Clark on Strote, 'Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany'

Noah Benezra Strote
Mark Clark

Noah Benezra Strote. Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. xii + 357 pp. $40.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-300-21905-0.

Reviewed by Mark Clark (University of Virginia-Wise)
Published on H-German (February, 2018)
Commissioned by David Harrisville

Printable Version:

Weimar Legacies

Noah Benezra Strote’s Lions and Lambs is one of several recent, highly innovative interpretations of the role intellectuals played in shaping the political culture of mid-twentieth-century Germany.[1] Strote focuses on the reconstruction of German culture and politics after World War II, but takes the long view by examining the transition from the Weimar Republic, a context in which the “various social, religious, and political groupings of German society” were in ideological conflict, through the interregnum of the Third Reich, to the Federal Republic—a state built upon an ideology of partnership. Rather than pointing to the influence of the occupying powers, including, especially, the United States, Strote argues that the “ideas, values, and decisions of the Germans … were … responsible for the creation of post-Nazi Germany” (p. 4). 

More specifically, and with an eye toward reconstructing the actors’ intended logic, Strote carefully contextualizes the life and work of ten “exceptional” figures—Gerhard Leibholz, Ernst Fraenkel, Wilhelm Röpke, Oswald von Nell-Breuning, Arnold Bergsträsser, Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Ernst Benz, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno. These men were not political leaders, but intellectuals who reconceptualized, and often modeled, for their peers how Germans should relate to one another in the post-1945 period. Particularly important was their agreement on key values such as constitutional democracy limited by judicial review, “the legitimacy of church involvement in politics, loyalty to European unification, a commitment only to defensive wars in the future, and the value of cultural diversity” (p. 12). If the consensus they helped to build was challenged during the generational shift of the late 1960s, the institutions established had great staying power, and, according to Strote, still undergird the Federal Republic of Germany—a feat all the more remarkable when one considers the debilitating divisions that plagued the Weimar Republic.

Strote eschews broad, theoretical frameworks, including, especially, various iterations of modernization theory. His reading of the evidence suggests that there was never a monolithic German body politic that could mature, even if the nation-state did face challenges common to all liberal democracies. There were, rather, subsets of people “with specific affiliations, interests, and ideals for the future.” If he does not see the “maturation” of a German body politic after the war, however, Strote does locate changes that made postwar Germany new. Only when they were faced with material destruction at the hands of the Nazis did Germans “imagine the framework for a more stable political structure before the arrival of American troops” (p. 269). And only after the war were they able to reconcile ideals formerly thought of as mutually exclusive. 

Born between 1890 and 1910, Strote’s protagonists belonged to a generation that spanned both German democracies. In contradistinction to one interpretive school, Strote asserts that it was this older generation, not the “‘45ers,” who helped to create the stable political culture of the Federal Republic, including its examination of the racist past and its celebration of cultural plurality.[2] These men had often been ideological opponents whose competing views for the future seemed incompatible in the 1920s, and, in some cases, had contributed to the Weimar Republic’s instability. After the war, they demonstrated a willingness to engage in reasoned dialogue, to compromise, and to build a lasting consensus. To be sure, some of the partnerships they nurtured were strategic while others developed into close professional and even personal relationships. But all of the key figures in this volume shared the ideology of partnership which became the cornerstone of the Federal Republic’s political culture—a moral ideal that was distinctly Christian and in which the relationship with Jews and Judaism had a privileged place.   

Strote also situates his work within the cultural history of Christianity and confessional politics in West Germany, and Western Europe more generally.[3] One of his most significant and convincing claims is that Christianity became the “deep grammar” of the Federal Republic in its first twenty years of existence, a claim that informs virtually the entire second half of the book. Strote refuses to dismiss Christian categories and ideals as window-dressing, or merely an alibi for Germans’ past complicity with the Nazi regime. We must take these ideas seriously on their own terms, in context, he suggests, and we can understand the attraction of Christian values only by focusing on German efforts “to reconcile conflicts and create partnerships” (p. 13).    

Lions and Lambs is divided into two parts. The first five chapters focus on the conflict-ridden era of the Weimar Republic and the unsuccessful attempts to unify it. The last five, building upon the themes developed in part 1, explain the more fruitful efforts of former opponents and conflicting interest groups to create successful partnerships and to foster consensus. Strote is quick to point out that the culture of partnership did not emerge fully formed in 1945, but rather began to take shape as early as 1937, after even most conservative Germans recognized that the Nazi regime threatened rather than protected them. It was not until the middle of the Second World War, however, that they could envision “the formation of a general consensus for the shape of a future Germany” (p. 149). While some of his figures went into exile during the Third Reich, and others remained in Germany, Strote repeatedly stresses that all had begun to shift their thinking well before the arrival of the Allied forces. 

Chapter 6 examines the partnership of Fraenkel and Leibholz, two figures who helped bring ideological consensus about the centrality of judicial review for stable liberal democracy. These two were admittedly odd bedfellows. Leibholz had been a rising star among liberal jurists and a staunch defender of judicial review as a check on democratic excess during the Weimar Republic. A committed Social Democrat, Fraenkel had actively worked as a private lawyer for different labor groups in the 1920s and had opposed the power of unelected judges to thwart the will of the people. If Fraenkel and Leibholz had been on opposite sides of what became a bitter and divisive debate during Weimar, after the war they saw themselves as partners engaged in a common work of reconstruction. Before war’s end, Fraenkel, living in the United States, had pointed to the possibility of an alliance between socialists and liberals, especially around the natural law tradition in Europe—a position he further strengthened in the postwar years. Leibholz promoted the importance of a common Christian political faith, one that would be based on a balance between the ideals of “justice” and “law.” It was on the concept of “natural law” that these two former opponents developed a consensus, one that was reflected in the Basic Law’s reliance upon that concept, and the system of judicial review the Parliamentary Council put in place. 

Other partners include Nell-Breuning and Röpke, the subjects of chapter 7. Their uneasy partnership developed in the postwar period and helped to create the CDU/CSU and the “humane capitalism” promoted by the “social market economy.” The partnership of Bergsträsser and Plessner is developed in chapter 8. Despite their very different approaches to philosophy and education during Weimar, these two men developed the rationale often used by Germans who “supported Adenauer’s binding to the West” (p. 200). They also worked together to help heal German society by promoting a Western European identity.    

Chapter 9 is perhaps the most compelling in the book. Here, Strote presents the efforts of Schoeps and Benz to transcend their own history, as well as the ideal of a uniform German culture, so prominent during the Weimar period, in order to realize “the ideal of a diverse but still fundamentally Christian culture” (p. 222). Schoeps, a German Jew who survived the war after emigrating, returned to his homeland and, despite having lost his family in the Holocaust, determined to bring about reconciliation and renewal. Benz, who had advised the Nazi government on church questions before 1937, and had even contributed to anti-Semitic prejudice as a university professor and army chaplain on the eastern front, also determined to rebuild Germany on a new footing. The two were intentional about developing a personal and professional partnership after the war, and together laid the foundation for future collaboration, the rejection of anti-Semitism, and Christian pluralism.   

The last chapter provides something of a bridge to the post-1968 period. Adorno and Horkheimer are the primary subjects of this chapter. Strote recognizes that scholars have dedicated many volumes to these two men and the Institute for Social Research. His innovation is to place them, and their ideas, within the broader context of the Federal Republic’s political stabilization. Moving from subversives to insiders, these two seminal figures not only learned to live with liberal parliamentary democracy but endorsed it, even when they were disillusioned with many of its directions and outcomes. They employed “immanent critique” to reveal the contradictions in the FRG, combatted prejudice against cultural minorities, and offered a non-Christian alternative to the prevailing ideology of partnership—a “new Enlightenment project of constructing a secular polity” (p. 263). Even so, they never succeeded in fundamentally altering the consensus. Like their more conservative peers, they understood all too well the perils of debilitating division that crippled the Weimar Republic and led to the Third Reich. This chapter thus points to the ongoing importance of the partnership ideology as it developed in the early Federal Republic, but also to its limits, especially for the protest generation.   

Lions and Lambs is a nuanced historical monograph, and one that effectively builds upon several generations of historiography. However, Strote misses one key opportunity to engage in a more direct and thoughtful way with a key competing interpretation of the same generation of German intellectuals—Udi Greenberg’s The Weimar Century. He cites Greenberg’s alternative approach without fully engaging his argument, even though they disagree on several key points, and about one intellectual in particular. For example, Strote acknowledges Greenberg’s differing approach to the question of intellectual influence, and of their competing views of Fraenkel. But he does so only in two footnotes, and thus stops short of addressing the key differences in a way that might have offered a richer discussion of intellectual leadership. 

This one minor criticism aside, I highly recommend Noah Strote’s Lions and Lambs. It is a meticulously researched, clearly written, and persuasively argued interpretation of the role ten intellectuals played in helping to recreate the culture of the Federal Republic of Germany and will be of use to professional historians, graduate students, and upper-division undergraduates.


[1]. Sean Forner, German Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democratic Renewal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Udi Greenberg, The Weimar Century: German Émigrés and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014); and Stephen Brockmann, The Writers’ State: Constructing East German Literature, 1945-1959 (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2015).

[2]. Samuel Moyn, Christian Human Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015); Maria D. Mitchell, The Origins of Christian Democracy: Politics and Confession in Modern Germany (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012); and Carolyn M. Warner, “Christian Democracy in Italy: An Alternative Path to Religious Party Moderation,” Party Politics 19, no. 2 (2012): 256-276. 

[3]. A. Dirk Moses, German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007). See also Christina Holdenberg, Konsens und Krise: eine Geschichte der westdeutschen Medienöffentlichkeit (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2006); and Hans-Werner Mueller, Another Country: German Intellectuals, Unification, and National Identity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000).

Citation: Mark Clark. Review of Strote, Noah Benezra, Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany. H-German, H-Net Reviews. February, 2018.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.