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4.7 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

Hanging Together, Falling Apart: Self-Understandings of German Society from 1800 to the Present

1994 – Paul Nolte


In recent years, interest in comtemporary conceptions and self-understandings of the social order has grown among historians, yet the field of an "intellectual history of society" is little expJored for modern Germany. This paper surveys the field and asks how Germans from the early modern era up to the present time of German reunification conceived of the social order they were building and living in, and it provides an overview of the developments of such major concepts as "estate" and "class," "community" and "society," "individual" and "mass," "state" and "nation." Three major points emerge as persistent and distinctive features of German social self-conception in the nineteenth cand twentieth centuries: the intellectual construction of dilemmas between social conformity and social fragmentation; the difficulties of conceiving of society as a plitical society; and the "futurization" of an idealized, utopian social roder of harmony that was hoped would one day replace the perceived social disintegration.