Germany: Political Culture and Political Socialization
I. Political Culture
In the aftermath of WWII, one could be forgiven for taking a rather skeptical view of toward the future of Germany. First of all, the country had just gone through a debilitating war in which much of the nation was a battleground and literally reduced to ashes. Secondly, as the secrets of the war began to be made public, there was revulsion toward Germany by virtually all of the other nations of the West - not only a physical defeat but a damning indictment of German honor as well. Thirdly, the country (or two different countries, at this point) had a limited, and not particularly pleasant experience, with democracy during the Weimar Republic. Finally, the country was cleaved in two by the cold war and would serve as the principal battleground for the ideological conflict that would dominate Europe from 1945-1989.
To deal with these concerns in order. As mentioned earlier, the West German economic miracle between the 1950s and 1970s left the West Germans more affluent and better off than at any time in their history. Even the East experienced some economic growth during this time, and was eventually seen as being the most affluent member of the Eastern bloc - remember to keep this in context.
Items two and three were dealt with using the same measures. The West German government embarked on a broad based education campaign intended to generate support for Democracy and to inculcate democratic values in the population. Part of this effort was the detailed description of the crimes of the Nazis, all of the West German schoolchildren (and large segments of the population) were forced to watch films detailing the atrocities of the holocaust and it is something that is not far from their minds even at the present. However, building international trust in a Germany that had started two major wars in a little over two decades would take a more concerted effort. Germany began this effort under the FRG by attempting to integrate itself into the Western alliances - NATO, ECSC, EEC - and attempt to demonstrate that Germany could be treated as a responsible nation.
Of course, educational efforts were also being undertaken in the east - aimed at instilling Marxist values, and while it would be very hard to prove that the system of governance ever enjoyed popular support, it could be argued that it was at least accepted by a majority of the population.
In terms of the division of Germany, there was always a sense of impermanence to each of the states, while both ostensibly pushed for unification virtually from the time of division, neither side really expected it and the collapse of the East German regime in the fall of 1989 caught observers on both sides of the wall by surprise. Divisions that were formed in the 1940s persist to the present time.
B. Main Elements
- Efforts to change the German political culture since 1945.
1. National Identity
As mentioned earlier in the class, while the sense of a German community, or a German people has been pervasive for several centuries, the union of this group into a coherent nation-state came later to Germany than to the other countries under consideration in this class (1870). The modern German state has also seen its borders redrawn several times (1870, 1918, 1945) with vast swaths of territory lost after each of the two world wars. (Mention Article 116 of the Basic Law) Fluid nation.
Think of what makes America a nation? What shared values do you have? What distinguishes you from your neighbors?
- flag (only a symbol of something deeper)
- political institutions?
- position in the world?
- Contrast this with the German experience, both West and East.
- Unification and the possibility that Germany might finally become a “normal” nation state. - Establishment of October 3 as a national holiday.
- Movement of the capital back to Berlin in 1999.
- Agreement on the borders of Germany for the first time in over a century.
Limited popular support for a democratic system in the first half of this century - under the Weimar Republic the formal institutions of democracy were present, yet they were never entirely accepted by the people who were increasingly willing to turn to anti-democratic parties as time passed. Of course, it is very possible to suggest that economic circumstances played a large role in shaping these choices, but the point stands.
Following the second world war, there were fears that history would repeat itself. In opinion polls taken in West Germany in the early 1950s, a majority of the respondents stated that they considered life to have been better under the Weimar and especially under the Third Reich prior to the Second World War, and almost half believed that had it not been for the Second World War, Hitler would have been regarded as one of Germany’s statesmen. These opinions have steadily changed in the intervening years - as the FRG began to prosper and the link was established between economic growth, stability, and a democratic system. This might also be attributed to attrition, as those who had known and might have attachments to the other systems began to pass along. By the latter part of the 1980s, the political system was a point of pride to a vast majority of the West Germans, it had overtaken the economic system as the greatest point of German pride.
In the East the situation was somewhat different, the SED attempted to completely reshape the values of its citizens (mention Marx and the superstructure), though with limited success. Achieved a base of resigned loyalty, but the omnipresence of the Stasi (network of informants and files on more than 1/3 of the population) suggests that they were not willing to take this loyalty for granted. Also, as soon as the specter of Soviet intervention was removed, the existence of the state became untenable. Efforts to remake society and its culture failed throughout the Eastern bloc.
Even after unification, each maintains ties to its separate past.
3. Democratic Norms and Participation
Effort since the war to instill democratic values (ex. majority rule, minority rights, civil liberties, etc) and behavior in the citizens of the West. Difficult in that the historic Prussian culture (remember how the Prussian dominated German politics under the Second Reich) stressed that progress, stability and order came from the subordination of individual interests to those of the collective. Political power was concentrated in the centre, and authoritarian in nature.
In the West an effort was made to instill these values through education and by example and they became progressively more pervasive as time passed. Crises, economic and social (ex. Baader-Meinhof) were dealt with inside of the system instead of resorting to extra legal means. Of course, the economic performance of West Germany gave instrumental support to the regime.
In the East, the regime purported to be democratic (explain the Marxist notion of democracy and how Lenin/Stalin altered this ideal), indeed in its constitution and even name, the notion is trumpeted. However, reality was somewhat different and it was essentially an authoritarian regime that depended on the old Prussian values of obedience, loyalty and duty. Disparity between theory and reality was one of the forces that prompted the events of 1989.
Since unification, both have been supportive of the ideal of democracy, though certainly there are some variations over policy issues - economic, social, dealing with dissent and those who offer challenges to the system.
4. Social Values
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Basic idea that once our basic demands have been met - food, shelter, etc, we tend to turn our attention to more ethereal concepts - individual rights, environment, citizen participation, peace issues, etc. In the West, this transition has been taking place since the 1970s (rise of environmental and political groups). We can even see somewhat of a disconnect between generations, with the older generation being more focused on economic issues, perhaps due to their experiences with hardship, while the younger generation tends to be more interested in post-material issues. Also possible to draw a distinction between the East and the West, with the Easterners tending to be closer to the older group of West Germans.
- Their opinions on post-material issues?
II. Political Socialization
We normally think of socialization as being a cumulative process, the result of generations of behavior and the passing along of values from parents to children, etc. However, Germany represents a rather interesting case in this regard, as you have the complete discrediting of the old system and even of the old Germany on both sides of the Berlin wall. The continuity of socialization in Germany has been broken once on the Western side and twice on the Eastern, where the values and government of the previous generation have come under near universal scorn. Not only has the campaign of de-nazification brought about tremendous change, but the unification process has also introduced dramatic change. In a sense, we are looking at a country that is undergoing a transformation in values.
1. Family Influences
Especially difficult in the post-war period, on neither side of the wall could the socialization process function as it had in the other countries we have examined. Many parents were fearful of the question “What did you do in the war, Daddy?” if the subject were broached. Also, the parents were literally learning alongside the children how to be good democrats, or good communists in the case of the East.
Obviously, this is a situation that has abated over time in the West, as parents were socialized into the democratic system and as the numbers of those alive during the Third Reich dwindled. However, this has recurred as a problem in the East. We should not read too much into the degree of support for the East German government, while it certainly enjoyed some popularity in the wake of the Second World War, it was always an alien form of government imposed by the Russians. We should also remember that the family was one of the few areas that the state was unable to control and thus open to challenge within these bounds.
There has been a widening generation gap over the past couple of decades, as information filtered into the East , the difference between reality and the information supplied by the state became more obvious and the youths were more likely to be drawn to the West (willingness to accept risk seems to depreciate with age). Also, in the West, the young have become more concerned with the post-materialist values than their elders. Perhaps the largest generation gap in Europe.
Early efforts in the West were aimed at selling democracy, civics classes that stressed the ideal and the nuts and bolts of the system, rather than a balanced presentation revealing warts and all. The benefits of democracy were stressed, especially in contrast with Communism - effort to win the hearts and minds of the West Germans. As time passed, and the acceptance of democracy was no longer in question, the system began to focus on both the strengths and weaknesses of the system.
In the East, the effort at selling the system did not really stop until 1989. Emphasis on the needs of the collective over those of the individual and the ultimate superiority of scientific socialism (irony). Yet, this conflicted with reality and this disconnect would come back to haunt the government - led to alienation and mistrust of all information disseminated.
Structure of the educational system is also relevant for our discussion. In the West, there is a rigid tracking system that places students on one of three courses after the 4th or 6th grade. This assignment will be based on parental preferences, school record, teacher evaluations. Three tracks are (1) general education and vocational training that leads to working class occupations; (2) a mix of academic and specialized vocational training that leads to skilled trades or lower middle class occupations; and (3) purely academic training that leads to the gymnasium (academic high school) and later to university, all who graduate from the gymnasium are granted admission to university with free tuition (about 20% of Germans attend university).
Of course, this is strongly influenced by class, those who enter vocational training are usually from working class families and those who enter the gymnasium are usually of a middle class background. Calls for reform. Actually, in this case it is the experience of the East (comprehensive schools) that are supporting the case for reform. Was supposed to be a standardization of the West German model across the country, but this has been tabled for discussion until the year 2000.
3. Role of the State
- More pervasive in the East following the 1950s. Early efforts by the West had lost their purpose as the government became more readily accepted.
- SED and the Young Pioneers. Nearly all were enrolled in this combination of the scouts and the party. At 14, about 3/4 of the Young Pioneers graduated into the Free German Youth, this was the preparatory branch for the SED (2.1 million members in 1988). SED was necessary for access to a position of any sort of influence. Effort to control society through education, cultural activities, sport, occupation, etc. (Make sure they are clear on how this took place).
4. The Mass Media
- Important in German history. Both the first newspaper and first television services began in Germany.
- Use by the Nazis as tools of propaganda.
- West determined to avoid the same path. Following the war, the occupational forces licensed only those newspapers and journalists that did not have ties to the Nazis, basic law also provided for the freedom of the press and against censorship. Two consequences of this experience: (1) a press that is expressedly neutral, attempt to avoid past problems; and (2) growth of regional newspapers - reluctance to see them centralized, of the hundreds of regional newspapers, only a few that are national (contrast with Britain and France).
- Media in the East was little more than a propaganda tool of the state. Following unification, Western interests purchased most of the papers in the East.
- Two state owned television networks, strongly committed to political news and events. Emergence of a plethora of independent and satellite programs. (Baywatch) Increase in diversity, decrease in quality.
3. Conclusions and Citizen Participation
- Reshaping of the political culture in both East and West in the aftermath
of the War and in the East following the collapse of communism.
- What does it mean to be a German?
- Changing political values and generational differences.
- Family as a means of socialization
- Education and tracking
- The role of the state?
- The media
Political Participation in Germany
- Limited at first, previous participation had high costs associated with the action, esp in the aftermath of the systems collapse. Instilled in the citizens a reluctance to get involved due to concerns about their own safety.
- In the West, this reluctance was largely lost by the 1960s, they were willing to become involved in electoral participation and to discuss politics. In 1953, a survey stated that 2/3 of West Germans never discussed politics, by 1987, over 3/4 claimed they discussed it regularly. Also saw a rise in interest groups and campaign activities. Seemed as though Germany had put past experience behind it.
- In the East, the SED sought to co-ordinate this activity. Elections were held, but the party controlled the nominating process and officially received over 95% of the mandatory votes. Also organized interest groups, ex. peace groups (mention the irony of this). Party sought to monopolize the expression of interests, after all they defined the legitimacy of the movements.
- New Germany seeks to transfer the performance of the West into the East. Some aspects to be admired - with an average annual voter turnout of over 80%, among the highest rate of voter participation in the Western democracies (seen as a civic duty); more than half of West Germans have signed a petition (2/3 in East) ; more than 20% of Westerners have participated in a political demonstration (50% in East); High levels of party membership (8% in West, 11% in East); and higher levels of interest group involvement in both the East and West than in the United States.
- Change from a subject to a participant political culture.