Contemporary European History



Antimodernism, Reactionary Modernism and National Socialism. Technocratic Tendencies in Germany, 1890–1945


Thomas Rohkrämer 

Abstract

The article looks critically at attempts to explain the rise of National Socialism in Germany by trying to identify a peculiarly German tradition of antimodernism or reactionary modernism (by, among others, Jeffrey Herf). By looking at different critiques of civilisation in imperial Germany, it tries to show that most of them accepted the necessity of modern technology. What was new about the so-called ‘reactionary modernists’ in the Weimar Republic was not their willingness to use modern technology, but the full acceptance of the fact that modern technology could only exist on the basis of large technological systems, industrial production and fundamental social and cultural changes. They demanded that Germans unreservedly embrace all aspects of modernity, though without giving up their conservative political ideals.

While the ‘reactionary modernists’ tried to arrange the whole of society in accordance with an alleged technological functionality, National Socialism was politically more successful, exactly because its attitude towards technology and modernity was less coherent. As National Socialism had a purely pragmatic and open attitude towards technology, it could accept without hesitation that its goals were only achievable through the use of modern means, but that the cultural and private sphere should compensate for the deficits of a public life characterised by hardship and instrumental reason.