George L. Mosse Program Blog

  1. Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses: Politics as Drama

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    Politics as Drama: Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses


    One of Nationalization of the Masses most enduring contributions is to evoke how the masses came to see politics as a “drama within which liturgical rites took place” (12). This dramatic element played out episodically in symbolic actions such as public festivals, and more permanently through the creation of special groups such as, in the case of Germany, gymnasts. In Mosse’s book, the dramatic element is present throughout – when he discusses myths, the popular works of Wagner, and the “political cult” that would eventually be embodied by the Nazi party.

    Politics as drama was integral to what Mosse described as a “mass movement,” which was “an alternative to parliamentary democracy” (9). Politics as drama was based on ceremony, ritual, and emotion, and invited the masses to “worship themselves” and their struggle – against the ills of industrialization, among other forces – as the ultimate good.

    Though not a major focus of Nationalization of the Masses, the limits of nineteenth-century liberalism – a.k.a. parliamentary democracy – are keenly felt in the book. What was it about traditional political theory, rationally constructed political systems, and democratic norms that so failed to capture the adherence and the imagination of the masses? Much of Mosse’s study explores the various ways leaders, cultural producers, and theorists provided an alternative to parliamentary democracy. In Mosse’s other works, including The Culture of Western Europe, he more explicitly explores the limits of liberal politics. Here, and in Masses and Man, he explores the competing alternative for nineteenth-century Germans.

    Politics as drama receives a lot of attention today in democratic politics, if for no other reason than that the language of political leaders and campaigns is now focused on building “narratives” to supply meaning to campaigns. New York Times op-eds analyze campaign “narrative strategies” and a major architect of Barack Obama’s 2008 winning election, David Axelrod, is praised as realizing that the “modern campaign” is “about a more visceral, more personal narrative.” Donald Trump’s campaign, from his dramatic slogan “Make America Great Again” to the unending narratives that swirled around both him and Hillary Clinton, has thrown the narrative analysis into high gear.

    This is all to say that it seems Mosse, though writing of a different time and place, put his finger on the insatiable need for the masses to possess a narrative, and that the parliamentary system (or, in the United States, the presidential system) has had times of difficulty in supplying a compelling narrative. The rationalism of the eighteenth century, best represented by the liberal-parliamentary system, faces its most significant challenge in the romanticism of the nineteenth century. If liberalism has had a unifying narrative – a dramatic plot at the center of its politics – it is that of progress: an optimistic belief that through good politics the future would be better. This belief has sustained liberal politics, but it has often failed to grip the masses. This confrontation between rationalism and romanticism, liberalism and reaction, is at the heart of much Mosse’s work, and sets the backdrop for Nationalization of the Masses.

    In the twenty-first century, rationalism and romanticism do not retain their exalted positions. However, similar struggles have ensued. There remains a pull between reason and emotion-based politics, pragmatic and ideological worldviews, at the heart of the conflicts in democratic countries, both in Western Europe and beyond. By understanding politics as drama – that politics has an inherently dramatic element that cannot be reasoned away or compartmentalized – we not only gain an insight into modern campaign strategies, but into how the masses of the nineteenth century were not so different from the masses of the twenty-first.

    Daniel Hummel is the Postdoctoral Fellow of History and Public Policy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University.


  2. Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses: Political Rallies

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    Political Rallies: Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses

    On August 21, 1980, Ronald Reagan, then mere months from winning the presidency, uttered one of his most famous (and infamous) lines of that election year. Speaking to a gathering of more than 15,000 evangelical Christians, Reagan began his remarks with the tactful words:

    “Now, I know this is a non-partisan gathering, and so I know that you can’t endorse me, but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you and what you’re doing.”

    At the end of his speech, according to onlookers, Reagan received a ten-minute standing ovation.

    The future president was the last speaker of a two-day event at Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas. An ostensibly non-partisan event, Reagan was advised that the evangelicals, who overwhelmingly supported him over his opponent, Jimmy Carter, could not officially endorse his candidacy. Reagan’s creative response, writes historian Stephen Miller, was one of “the most famous lines of the Age of Evangelicalism.”

    The words Reagan used were important, but historians have overlooked the aesthetic aspect, which Mosse’s insights in Nationalization of the Masses bring to the fore: the physical setting, pageantry, and spatial components that were an integral part of the event. Was this truly a non-partisan political rally? A spiritual revival (most of the speakers before Reagan were pastors or preachers)? Something else entirely? American flags and patriotic bunting were in evidence around the arena. Prayers were abundant, as were calls to individual and national spiritual renewal. Two supposedly separate areas of American life – preaching and politics – had become deeply intertwined not just rhetorically but in the very act of the gathering.

    In Mosse’s study of the rites, festivals, myths, and symbols which helped nationalize Germans in the nineteenth century, he pays close attention to aspects that often receive short shrift in my own field of postwar American evangelicalism: architecture, the pageantry of ceremonies, and the role of Christian festivals. Of course, a large chasm divides nineteenth century Germany from late-twentieth century America, but there is a fruitful continuity in the methodological approaches a scholar can use to get at the process of politicization that occurred among groups in both societies.

    By emphasizing these aspects of the 1980 rally/revival in Dallas, we gain a clearer understanding of the impact of Reagan’s words. Mosse highlights the need for political acts, if they are to achieve religious resonance, to achieve an aesthetics of the “beautiful” that symbolizes “order, hierarchy, and ‘the world made whole again’” (9). The mix of Christian and patriotic symbols in the Reunion Arena were a suitable backdrop for the central thrust of Reagan’s words: to defend and restore “traditional Judeo-Christianity,” “traditional morality,” and protect the value of “that old time religion and that old-time Constitution.”

    The physical layout of the rally/revival was also important and intersects with what Mosse at one point touches on as “stage design” in German theater (pp. 193-95). The speaker’s podium was the obvious center of attention, but behind it sat a line of chairs with the most distinguished guests visible to the entire audience. Here Reagan, the presidential candidate, sat on an equal level with rising stars of the Religious Right – pastors such as W.A. Criswell of First Baptist Dallas and telegenic preachers such as James Robison. Indeed, a conversation with Robison, who sat next to Reagan, led to the latter’s decision to start his speech with the “endorsement” line. The arrangement of the stage, which looked as much like a Baptist pulpit with elders arrayed behind, further bound the religious and political messaging of the event.

    Relying on Mosse here is to bring a set of analytical tools to bear on an entirely different context than Germany, but a context that remains under-studied in terms of aesthetics and rituals.

    Daniel Hummel is the Postdoctoral Fellow of History and Public Policy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University.

  3. Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses: Secular Religion

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    Secular Religion: Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses


    The Nationalization of the Masses is not one of George Mosse’s best known works, but it remains a stimulating and relevant analysis of the rise of mass movements in Germany through the nineteenth century and on to the rise of Nazism. Though Mosse’s book remains focused on Germany and, to a lesser degree France and Italy, the questions he raises about mass politics, mass movements, and nationalism have much broader applications.

    In a series of posts, I will examine some of the ways this book has stimulated my own research, which is entirely outside of the German context. Mosse’s legacy, while most immediately felt in modern European cultural history, has in fact extended far beyond that field through the support of the George L. Mosse Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a PhD candidate at UW-Madison (2010-2016) researching Christian Zionism, I was able to study in Jerusalem and conduct archival research through the support of the Mosse Exchange Program with the Hebrew University for the 2012-2013 academic year.


    A review quotation on the back of the 2001 paperback edition published by Howard Fertig Inc. praises Nationalization as “an important and unique contribution to the literature on nationalism and totalitarianism.” As a historian of American politics and religion, interested in how Protestant religious practices contributed to the politicization of evangelicalism after World War II, I discovered a number of questions raised by Nationalization which helped me conceptualize a recent article on the role of revivalism in evangelical politicization. The first, and perhaps the most pressing question appears in Nationalization’s first pages: what does it mean for a population to become nationalized or politicized?

    Early in the book, Mosse indicates his scope and the process he is most interested in explicating: “The new politics [of nationalization of the masses] attempted to draw the people into active participation in the national mystique through rites and festivals, myths and symbols which gave a concrete expression to the general will” (2). Already on page two Mosse has given a few of these phrases – new politics, general will – specific definitions, but the point here is more general. Framing, in the American context, a question based on Mosse’s approach to German nationalization provides the skeleton of a research question: how have rites, festivals, rallies, myths, and symbols provided ways for American evangelicals to concretely express their political agenda in the context of American democratic processes?

    While the question of evangelical politicization has received steady attention among historians, especially in the twenty-first century, Mosse’s particular interests in rites and festivals have received less attention in the American context. At once this may seem surprising, but in many ways, the study of American politics diverges from the study of European politics. One possible reason for this, which is more speculation than historiographical intervention, is that the rise of fascism, Nazism, and the much vaster appeal of communism and socialism as political ideologies in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe have shaped and sharpened scholarly questions. The idea of American “exceptionalism,” after all, originates in asking why communism failed to appeal to most American workers. That exceptionalism is even more ensconced in American religious history, which remains more beholden to an assumption of separation between religion and politics, though much recent scholarship has pushed against this dichotomy.

    Mosse introduces us to mass politicization as a necessary process of the new “secular religion” of Germany. Mosse’s phrase is striking. Its closest American analog, the concept of “civil religion,” carries much less heft than secular religion. In the United States, the iconic civil religion of the early Cold War was a vague “Judeo-Christianity,” ecumenical in temperament and a matter of discourse as much as of institutions. It gave the nation a sense of coherence and purposes in the face of a communist enemy, but its practices and slogans – “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” – were as much products of corporate America, religious America, and partisan politics as they were a coherent theology of religion. Mosse’s secular religion, however, is more defined and more robust. The ideological arguments that went into German national monuments, Volk festivals, and war memorials – as we will see in future posts – appear more central to the German story than the same practices do to an American story.

    Of course, this is in part due to the different ends of these stories. The Nazi Party’s “aesthetic of politics” hovers over every page of Nationalization. There is no similar climax in American politics. Even so, Mosse’s focus on political events and ideologically-infused practices has been helpful in looking afresh at how American evangelicals encountered and consumed political ideas. I argue that the revival – an ostensibly spiritual gathering to save individual souls – provides one such venue. My inspiration for treating revivals in this way is owed in part to Mosse’s analysis, and will be the focus of a subsequent post on revivals as political rallies.

    Daniel Hummel is the Postdoctoral Fellow of History and Public Policy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University.

  4. Ana Schaposchnik, The Lima Inquisition (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015)

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    Ana E. Schaposchnik is an associate professor of history at DePaul University.

    Ana Schaposchnik, The Lima Inquisition: The Plight of Crypto-Jews in Seventeenth-Century Peru (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015).

    The Holy Office of the Inquisition (a royal tribunal that addressed issues of heresy and offenses to morality) was established in Peru in 1570 and operated there until 1820. In this book, Ana E. Schaposchnik provides a deeply researched history of the Inquisition’s Lima Tribunal, focusing in particular on the cases of persons put under trial for crypto-Judaism in Lima during the 1600s.

    Delving deeply into the records of the Lima Tribunal, Schaposchnik brings to light the experiences and perspectives of the prisoners in the cells and torture chambers, as well as the regulations and institutional procedures of the inquisitors. She looks closely at how the lives of the accused—and in some cases the circumstances of their deaths—were shaped by actions of the Inquisition on both sides of the Atlantic. She explores the prisoners’ lives before and after their incarcerations and reveals the variety and character of prisoners’ religiosity, as portrayed in the Inquisition’s own sources. She also uncovers individual and collective strategies of the prisoners and their supporters to stall trials, confuse tribunal members, and attempt to ameliorate or at least delay the most extreme effects of the trial of faith.

    The Lima Inquisition also includes a detailed analysis of the 1639 Auto General de Fe ceremony of public penance and execution, tracing the agendas of individual inquisitors, the transition that occurred when punishment and surveillance were brought out of hidden dungeons and into public spaces, and the exposure of the condemned and their plight to an avid and awestricken audience. Schaposchnik contends that the Lima Tribunal’s goal, more than volume or frequency in punishing heretics, was to discipline and shape culture in Peru.

    What are scholars saying about this title?

    James Krippner, Haverford College
    “Schaposchnik revises and enriches our understanding of the Inquisition in colonial Peru and provides a major contribution to the emerging literature on politics, culture, and identity in seventeenth-century Latin America.”

    Kris Lane, Tulane University
    “The Lima Inquisition reveals the details of the Americas’ most alarming Inquisitorial crackdown: the ‘Great Complicity’ and subsequent Auto de Fe of Lima in 1639. Schaposchnik convincingly shows that it was not an aberration or just another Baroque-era spectacle—it was the essence of what the Inquisition was and had been all about, from inception to abolition.”



  5. New Book: Chad Alan Goldberg, Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

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    New Book by Professor Chad Alan Goldberg:

    Chad Alan Goldberg, Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, prominent social thinkers in France, Germany, and the United States sought to understand the modern world taking shape around them. Although they worked in different national traditions and emphasized different features of modern society, they repeatedly invoked Jews as a touchstone for defining modernity and national identity in a context of rapid social change.

    In Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought, Chad Alan Goldberg brings us a major new study of Western social thought through the lens of Jews and Judaism. In France, where antisemites decried the French Revolution as the “Jewish Revolution,” Émile Durkheim challenged depictions of Jews as agents of revolutionary subversion or counterrevolutionary reaction. When German thinkers such as Karl Marx, Georg Simmel, Werner Sombart, and Max Weber debated the relationship of the Jews to modern industrial capitalism, they reproduced, in secularized form, cultural assumptions derived from Christian theology. In the United States, William Thomas, Robert Park, and their students conceived the modern city and its new modes of social organization in part by reference to the Jewish immigrants concentrating there. In all three countries, social thinkers invoked real or purported differences between Jews and gentiles to elucidate key dualisms of modern social thought. The Jews thus became an intermediary through which social thinkers discerned in a roundabout fashion the nature, problems, and trajectory of their own wider societies. Goldberg rounds out his fascinating study by proposing a novel explanation for why Jews were such an important cultural reference point. He suggests a rethinking of previous scholarship on Orientalism, Occidentalism, and European perceptions of America, arguing that history extends into the present, with the Jews—and now the Jewish state—continuing to serve as an intermediary for self-reflection in the twenty-first century.

    What are scholars saying about this exciting new title?

    Michael Walzer, professor (emeritus) of social science, Institute for Advanced Study
    “Most of this book is a masterful account of how Jews figured—as traditionalists, innovators, radicals, and ‘marginal men’—in the development of modern social theory and academic sociology. But the book should also be read for its final chapter, which includes a sharp critique of post-9/11 political discourse about the Jews—and also the other ‘others.’”

    Lila Corwin Berman, Temple University
    “Above all, a singularly lucid summation of the modern ‘Jewish question’ as a sociological question, Modernity and the Jews makes a compelling case for the value of historical sociology. Goldberg situates French, German, and American social thinkers in their historical contexts in order to show how and why they produced the Jew, as a category of analysis and a means of social criticism. By employing a comparative mode, he shows how social thought about the Jew reflected specific circumstances and, also, replicated habits of thought about political modes, economic systems, and cultural forms. A bold book, unafraid to step into the fray of debates about Orientalism, the role of the Muslim in today’s social thought, and the claims of anti-Zionism, Modernity and the Jews brings the history of western social thought directly into our own moment in time.”

    Peter Kivisto, Augustana College and St. Petersburg State University
    “Goldberg’s original and provocative thesis—based on case studies of foundational figures in sociology from France, Germany, and the United States—is that Jews and Jews alone came to be treated as the signifiers of the pre-modern/modern binary. And as such, for scholars such as Durkheim, Marx, Weber, Sombart, Simmel, and Park, Jews were viewed as occupying a unique social space, being an Other unlike any other Other. Cogently argued and spelling out the implications for the discipline, this is a must-read book, deserving of serious scholarly reflection.”

  6. Martin Jay, Reason After its Eclipse (2016) review by Brad Baranowski

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    Martin Jay, Reason after its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016). Professor Jay gave the George L. Mosse Lectures in Jerusalem in 2012. Those talks led to the publication of the book.

    Brad Baranowski is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His dissertation, "America's Moral Conscience: John Rawls and the Making of Modern Liberalism," examines Rawls’s intellectual trajectory from first conceptualizing “justice as fairness” through publishing A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism."

    As far as historical subjects go, reason is a tricky one. Too historical of a treatment and the basis of an author’s judgment is undercut. After all, how can you claim to provide cogent reasons about a subject if you’ve already shown reason to be a ruse? Not historical enough, and the treatment looks spooky: reason appears as a spirit that sometimes inspires, sometimes haunts, but always animates past events, ideas, and people, putting it beyond critique. Martin Jay traces how this tension came to define critical theory in his latest work, Reason After Its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory (2016).

    Originally delivered as the George L. Mosse Lectures at Hebrew University in 2012, Reason After Its Eclipse is the outcome of a lifelong immersion in critical theory. This erudition is present from the start. The book begins with the ancient Greeks, cataloguing various approaches to reason from Plato to the Enlightenment. Issues such as the relation of logos to myth, the senses to intuition, the particular to the universal, Jay shows, shaped thinkers as diverse as Aristotle in antiquity, Aquinas in the Middle Ages, and Machiavelli as each grappled with the nature of reason. When a rising cohort of European thinkers came to question received wisdom during the Enlightenment, some philosophers tried to strike a balance between reason and critique, hoping to update the former for an era obsessed with the latter.

    Immanuel Kant looms large here. The sage from Königsberg’s innovation was to apply reason’s critical power to itself, probing the boundaries of knowledge and morals in the process. This project produced, Jay writes, “the most penetrating critical reconsideration of the foundation and limits of reason in the late Enlightenment (36).” Thanks to Kant’s transcendental subject, the concept both stood outside history and could be criticized within it, even if doing so meant relinquishing reason's ability to satisfactorily process topics like ontology and theology. Awed by Kant’s achievement, dissatisfied with the limits he identified, first Hegel, then Marx, would make expanding the concept’s power the hallmark of German philosophy. Their methods differed radically from Kant’s as they embedded reason within history, tracing its evolution in order to better understand its potential. Both, however, shared their predecessor’s hope that by finding some vantage point from which to critique reason, the concept’s emancipatory potential could be unleashed, not squashed.

    Such optimistic treatments of reason, however, would flounder on the political and economic disasters of the early twentieth century. In one of Jay’s most incisive chapters, “Reason in Crisis,” he traces the breakdown of European intellectuals’ faith in reason. Vitalism, the belief that beneath all orderly appearance pulses irrational and chaotic energies, and positivism, the belief that all beliefs to be rational must be empirically verifiable, posed grave threats to previous tenants of reason. A wave of skepticism threatened reason as intellectuals and writers questioned the rationality of arguments by pointing to their biological, historical, and overall limited nature.

    Enter the Frankfurt School. Their project, Jay argues, is best understood as a response both to this crisis of reason, and to the longer developments that precipitated it. Spearheaded by thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkeimer, the first generation of Frankfurt School theorists parsed the relation of reason to social domination. Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) famously traced modern humanity’s domination of nature and penchant for totalitarianism to the instrumental reasoning of the Enlightenment. Marcuse, meanwhile, explored both capitalism’s and communism’s use of reason to shape—and deaden—the individual psyche in One-Dimensional Man (1964). Although propounded indebted to the insights of Hegel and Marx, especially in their advocacy for a creative, critical form of reasoning, the Frankfurt School appeared equally Kantian in temperament—searching for reason’s limitations as much as they sought its liberating potential.

    Such inclinations, however, would shift with the rise to intellectual prominence of Jürgen Habermas and his communicative model of reason. “Rather than a faculty of the individual mind representing an object external to it,” writes Jay, Habermas holds that “reason should be understood more capaciously as an intersubjective procedure of validity testing (124).” Communication provides the realm in which this intersubjective verification unfolds, as people, conceived of as equals, debate and discuss in order to come to consensuses on various problems. While Jay provides critical readings of all his thinkers, and even dedicates a chapter to the philosopher’s critics, it is clear that he admires Habermas. This admiration, however, is most apparent not in the book’s treatment of Habermas per say, or even in any one chapter of the text, but in the work as a whole.

    Reason After Its Eclipse is as personal as it is abstract. Jay has spent a lifetime tracing, cataloguing, evaluating, and defending the project of critical theory, beginning with his monumental The Dialectical Imagination (1973). Reason After Its Eclipse was born from a conversation Jay had while researching that earlier project with the philosopher Friedrich Pollock, one of the original members of the Frankfurt School. When Jay asked Pollock what was the normative alternative to the instrumental reason that Marcuse, Adorno, and others had criticized, the elder philosopher exclaimed: “Horkheimer has already devoted an entire book to addressing that question!” (x) The name of that book: Eclipse of Reason (1947).

    Jay’s unanswered question lingers over Reason After Its Eclipse, a point he confirms in the introduction when he writes how the book ends with more “questions than answers, a performative affirmation of an important lesson of the exercise as a whole: that reason is as much critique as it is system-building, as open-ended as it is complete, as fallible in its conclusions as assertive in its premises (xii).” Ultimately, “performance” is the correct word to describe what Jay has staged, not only in the last chapter but in the book as a whole. At every turn he shows how to historicize reason as well as to hold out a higher hope in the concept.

    Jay models, that is, the sort of communicative rationality that Habermas has theorized, complete with its aspiration that thorough, patient, erudite scholarship can make a difference in how we think. It is this kind of hope—qualified, informed, yet bold—that has sustained the endless, self-reflective production that is critical theory. And it is work like Jay’s that helps to assure that reason’s light continues to escape total eclipse.