Patterns of German Democracy in the 20th Century

by Evan Gong and Greyson Young

On Tuesday, October 1, the IES, in cooperation with the Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute, welcomed Lutz Raphael for his lecture entitled “From Revolution to Routine? Patterns of German Democracy in the 20th Century.” Raphael is a professor of Recent and Modern History at the University of Trier (Germany) and was awarded the Leibniz Prize in 2013.

Little attention is paid to the nature of resilience in democracies, Raphael argues. While democracies are often born in revolution, he observed, the seemingly contrasting element of routine is key to their longevity.  During his lecture, Raphael analyzed the history of German democracy as one of key revolutionary shifts, as well as everyday routines of ordinary people. He noted four major ruptures: the end of monarchical authoritarianism in 1919, the Nazi regime beginning in 1933, the collapse of this regime in 1945, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall and reunification of East and West Germany from in 1989. During the last century, German politics also went through three distinct eras of dominant political ideas. In Raphael’s overview, until 1945, Germany was in the imperial period of the Weimar Republic, and preparing a return to this position of power after World War I was a constant goal. Between 1945 and 1990 Germany went through the era of “Atlantic modernity,” where new ideas of democratic order were imported from the United States and Britain. The final and most recent era is neoliberal globalism; this new ideological climate saw the rise of radical market fundamentalism, which supports deregulation, free circulation of capital, and open markets. This new era even survived the economic crisis of 2008-2009, though it continues to be attacked to this day.

According to Raphael, democratic routines and the forces of social resilience have defended democratic institutions; these include patterns, habits, attitudes and behavior. To understand the course of the last century of German democracy, he argues, one must critically examine the major events that have come to define its birth and rebirth, as well as the social attitudes and everyday routines of the people that defend or failed to defend it. With this holistic understanding, one can see more clearly the ways in which democracy is under attack today, as well as the ways it can be protected.

This insightful lecture drew more than 40 attendees, including many faculty members. Questions for Professor Raphael touched on topics such as the role of Germany’s social insurance programs and worker-councils (Arbeiterräte) as elements in German democracy, and the emergence of the far-right AFD party in Germany.