Some fundamental determinants
According to present currents in anthropology, a culture can best be described as a system of knowledge shared by its members (Keesing 1974). Such a system is broadly determined by the global views and values rooted in the history of ideas of the respective community. One important area of this history is the development of the prevailing ideology. This is true, of course, also of the German culture, and in fact it can be said that religion is
The Reformation exerted an important influence on many European cultures. However, its results were different according to whether it was the Lutheran or the Calvinist version. There are fundamental differences between these two, differences that explain many cultural distinctions, especially between Anglo-Saxon and the German culture (Weber 1920/1972; Troeltsch 1925).
In Calvinist Protestantism, the individual is expected to participate in the shaping of the social world around him or her. By contrast, in Lutheran Protestantism there is a separation of public administration and the church from the individual's private inwardness and spirituality. This contrast can be traced back to the biographies of these two religious founders. While Calvin, as a free citizen of Geneva exerted an active influence on the development of his community, the monk Luther sought refuge with his sovereign against persecution by the Pope. Luther's version of Protestantism did not spread because of the individual's conviction, but as a result of the protection of the respective sovereign on the basis of the principle "cuius regio, eius religio", a principle founded in the Treaty of Westphalia, 1648, at the end of the thirty year war. Where Calvinist communities put up religious freedom as part of political rule, Luther legitimised political rule as God-given and therefore not to be questioned by any subject.
Luther's concept of job or profession had the same effect. To him, having work was not an obligation to change and form the material and social world according to the divine commandments,
This view of work as duty is in line with Luther's conception of private inwardness or spirituality, a conception of equal importance to the shaping of the German identity. To Luther, an individual does not realize him- or herself in external doings, by acting in the social sphere, but rather by an inner attitude that directs his or her way to God. It is not so much that acting properly leads to the Lord, but rather trust and belief in God. This attitude, this spiritual identity, has to have priority over mundane achievements. Personal identity is thus separated from society and the individual is neither responsible for society at large nor for his or her position in the social context. Against this background, it is does not come as a surprise that even today political participation in Germany is more a matter of duty than of personal involvement.
However, the influence of Lutheran protestantism would not have been that pervasive had it not been secularized by the German intellectual reaction to the enlightenment, especially in the form of German idealism. Idealism therefore has to be regarded as the second most important shaping force of the German identity.
The special position attributed to the state is also evident in the views idealist thinkers had on education. In 1772, in his book "On the Origin of Language" ("Über den Ursprung der
As a secular variant of Lutheran inwardness and spirituality, idealism lead to the search for universal and eternal truths, separated from the profane necessities and contingencies of everyday life and the rest of society. Again this can be demonstrated by the works of Kant and Hegel. They are typical in that they exhibit the highest level of abstraction possible, but that their theories - particularly in contrast to that of Anglo- Saxon philosphers of their time, e.g. Hobbes - are more or less empirically void. Due to his closer affinity to an empirical
The neglect of empirical contingencies together with the rigorism of thinking could therefore lead to the fact that an abstract humanistic universalism found to be theoretically true can - in its practical consequences, which are outside the idealist's consideration - be accompanied by a concrete inhumanity. A case in point here is Communism, which can be regarded as a continuation of Hegel's philosophy by Marx.
For German idealism, the search for universal and eternal truths is not a collective project. They can be found by an individual thinker only, concentrating on himself and his subject matter in seclusion and - as it was called - "heroic loneliness" of his study. A loneliness, in which the points of reference for the scholar were quite naturally the established great works of the titans of thinking of past millenia rather than the immature and incomplete thought of contemporary colleagues. This explains why the humanities in Germany are that much more oriented towards history than e.g. in Anglo-Saxon countries. Truths are not
All this is also a reflection of the idealist assumption that a more advanced knowledge is accessible to a small, chosen elite only. From the beginning of the 19th century, this was the educated bourgeoisie, the "Bildungsbürgertum", which separated itself from other groups of society not so much on the basis of its economic position but rather on the basis of its education. This education, mirroring the idealistic ideas that led to the foundation of Berlin University, was humanistic, with an emphasis on philosophy, history and the classical languages. Humanistic training was offered at an elitist institution of secondary education: the "Gymnasium". Other, more practical forms of knowledge were taught at less prestigious types of schools. The status attributed to humanistic education becomes apparent, too, in that science and technology were not included into the idealist concept of culture and that - on the tertiary level of education - they were up to the middle of this century not taught at universities but at "Technische Hochschulen" or "Ingenieurschulen" - the very designations indicating their inferior reputation.
The most typical representative of the "Bildungsbürgertum" was the university professor. Apart from his education and his subject area in the humanities he was typical, too, in that he was a civil servant, since in Germany - with very few exceptions today - universities are run by the state. The bond of idealism and the
Both through the ideology that resulted and by the persons it brought into important functions in society, idealism was affirmative for the state and the ruling castes. It is no surprise that quite independent from Prussian influence on German history the values and behaviours associated with it were adopted also in the non-protestant areas of Germany. The outstanding position attributed to the state and its justification by idealism suggests to regard the role of the state in the 19th century as the third important determining factor in the development of the German identity.
Quite in line with this "top down" approach to modernization, it was the state itself that was the most important driving force, the largest entrepreneur, behind the industrialization of Germany during the 19th century, supported by major banks and huge industrial trusts. Part of the leading role of the state was the
The German welfare state thus had its origin to a large extent in this caring attitude of the state and its leaders. That it was - at least in the 19th century - not the working class or the bourgeoisie that pushed this social achievement through, can be seen as a consequence of the Lutheran worldview: the active shaping of the world is a task of those put into the position of political leadership - subjects should not participate in such public affairs, but obey. This holds for all the other areas of modernization mentioned.
However, modernization and industrialization more and more dissolved the traditional corporate structure of German society, where every individual had his or her predetermined place, knew how to act in social life and could concentrate on his or her inner religious or moral perfection. Industrializiation caused an enormous migration of population within the borders of the state thereby changing the normal surroundings not just because of large technological plants such as coalmines and steel works, but also by a reshaping of the social structure. Social groups such as the workforce and/or the craftsmen - it was also from this latter group that some developed into an affluent section of a productive middle class - still had to find their place in society. The development of a new social order required individuals to have to
This continued to grow in the second half of the 19th century. In the cultural sphere, it had its culmination in the glorification of the past first as a nostalgic and then as a reactionary movement. This attitude is expressed in late Romanticism and particularly in the works of Richard Wagner. In the social sphere, there was an increasing preference for a particular form of social organisation i.e. for "community" (Gemeinschaft).
This concept can be traced back to Ferdinand Tönnies (Tönnies 1887; Dahrendorf 1965). In 1887 Tönnies made the distinction which still holds in present-day sociology between "society" (Gesellschaft) and "community" (Gemeinschaft). To put it simply, "society" refers to the free organisation of individuals at the level of a state based on a social contract whereas "community" refers to the organisation of individual in a manageable social
In conclusion, another determining factor should be mentioned if the contemporary manifestations of German identity are to be adequately covered. This refers to the consequences of the Third Reich after 1945. The defeat of Nazi barbarism cast doubts upon an uninterrupted continuation of the traditional, cultural ways of thinking and behaving and opened up Germany to other cultural influences.
A by no means unimportant factor was the influence of American culture working through the "re-education" programme carried out by the Anglo-Saxon victors and also through the present social and cultural internationalism (Dahrendorf 1965). This is obvious not only (in the sense of George Ritzer) that, since that time, German society has become "McDonaldised" (Ritzer 1993). The external consequences of social rationalisation of people's life-styles are accompanied by a widespread acceptance of values oriented more towards "society".
These basic factors determining the history of ideas produced numerous features of German culture and behaviour which, in the intercultural comparisons, can be described as "typically German" (Hofstede 1980; Mole 1990; Loewenthal 1990). Thus Protestant inward looking attitudes, for example, can be seen as the basis for the German attitude to work in regarding it as a duty rather than a means to self-fulfilment. Similarly, the attitude of being serious at work, of giving an impression of "gravitas" and the separation of work and private life are all connected with the effects of Lutheranism. Another characteristic influence of Protestantism in producing attitudes led people to accept established authorities and to prefer clear rules and guidelines - attitudes which are part of what Hofstede describes as the uncertainty avoidence. The longing for avoiding any uncertainty is also influenced by idealism which encouraged the tendency always to find general and basic solutions to problems and to rely on experts rather than on trusting in common sense.
This preference for general rules is also reflected in the significant role the state plays in German culture in which all the areas of life are permeated with its laws. A by no means insignificant reason for this is that the citizens themselves demand rules and regulations as, for example, in the field of ecology and these rules must be implemented with the full seal of authority of the state itself rather than trusting in people to negotiate a mutual agreement among the parties directly concerned.
The second consequence of anti-modernism, i.e. the sense of preference for community has led to the popularity of the numerous clubs and associations in Germany which are so important to everyday life particularly in the localities. The sharp social distinctions so prevalent in other areas of German life such as for example between the boss and the worker almost completely disappear amongst club members. This helps, of course, to lessen the existing class distinctions in society.
It was particularly in the social and economic areas that the basic principles derived from the history of ideas proved to be very positive for Germany's development. For instance, the Protestant work ethic explains why German workers and employees are able to get on with their work in a very independent and self-motivated way within clearly demarcated areas of responsibility. The Protestant attitude of
Another consequence of the basic attitudes arising from the history of ideas is German thoroughness. This is the practical aspect from the profundity of German philosophy and from the uncertainty-uncertainty. Much of Germany's industrial success can be explained by the high quality of its products and in turn, much of this quality is due to a systematic approach in construction and production and also to allowing wide safety margins to ensure nothing goes wrong. The same applies to the German cultural standard embedded of sticking to rules - whether established or agreed upon. The reputation of Germans in business of constantly fulfilling the "terms of contract" has proven to be advantageous for international competition.
From this ideological background, the characteristics such as servility, blind obedience, dogmatism, inflexibility and discrimination against others originated. These were the very same characteristics the Nazi ideology exploited to the most horrifying extreme. The shocking success of this ideology resulted in their extremely subtle use of the anti-modern feeling in the German population by appealing to romantic sentiments with the idea of
The development of German history is a good example of the fact that the ideological heritage of any culture has the potential of being used by its members in the same way, be it positively or negatively. It is not an unchangeable constant, but is interpreted differently in different periods in history. Which particular form this significance assumes is influenced by the concrete, ecological, economic and (geo)- political external circumstances of the particular period in question. It is also important to note, however, that the relevant current interpretation is made by the leaders of public opinion and commentators who increasingly have to bear a particular kind of historical responsibility. What Barth defines as an ethnic group (Barth 1969) - i.e. a group which at various particular periods makes use of different means from its own store of values and modes of action in order to differentiate itself from other groups and to bind its own members to its own group - can also apply to cultures. Cultures also determine their own identity, set up boundaries against other cultures, exercise pressure on members to conform and they do this by emphasising the features of their cultural store which is decided by their leader of public opinion, but which alters in the course of history.
3. Current trends
If the basic determining factors producing cultural identity are not a historical constant - how then can today's "German identity" be envisaged?
The first response to this obvious question can only be answered by the word: "ambivalent" - and this is not merely because the basic determining factors of any culture can have the two faces of a Janus figure in its effects. Present-day German identity is characterised by several particular kinds of ambivalence. I shall deal with only two examples in this paper. The first concerns the problem of the attitude of the Germans themselves towards their national identity and the second is: after re-unification how far is it at all possible to talk about one German identity? How these kinds of ambivalence develop and then how these ambiguities are resolved is quite clearly of crucial importance for Germany's role in the process of European unification.
It is, in fact, difficult to talk about "a" or "the" German identity because many Germans are themselves vague about how far they do have a national identity and whether they actually want to have an identity at all. The misuse caused by the Nazis rendered an uninterrupted continuation of the traditional German ways of thinking impossible after 1945. Similarly, the re-education programme of the western victors contributed to the Germans becoming alienated not only from the potential negative effects of
They regard themselves to be more West Europeans than Germans. This attitude has been re-inforced by all the governments since the founding of the Federal Republic with their policy of Western integration and their energetic encouragement of European union. West German politics have always aimed at the Germans being "good Europeans".
One effect of this policy can be seen in the way national symbols are dealt with. Unlike the USA, for example, the German national flag is rarely seen in any official rooms. Although, for example, the approximately 100 million German speakers are the largest language community in the EU, unlike France, Germany does not persue any clear policy with the aim of implementing a proportional use of German in the European institutions (Ammon 1991). The governments and the economy in West Germany have always eschewed huge technological projects which, in other countries, would have been objects of national pride. To become involved in aviation and aeronautical projects such as the airbus and the Ariane rocket projects, Germany was pressured by France.
It is, however, important to note that this uncertainty applies only to former West Germany. Whereas the Federal Republic was exposed to the cultural influences of the West after the Second World War, which triggered a change in values, East Germany was generally left untouched by foreign influences - except, of course, for the adoption of numerous external formal features and structures in the economic and social spheres taken from the Soviet Union. Many of the old
This cultural continuity became possible for the East German rulers because they ascribed the negative effects of German cultural history - such as the holocaust - to western capitalism and held capitalist West Germany to be responsible for this history and because they took over the positive aspects of German cultural history for themselves. With this background, values such as individualism, initiative and self-reliance were much less prevalent amongst adults in the East than in the West. Particularly among the members of the public state services in the former GDR, there are still many who regret the state's loss of total power and who identify with the old system.
The most interesting difference between East and West Germany concerns, however, the significance of the nation for its own cultural identity. Unlike Federal Republicans with their bias towards the West, East Germans tend more towards defining themselves as members of the German nation. This is not very surprising in view of the fact that very few international and intercultural contacts were possible for them under communist rule. In addition, there was the fact that East Germany still
It is certain that this development will not lead to a revival of the former chauvinistic nationalism. It must be conceded, of course, that there are in Germany - as in other countries - acts of violence against foreigners and minorities and that many of these violent acts are accompanied by Nazi symbols. It is understandable that, in the context of German history, these sad events are a cause of concern particularly in other countries. As sociological studies show, however, these - apparently - extreme right wing actions and acts of violence are usually a juvenile phenomenon and are not politically motivated (Türingisches Ministerium für Justiz 1993).
These actions are generally caused by the hatred in frustrated young people with no future. Although this hatred and anger is vented on foreigners it is, however, directed not primarily against the foreigners but against the society to which the youths ascribe their frustration. The youths do not use neo-Nazi symbols because of their historical
Only the future will show whether those areas of ambivalence will sort themselves out or how this process may take place and what effects the basic determining factors of the German cultural history will have on the further development of a German identity. It is, however, obvious that this development will have a crucial influence on Germany's role in a united Europe.
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