectuals. It fed not support for the FRG but a critique of its compromised values and institutions, which they considered a ‘restorative’ violation of the mandate for ‘renewal’ after Nazism. Along these lines, coevals of Strote’s protagonists such as left-liberal Erich Kästner, left-Catholic Walter Dirks, or left-socialist Wolfgang Abendroth—not the Frankfurt School—became West Germany’s most prominent early critics.[22] These are not Strote’s actors, nor was their partnership ideal the one he aims to elucidate. But his larger claims about the FRG’s political-cultural history would be more robust had he seen “partnership” less as a singular ideological outcome and more as an ongoing field of contestation.[23]


Still, Strote’s book is a prodigious achievement. It makes an innovative argument that sheds new light on the culture of early West German liberal democracy, particularly its religious valences; brings a sizable group of well-known and understudied intellectuals into sharp relief; and offers fresh insights on myriad topics along the way. For these strengths and for the stimulating questions it raises, this is a work of fine scholarship. Worth noting, in conclusion, is that it is engaged scholarship as well. Strote is keenly aware that tales of the U.S.’s “model” occupation in Germany and its democratizing effects have been used to legitimate interventions elsewhere (3, 148). U.S. foreign policy may be unpredictable in the extreme today, but it seems unlikely that Americans have heard the last of ‘nation building’ in the long run. In that context, Strote delivers a clear and cautionary message: occupiers did not export democracy to western Germany; it was built by local actors under local conditions. In a ‘post-factual’ age, he insists that getting our interpretations straight still matters.

Shaken Solidarity


Two overlapping hands appear on the dust jacket of Noah Strote’s Lions and Lambs, an impressive new history of ideological conflict and consensus in mid-twentieth-century Germany. A black hand is open and ready to shake its counterpart. Behind it, fainter, a red hand rises in a fist, refusing to shake. Amity has the upper hand over enmity, the image seems to say. This is a perfect visualization of the sea change in German intellectual culture that, according to the author, helped stabilize the postwar Federal Republic. Formerly antagonistic groups adopted a new ethos of partnership, which made democratic consensus possible. While it would be unfair to describe this book as a straightforward success story, one cannot help but feel that Strote’s history has winners and losers—and the losers are the ones with raised fists.


As historians such as Gilles Vergnon have shown, the raised fist emerged in the 1920s and ’30s as an antifascist political rite.[24] The fist was meant to counteract the flat-handed fascist salute. Like their opponents, antifascists practiced this manual rite en masse. The raised fist symbolized collective strength, a shared will to resist, and working-class solidarity. In following decades, other emancipatory social movements appropriated the rite but retained its original symbolism. For example, one thinks of Black Power and the protest by medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics. All manner of marginalized groups raise their fists today in solidarity and in homage to a militant leftist past.

In postwar West Germany, the solidarity symbolized by the raised fist was shaken by anticommunist hysteria. What was once a broad antifascist consensus that included communists narrowed into a liberal democratic consensus that excluded the political extremes, both right and left. For Strote’s protagonists, the raised fist lost its positive meaning and thus could only signify something negative, uncooperative, and threatening. No wonder the open hand of partnership overlaid the closed fist of conflict.


In the book, we learn that the bimanual image on the dust jacket first appeared on a 1953 pamphlet issued by the European Youth Union, a West German group committed to European federal integration. Strote describes the pamphlet, titled How Do I Hold a Discussion with Communists?, as a “how-to guide for breaking [Communists’] defenses and coaxing them into discussion” (208). According to anticommunists at the time, including the pamphlet’s Social Democrat author, the militant left practiced an antagonistic brand of politics that foreclosed any possibility of cooperation. The raised fist symbolized to them class hatred, intransigence, and dogmatism: all markers of Weimar-era ideological conflict. Not defiance, but openness and compromise must animate postwar democracy. That was the consensual spirit of Christian democratic reconstruction, social democratic reformism, and the ‘economic miracle’ of the 1950s.


This conflict-to-consensus narrative makes a lot of sense in the book’s dissection of the constitutional debates, rival economic visions, education wars, and culture wars that dominated German public discourse from the Weimar Republic, through the Third Reich, and into the Federal Republic. The author convincingly demonstrates how Germans themselves—even some former Nazis—were responsible for transforming their country from a fascist dictatorship into a liberal democracy. In other words, that transformation did not owe chiefly to the influence of foreign ideas, whether from the Allied occupiers or from returning émigrés. Strote thus offers a useful corrective to studies by Udi Greenberg and others that emphasize Westernization or exile narratives.[25]


The great strength of the book lies in its wide chronological and thematic range, which upsets traditional dates of rupture (1933, 1945) and customary sites of intellectual work (philosophy, art, literature). Its analyses of lesser-known intellectuals such as the Catholic social theorist Oswald von Nell-Breuning, the Protestant theologian Ernst Benz, the jurist Gerhard Leibholz, and the historian Hans-Joachim Schoeps provide a breath of fresh air that enlivens the sections on more famous figures such as the critical theorists Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer or the economist Wilhelm Röpke.


With the exception of Adorno and Horkheimer, whose eclectic Marxism set them apart, all of Strote’s protagonists combined their newfound politics of consensus with a corporatist vision of social relations. The ideal of partnership favored by theorists of the social market economy, for example, harkened back to the interwar fascist attempt to defuse class conflict through state-regulated corporate pacts between workers and employers. In Fascist Italy, corporatism drew on an organic conception of community that opposed the divisions inherent in modern capitalist society. One belonged to a corporation as a medieval artisan might have belonged to a guild. Corporatism sought to replace horizontal class ties with vertical hierarchies based on craft, industry, and nationality. As Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini wrote in The Doctrine of Fascism (1932), “Fascism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State.”[26] Although Röpke, Ludwig Erhard, and other architects of West German economic policy trusted the market more than the state, they nevertheless treated partnership as the functional equivalent of fascist corporatism. Nell-Breuning explicitly drew the analogy between social market economy and “corporative” policies (191). Partnership was an ideology of class compromise.


Strote’s cast of theologians, jurists, sociologists, and economists represent a broad spectrum of political views, from the Christian right to the social democratic left. The author never claims that they represent all possible views. East Germans do not appear. Women are also absent, a fact that he acknowledges with regret (11, 17, 273). It may not be helpful to point out other omissions that, had they been included, would have supplemented his argument without changing it. But certain omissions might actually have changed the argument. He explicitly excludes Communists. Another group, dissident left socialists, he rarely mentions and thus implicitly excludes. Both of those groups continued to raise their fists in defiance of the postwar democratic consensus—and the corporatist disabling of class struggle. It is worth examining how their inclusion in Strote’s book might have altered his narrative.


One could justify the omission of Communists on account of their very small number and influence.


Most active Communists had already moved East by the time the German Democratic Republic was founded in 1949. When the West German government banned the Communist Party (KPD) in 1956 after the Soviet repression of the Hungarian Revolution, liberal and leftist critics alike pointed out how unnecessary it was to criminalize such an insignificant party. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s government seemed to have violated democratic norms for no good reason. A new German Communist Party (DKP) formed in 1968 under the watchful eye of the domestic security agency, but it entered a crowded field alongside the Extraparliamentary Opposition and myriad small leftist groups. Despite their prominence in the Weimar Republic and the anti-Nazi resistance, Communists played little role in shaping the institutions of postwar West Germany.


The same was not true of left socialists. In many respects, they preserved the legacy of antifascism within a society that repressed or even forgave the Nazi past. Political scientists like Wolfgang Abendroth, Ossip Flechtheim, and Peter von Oertzen; labor economists like Viktor Agartz; sociologists like Leo Kofler—all of these left socialists experienced the early history of the Federal Republic as the restoration of old capitalist and conservative elites. Even if novel coalitions such as Christian Democracy had formed, West Germany was still what Abendroth called an antagonistic society. Class conflict and social inequality persisted, a fact that undermined the Basic Law’s promises of civic equality and political democracy. Left socialists mounted a sustained critique of the Adenauer government during the 1950s, and within the Social Democratic Party (SPD) they pushed for a more revolutionary socialist program. By the end of the decade, they had lost out to the Party’s mainstream reformists. The number of left socialists remained small, but at the outset of 1960s they provided crucial advice, financial support, and expertise in Marxist theory to the nascent student movement.[27]


One person who plausibly could have figured in Strote’s history was the socialist and Jewish scholar of religion, Jacob Taubes. He did belong to a younger generation than the book’s other protagonists, and he only returned from exile in 1966. Those reasons may account for why Strote omits him from the book.


Yet his religious scholarship and key role as leftist mentor at the Free University of Berlin qualify Taubes as a German intellectual for whom talk of “lions and lambs” would have mattered. Like Schoeps, another Jewish émigré who returned to teach in West Germany, Taubes studied the tense relationship between Christian and Jewish theology. But unlike the consensual lambs elsewhere in the book, he rejected any premature reconciliation of the two faiths that failed to take their differences seriously. He lauded the revolutionary force of Jewish messianism, and he interpreted Marxism as an outgrowth of that transgressive Jewish spirit. In postwar West Germany, he thought, most Christians disavowed the antisemitism implicit in Christian teachings on the Jews just as they preached social harmony in a fundamentally antagonistic society.[28]


When it came to religious and political disputes, Taubes remained a lion; Strote does mention that fact (272). His fierce critique of liberal democracy as a false social harmony made him a star for the student rebels of the late 1960s. The New Left’s hostility to the Great Coalition between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats reflected their leonine rejection of partnership and class compromise. Militants once again raised their fists in defiance, resurrecting a solidarity that had died when the antifascist consensus devolved into anticommunist tribalism. Strote’s chapter on the postwar return of the Frankfurt School serves only to reaffirm the bourgeois conformism of his chosen German intellectuals: Professors Horkheimer and Adorno refused to endorse the student revolt. Their subversive method of immanent critique, while intellectually attractive, did not provide West Germans with any real political alternative. They were hardly “the most radical of post-Nazi Germany’s critics” (267).


Had he included Taubes and the left socialists, Strote’s narrative would have reflected a much more contentious era. The shape of postwar West Germany was not determined solely by Christian democrats, social reformists, and neoliberals. What appeared as a consensual handshake to many, others perceived as a coercive grip. Given these additional perspectives, a more troubling picture of postwar society comes into focus: one in which the contrast between Weimar ideological strife and West German prosperity is no longer so stark. Maybe Jan-Werner Müller was closer to the mark when he described midcentury political thought as an extended process of “contesting democracy.”[29]


The two hands that adorn the dust jacket represent the postwar erasure of antifascism, the disavowal of class conflict, and the decline of the workers’ movement: three preconditions for the conservative restoration of old elites in the Federal Republic. Strote’s archival source base is rich, his prose lucid, and his historical argument compelling. He has made an important contribution to a growing body of innovative scholarship on German intellectual history. Perhaps it is the sign of a good book when it provokes us to seek counter-narratives. Reading Lions and Lambs against the grain requires a careful pace, not hand over fist.



I am grateful to the H-Diplo editors for organizing this roundtable, to Mark Ruff for his introduction, and to Jennifer Allen, James Chappel, Sean Forner, and Terence Renaud for their commentaries. It is always an honor when scholars who are deeply immersed in the field engage one’s work with such care. I was glad to see that all four reviewers seemed to endorse the main argument of Lions and Lambs: that the successes of post-1945 political reconstruction in what became the Federal Republic had less to do with the American occupation or the introduction of Western-style institutions than with the resolution of key ideological conflicts that had divided German elites in the pre-Nazi and Nazi eras. Instead of elaborating further on that claim, which is explained above with particular clarity by Chappel, I will turn to the more critical remarks.


The reviewers’ criticisms call attention to parts of the German postwar past that largely fall outside of the book’s focus. My narrative’s protagonists are elite men of a particular generation whose politics of partnership, compromise, and comity came to dominate the establishment of the Federal Republic. But what about other groups of people who contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the creation of post-Nazi Germany? What about the women who, despite systematic exclusion from the most crucial levers of power, fought for influence in the decades after 1945? What about left-wing, or for that matter right-wing, Germans who ended up rejecting the consensus-based politics of the Konrad Adenauer years? And what about the Communists who, both before and after they founded the rival German Democratic Republic (GDR), otherwise known as East Germany, proposed an alternative vision for post-Nazi democratic renewal? I cannot answer these important questions here in any depth, but I hope my brief response might provide some orientation to future scholars.


I omitted Communists from the book’s group of protagonists because my object of analysis was the Federal Republic’s ruling establishment, which from the start was anti-Communist. When the nation began to divide into two separate states under foreign occupation, the leadership of Germany’s sizable Communist Party concentrated in the Soviet zone, and the population voting Communist in the Western zones became a tiny, marginalized minority. This does not mean, however, that I neglected Communist sources in my research. On the contrary, it was precisely through reading the texts of figures such as Peter Alfons Steiniger and Karl Polak—two framers of the GDR’s constitution in 1948 and 1949—as well as better known leaders such as Walter Ulbricht, that I realized what was so distinctive about the dominant model of reconstruction across the border. Throughout their postwar writings, East German elites rejected the “partnerships” that, as I show in the book, West German elites hailed: partnerships between labor and capital, between social welfare and the market, between the state and religion, and between Christians and Jews. Drawing on the theories of Karl Marx as well as an abundance of empirical evidence, East German leaders ridiculed the idea that partnerships between industrial workers and owners (or between any groups with such disparate access to power) could ever be nonexploitatative, let alone equitable. Instead of creating a system incentivizing such pairings, they developed models that mandated “unity” or “oneness”: Steiniger’s bloc system of obligatory coalitions, for example, or Polak’s idea of a legislature unchecked by the courts.


What about the prominent West Germans who rejected the East German leadership’s ideal of forced unification but shared some of its critiques of partnership? I conducted extensive research on Wolfgang Abendroth, who criticized the FRG’s implementation of constitutional judicial review even while finding it superior to the lack of any judicial independence in the GDR; I pored through the papers of Arkadij Gurland, who lambasted the Social Democratic Party of the FRG for its suppression of Marxism even while judging it less offensive than the coerced merger of the socialist and communist parties in the East; and I read the work of Ossip Flechtheim, who condemned the restoration of conservatives and ex-Nazis in West German society but still found the situation preferable to East German dictatorship. I concluded that while these figures would be central to any history of the German left, they were peripheral in an analysis of the Federal Republic’s mainstream political culture.


The same might be said of my decision to largely omit women from my study of German politics between 1919 and 1965. It is true that women gained equal civil rights in the Weimar Republic and that nearly ten percent of the first republican Reichstag were women; at the same time, male members of parliament excluded their female colleagues from what they considered the most important policy debates and committees and relegated them mainly to “women’s” issues. Things did not improve much after the catastrophic defeat of the male-dominated Nazi state, despite a brief moment after the war when some believed women would play a more prominent role. As Elizabeth Heinemann has argued persuasively, politics in West Germany “was to remain a male preserve.”[30] Elisabeth Schwarzhaupt became the first female federal minister only in 1961.


Tracing the creation of a hegemonic culture does not mean celebrating it as progress. Yes, this is a narrative about “winners,” as one reviewer puts it, and also a story about “men getting older,” as another writes. But it is also a history of the governing political, economic, and religious forces in Germany following the Second World War. The leaders of West German reconstruction—who liked to describe their own journey as a coming-of-age process—espoused an ideology of partnership as the most natural thing to a healthy liberal democracy, concealing the fact that the particular partners who forged Germany’s post-Nazi liberal democracy were not open to partnering with everyone and were in fact exclusionary from the beginning. Those who celebrated the values of compromise and cooperation between former foes were the same people who advocated the banning of groups that refused to partake in consensus-based politics.


I would like to thank my critics again for their careful readings. I wish I could have responded to their comments in the book itself, and perhaps I will in a later project. I hope that whoever endeavors to write a more comprehensive history of twentieth-century German democracy will take into consideration both my arguments and the objections of these reviewers. My goal was to explain the beginnings of the Federal Republic’s establishment political culture; I leave it to others to test whether the argument holds when we start looking at people who found themselves shut out from the elite. We need better studies on German Communism, better studies on German left socialism and conservatism, and better studies on German women in politics. I think such studies will confirm my basic thesis, but we will have to wait and see.



[1] Konrad H. Jarausch, After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945-1995 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), vii.

[2] Anja Schüler, “Bubikopf und kurze Röcke,” Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, 8 September 2009, http://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/gender/frauenbewegung/35265/weimarer-republik.

[3] Kathleen Canning, “Claiming Citizenship: Suffrage and Subjectivity in Germany After the First World War,” in Kathleen Canning, Kerstin Barndt, and Kristin McGuire, eds., Weimar Publics/Weimar Subjects: Rethinking the Political Culture of Germany in the 1920s, (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), 128.

[4] Helen Boak, Women in the Weimar Republic (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 67.

[5] Robert G. Moeller, Protecting Motherhood: Women and the Family in the Politics of Postwar West Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 38-41.

[6] On the methodological problem of incorporating female “engaged intellectuals” into political histories dominated by men, see Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey, ed., Eingreifende Denkerinnen: Weibliche Intellektuelle im 20. und 21. Jahrhundert (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015).

[7] The literature on Nazi Germany is, of course, too voluminous to even hazard citing an example. For a sterling account of the post-1945 story that pays scant attention to the Nazi years, see Konrad H. Jarausch, After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945-1995 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). It is reasonably common to include a chapter on the Nazi experience as a preface to a larger work on the postwar moment. See, for instance, Dagmar Herzog, Sex After Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth Century Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Maria Mitchell, The Origins of Christian Democracy: Politics and Confession in Modern Germany (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012). What is quite rare is to provide a serious, extended analysis of the Nazi era alongside a serious, extended analysis of its successor, unpacking the relationship between the two.

[8] See, for instance, Friedrich Meinecke, The German Catastrophe, tr. Sidney Fay (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950).

[9] For one evocation of the century’s continuities, see Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century (New York: Vintage, 2000).

[10] Udi Greenberg, Weimar Century: German Émigrés and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014); Sean Forner, German Intellectuals and the Challenges of Democratic Renewal: Culture and Politics After 1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); and Dirk Moses, German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

[11] Richard Crosland, ed., The God That Failed (New York: Columbia University Press, 1950).

[12] Arthur Schlesinger, The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949).

[13] Corey Robin, Fear: The History of a Political Idea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[14] See, e.g., Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, Wie westlich sind die Deutschen? Amerikanisierung und Westernisierung im 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999); Ulrich Herbert, ed. Wandlungsprozesse in Westdeutschland: Belastung, Integration, Liberalisierung 1945-1980 (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2002); Konrad H. Jarausch, After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945-1995, trans. Brandon Hunziker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

[15] See, e.g., Martin Conway, “Democracy in Postwar Western Europe: The Triumph of a Political Model,” European History Quarterly 32:1 (2002): 59-84.

[16] Udi Greenberg, The Weimar Century: German Émigrés and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).

[17] Their divergences—also on Fraenkel, who is a central character for both—are more explicit in Noah B. Strote, “The Intellectual Migration and the ‘Other Weimar’,” Modern Intellectual History 14:2 (2017): 597-606.

[18] Till van Rahden, “Clumsy Democrats: Moral Passions in the Federal Republic,” German History 29:3 (2011): 485-504.

[19] A. Dirk Moses, German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). Moses’s argument is also generational, focusing on figures born in the 1920s and early 1930s, and their formative experience of 1945. This is the issue on which Strote engages him (221, 326n4).

[20] See, e.g., Ursula Langkau-Alex, Deutsche Volksfront 1932-1939: Zwischen Berlin, Paris, Prag und Moskau, 3 vols. (Berlin: Akademie, 2004-2005); Andreas Agocs, Antifascist Humanism and the Politics of Cultural Renewal in Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

[21] Sean A. Forner, German Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democratic Renewal: Culture and Politics after 1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 101-103, 242-243; cf. Alexander Gallus, Heimat “Weltbühne”: Eine Intellektuellengeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2012), 299-302.

[22] Claudia Fröhlich, “Restauration: Zur (Un-)Tauglichkeit eines Erklärungsansatzes westdeutscher Demokratiegeschichte,” in Erfolgsgeschichte Bundesrepublik? Die Nachkriegsgesellschaft im langen Schatten des Nationalsozialismus, ed. Stephan Alexander Glienke, Volker Paulmann, and Joachim Perels (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2008), 17-52; Forner, German Intellectuals, chapter 7.

[23] Moses, for instance, argues that protracted debate between different republican languages—one redemptive, one integrative (reminiscent of Strote’s “partnership ideal”)—grounded the FRG over time. In other words, its political consensus was a long-run “discursive achievement.” Moses, German Intellectuals, 10.

[24] Gilles Vergnon, “Le ‘poing levé’, du rite soldatique au rite de masse. Jalons pour l’histoire d’un rite politique,” Le Mouvement social 212 (July-September 2005): 77-91. See also Gottfried Korff, “Rote Fahnen und geballte Faust. Zur Symbolik der Arbeiterbewegung in der Weimarer Republik,” in Dietmar Petzina, ed., Fahnen, Fäuste, Körper. Symbolik und Kultur der Arbeiterbewegung (Essen: Klartext, 1986): 27-60.

[25] Udi Greenberg, The Weimar Century: German Émigrés and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015); Konrad Jarausch, After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945-1995 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Julia Angster, Konsenskapitalismus und Sozialdemokratie. Die Westernisierung von SPD und DGB (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2003).

[26] Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini, “The Doctrine of Fascism” (1932), World Future Fund, http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Germany/mussolini.htm, accessed March 2018.

[27] See Gregor Kritidis, Linkssozialistische Opposition in der Ära Adenauer. Ein Beitrag zur Frühgeschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Hannover: Offizin, 2008).

[28] See Jamie Martin, “Liberalism and History after the Second World War: The Case of Jacob Taubes,” Modern Intellectual History, 14:1 (2017): 131-152.

[29] Jan-Werner Müller, Contesting Democracy: Political Thought in Twentieth-Century Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011).

[30] Elizabeth Heinemann, What Difference Does a Husband Make?: Women and Marital Status in Nazi and Postwar Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 139.

[Editor's Note: To clarify, the editors of this roundtable were Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins and Diane Labrosse, not Thomas Maddux, and with an introduction by Mark Edward Ruff].