The highly controversial idea of Sonderweg, a special path to modernity, is frequently invoked to depict the history of Germany in the twentieth century. Initially claimed by nationalists as an exceptionalism proudly opposed to the development of both France and the United Kingdom, the German Sonderweg became a stigma after 1945, the mark of the wrong turn that had led to National Socialism. Beyond these debates, the thought remains that, under the shadow of this supposedly unique destiny, Germany was a volcano of aesthetic and intellectual creativity. This article analyzes the mental and cultural inversion produced by the end of the Cold War and the birth of a new “Berlin Republic.” From 1990 on, German politics and society tenaciously pursued a project of “normalcy” that consolidated both its democracy and its economy by establishing Berlin leadership in Europe. But this spectacular accomplishment also meant intellectual dryness and a memorial “wisdom” combined with a conservative “constitutional patriotism.” This inverted Faustian fate—conformist and mediocre prosperity instead of evil genius—is the transitory aftermath of a century of fire and blood.
Longing for the Sonderweg
Enzo Traverso is Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities at Cornell University, with appointments in the Departments of History and Romance Studies and additional affiliations with the Jewish Studies Program and the French Studies Program.
Enzo Traverso; Longing for the Sonderweg. New German Critique 1 November 2023; 50 (3 (150)): 205–215. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-10708461
Download citation file: