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Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich Paperback – May 31, 1986

ISBN-13: 978-0521338332 ISBN-10: 0521338336

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (May 31, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521338336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521338332
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #907,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

'Jeffrey Herf, in his most interesting and original study ... has drawn attention to a strain in German social thought which made it possible to link the ideas of the new technology of the twentieth century to the concepts of the German Volksgemeinschaft and of the uniqueness of the German spiritual experience.' The Times Literary Supplement 'Jeffrey Herf's scrupulously researched and well written study demonstrates once more the extent to which ... [historical enquiry] can help us to understand the factors which contributed to the formation of the national socialist worldview and which rendered it acceptable in the Germany of the thirties.' The Times Higher Education Supplement 'Thomas Mann ... wrote that 'the really characteristic and dangerous aspect of National Socialism was its mixture of robust modernity and an affirmative stance toward progress combined with dreams of the past: a highly technological romanticism'. This accomodation of opposites Jeffrey Herf has labeled 'reactionary modernism,' and in a highly original book he has described the way in which modern nationalism, without diminishing the system's romantic and antirational aspects.' The New York Review of Books 'The particular contribution of this exemplary piece of imaginative and well-researched historical sociology of ideas is a thorough analysis of the German thinking on the relation between society (culture) and technology among literary figures as well as among the professors at the technical universities.' German Studies Newsletter

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 6, 1998
Herf's book on "Reactionary Modernism" is important because it brings up an intellectual tradition that has been unjustly neglected since the end of WWII. Herf's "paradigm" consists of the right-wing intellectuals, Spengler, Junger, Sombart, Freyer, Schmitt and Heidegger whose main philosophical preoccupation was the impact of technology on modern civilization and the radical shift in human relations that technological progress has caused. Herf locates the peculiarity of this tradition to its love/hate relationship with modern technology. All the aforementioned thinkers realized the tremendous potential of technology but sought to integrate it within the German quasi-romantic GEIST in order to safeguard it from Bolshevism and Americanism. This analysis is complemented by a brilliant chapter on German engineers and their idea about technology and politics. Despite the original contribution of the author to the history and sociology of ideas, his analysis raises some doubts especially in relation to the chapters on Sombart and Spengler. In addition, the author neglects to point to the fact that the "suffocating" state of technology was also pointed out by Marx. Having said that, all credit to Herf who was bold enough to throw light into the "politically incorrect" aspects of German social theory and philosophy. Such attempts are useful and valuable since they put things on perspective shattering one-dimensional views about the current state of civilization. Essential reading for all those who are not afraid to search for the truth even when this is against the current!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Steven Larsen on July 16, 2005
Mr. Herf's has written a book that is well researched and fair. Too often, studies dealing with National Socialism and related idealogies lack objectivity, never revealing the full depth and breadth of the thinkers involved. Not so here. The author even points out the mistakes made by many critics in underestimating the thinkers in question.

The chapter on Ernst Junger is the most fascinating. Herf makes Junger's writings clear by placing them in the cultural milieu of the time, something important for understanding most authors, but vital for Junger. While I imagine in hindsight Junger still come off as strange to most of us, he is at least understandable now.

While I can't match the author's experience in research and reading, I remain somewhat skeptical of the extent to which the Nazis adopted reactionary modernism. Was it just a means to an end, to be abandoned once the war was won, in favor of romantic pastoralism. Why the need for lebensraum in the east if not to escape the crowded, "un-nordic" city life?

Also, I wonder if the author's reading of Heidegger isn't a bit off. While Heidegger himself may have prefered the cabin in the woods to the metropolis, I always read his anti-technological views as an attack on a technological, calculating mindset, or way of viewing the world, not as being against the machine neccesarily.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 2000
If you are attempting to understand what happened in interwar Germany then this book is worth reading. The main philosophy is that Germany attempted to combine the beauty of modernization with the romanticization of a mythological past. This book helps to explain the foundations of the Nazi regime and why it became so appealing on a mass level. At times the reading gets tough and little on the dry side, but if you can get thought that part of it, you will find the book worth your time.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By M Saporito on April 26, 2001
A review of Jeffrey Herf's "Reactionary Modernism: Technology, culture, and politics in Weimar and the Third Reich." By Michael J. Saporito, MA History candidate, Salem State College. "Reactionary Modernism: Technology, culture, and politics in Weimar and the Third Reich." By Jeffrey Herf. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1984. pp. ix, 251.
Jeffrey Herf's Reactionary Modernism studies the complexities involved in Weimar and Nazi Germany's attempts to simultaneously modernize and antiquate their nation. Herf explores the conservative, anti-democratic groups during Weimar and how they were able to bring together the technological modernization of Germany, while at the same time rejecting almost of the liberal qualities of the Enlightenment. Herf looks to the intellectual, political writings of Juenger, Sombart and Spengler (also, Heidegger, Schmitt and Freyer) to demonstrate how the intellectual community desired to bring Germany into the modern era, while still retaining their distinct German Kultur. Other interesting sources that Herf uses to state his case are German engineering journals and the research of historian Karl-Heinz Ludwig. These sources show how German engineers were brought inline with the reactionary modernist line of thought. Herf successfully demonstrates how the synthesis of technology and German Kultur not only existed, but also thrived. Reactionary Modernism's incorporation of anti-Semitism is detailed if full. Herf explains that this explanation of modern German anti-Semitism is more solid than the version set forth by Adorno and Horkheimer in "The Dialectic of Enlightenment." Anti-democratic groups in Weimar Germany saw the Jew as the reason behind everything that was wrong with Germany.
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