The "Europa-Gedanke" and the Transformation of German Conservatism, 1930-1955

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Klein, Joshua Derren
Herf, Jeffrey
The following dissertation is a political-intellectual history of German conservatism and national identity from the 1930s to the 1950s. It explores the published and private documents of prominent conservative intellectuals, propagandists, journalists, and military elites who before, during, and after the Second World War developed a new concept of European nationalism which they called the “Europa-Gedanke,” or “Europe-concept.” This dissertation traces the evolution of this political ideology by assessing what Europe meant for these thinkers, how this meaning changed over the course of a volatile historical time period, how it differed from other concepts of Europe, and how it informed the transformation of German conservatism. The figures analyzed in this dissertation had in common a professional and intellectual trajectory that began in the Conservative Revolution of the Weimar period. Part 1 of this dissertation dissects their path to intellectual complicity in National Socialism and the propaganda apparatus behind Hitler’s “New Order of Europe.” Part II traces their postwar professional rebirth as widely publicized journalists and influential military reformers in the first decade of West Germany. Surprisingly, after 1945 these figures were able to bridge their European ideology with the postwar Christian Democratic politics of European integration and anti-Communism. This alliance opened the door for liberals in West Germany and the American intelligence community to accommodate a previously hostile milieu into their postwar liberal politics. The primary thesis of this dissertation is three-fold: a) the conservative Europe-concept is a hitherto neglected and dismissed ideology which was highly influential across all three examined time periods of German history; b) this influence was a result of the Europe-concept’s explicit reformulation of the enduring German völkisch tradition in such a way that expanded the definition of the historical ethnic community (from Germany to Europe) and thereby addressed the perceived political inadequacy of nationalism during and after the Second World War; and c) the Europe-concept contributed to the de-radicalization of German conservatism by assisting a transition from the anti-democratic Conservative Revolutionary impulse to the postwar West German politics of liberal democracy – a convergence that moderated the instinctive illiberalism of German conservatism.