In this provocative book, David Calleo surveys German history - not to present new material but to look afresh at the old. He argues that recent explanations for Germany's external conflicts have focused on flaws in the country's traditional political institutions and culture. These German-centred explanations are convenient Calloe notes, for they tend to exonerate others from their responsibilities in bringing about two world wars, namely the American and Russian hegemonies in Europe. As a result of this approach the big questions in German history are still answered with the ageing cliches of a generation ago despite the proliferation of German historical studies. Throughout Professor Calleo examines with some scepticism the concept of Germany's uniqueness and its consequences. In effect, his study stresses the continuing relevance of traditional issues among the Western states. This book, he asserts, should be regarded as a modest dissent from the prevailing view that history either began or ended in 1945.
Professor David Calleo, of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, attempts here to free the interpretations of German history from the biases and moral indignation aroused by both World Wars and the Nazi era. Rising to the challenge first issued by Geoffrey Barraclough in 1965 to take "a fresh look at the past in the light of the new world that has been emerging since 1945," Calleo asks important questions in a series of interrelated essays, always reminding the reader that to seek explanations in a unique German character or situation not only plays into the hands of non-Germans but also allows Germans once again to set their nation at the crux of world history. For example, he places Germany's conduct after 1870 and in World War I into the context of the larger movements of imperialism and materialism, and he shows how unhistorical it is to single out German imperialist schemes which were essentially no different from those of England, France, and the United States. Calleo agrees that Hitler may have been unique (subtly arguing that "Hitler. . . failed because he was too much a German and not enough an Austrian") but he insists that the pressures that battered Germany after World War I were not. Hitler's war aims were affected to a great extent by the other powers, notably by England's desire to suppress German hegemony in Eastern Europe. In a fascinating section, the author skillfully tears apart the argument that the excessive success of "German" Idealism (Hegelian elevation of the state) made of the Germans a docile, authoritarian people: first he disputes the theoretical differences between liberalism (freedom derived from a well-ordered state) and idealism, and then he shows that Germany was not wholly Idealist nor England wholly liberal. In short, Calleo's thesis is that in a Europe that had successfully balanced international power Germany "was not uniquely aggressive, only uniquely inconvenient." Although the partition of Europe between Russia and the United States may have solved the specifically German aspects of this problem, the German case has broad lessons to teach posterity about the relation between national ambitions and rising expectations. Those who hold to other interpretations may quarrel with details of Calleo's treatment, but future studies of Germany and Europe cannot afford to ignore the point he makes. (Kirkus Reviews)