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51 Program on Central and Eastern Europe

The Integration of the Polish Post-Transitional Elite

1999 – Jacek Wasilewski


In recent years, interest in contemporary conceptions and self-understandings of the social order has grown among historians, yet the field of an "intellectual history of society" is little explored for modern Germany. This paper surveys the field and asks how Germans from the early modem 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 and twentieth centuries: the intellectual construction of dilemmas between social conformity and social fragmentation; the difficulties of conceiving of society as a political society; and the "futurization" of an idealized, utopian social order of harmony that was hoped would one day replace the perceived social disintegration.