Milosch on Glees, 'Reinventing Germany: German Political Development since 1945'

Author: 
Anthony Glees
Reviewer: 
Mark Milosch

Anthony Glees. Reinventing Germany: German Political Development since 1945. Oxford: Berg, 1996. xxxiii + 306 pp. $105.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-85973-190-1; $36.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-85973-185-7.

Reviewed by Mark Milosch (University of Iowa) Published on H-German (June, 1997)

Those looking for a history of post-war German politics geared for undergraduates may wish to consider Anthony Glees' Reinventing Germany. The book, though not an all-purpose text, serves certain purposes very well. The opening and closing chapters lead students into the Bonn republic by way of the Nazi collapse, which may save teachers from having to prepare separate readings. The bulk of the text could be described as a history of the Federal Republic's chancellors. Though the focus contradicts fashion, it remains the book's strong point. Since all issues here are connected to the chancellors, students should find their threads easy to manage, and will probably find the book more interesting as well. On the other hand, the book's scope is resolutely political. Glees provides only passing comments on how changes in German culture and society affected the political landscape, and scattered discussions of economic policy are but a few paragraphs long.

Most space goes to the Big Three (or perhaps Four): Konrad Adenauer dominates three chapters, Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl two apiece. Helmut Schmidt gets half a chapter, but in that space his leadership and accomplishments are not slighted. Ludwig Erhard and Kurt-Georg Kiesinger receive less attention than Kurt Schumacher. Glees sketches the biographies of the Big Four, describes their personalities, and tells how each shaped the politics of his tenure --or reacted to them. The author does not pretend that these chancellors alone made politics in the FRG as if his book were a medieval chronicle. But he does claim that his concentration on the chancellors corresponds to something real--that the Bonn republic always remained what it was in the formative Adenauer and reformative Brandt years--a "chancellor democracy." Even those persons and events which were not the chancellors' creations are fitted into the story through their relation to them. Schumacher, for example, is developed as Adenauer's foil, and the Baader-Meinhof episode is presented as the extreme case of radical disenchantment with Brandt's moderation.

Almost all of the standard issues that made the Bonn republic are discussed, though the author favors those relating to his theme of Germany's political reinvention. This means high politics: foreign policy, Western integration, alliance politics, the development of Adenauer's "model Germany," and later improvements (for the most part) on the model. One surprising omission is the idea and policy of the Social Market Economy. We also learn who won and lost in great and small affairs, from Spiegel and Flick down to Guenter Guillaume and the Mogadishu rescue. The positions (or excuses) of the CDU and SPD are always presented fairly. Glees takes centrist positions on major historiographical issues. He argues that Adenauer and Brandt were both great for Germany (despite the former's religion, it seems, for "although Adenauer was a Roman Catholic, he was no bigot ..." [p. 71]). The last years of both are criticized, but Erhard was the only failed chancellor. Throughout the book Glees strikes a good balance between simplicity and reality, between the vagueness common to textbooks and the sharpness of a personal view, and political balance as well. "At the high policy level," he says by way of example, "West Germany came to bear the mark of one man more than of any party, institution, or association. That man was Adenauer," who the author notes combined "ambition and ruthlessness" with "a personal commitment to the reframing of German political life along Western (and West European) lines," "a very real hatred of Communism," and "a canny political sense" (pp. 67-68). Brandt's Ostpolitik, meanwhile, was the only major modification in the Adenauer state until 1990, but should be seen as an effort to stabilize the state rather than to reinvent it. Glees moderates the debate on other issues surrounding Ostpolitik [What were the purposes of Ostpolitik? Did it destabilize the GDR? Did it further the cause of unification?] in an effort to equip students to analyze this issue on their own.

In short, students will understand and enjoy Reinventing Germany for its emphasis on leading personalities. Instructors, meanwhile, can be confident that it is a sensible, well-written introduction to the politics of the Bonn republic.

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Citation: Mark Milosch. Review of Glees, Anthony, Reinventing Germany: German Political Development since 1945. H-German, H-Net Reviews. June, 1997. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=1034

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