Central European History


“Between Detroit and Moscow”: A Left Liberal “Third Way” in the Third Reich

Eric Kurlandera1

a1 Stetson University

The nature and intentions of Nazi economic policy are once again being hotly contested, although on a new set of terms. No longer is the German bourgeoisie's complicity in the Nazi “seizure of power” or the capitalist underpinnings of Hitler's subsequent aggressions at the center of the discussion. Rather, recent scholarship has chosen to grapple more carefully with the dynamic interplay between economics, race, and social policy in the Third Reich. As David Schoenbaum contended forty years ago, the Third Reich's apotheosization of “national community [Volksgemeinschaft]” led to an array of welfare programs, educational reforms, and “meritocratic” values that may in fact have produced a modern “social revolution.” To be sure, a number of subsequent studies have highlighted longer-term continuities, suggesting that the Nazi Sozialstaat was indebted in some part to the legacy of the Weimar Republic and in other respects presaged the social policies of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Historians likewise continue to debate the relative improvement in living standards experienced by the average German under Hitler. Virtually all scholars agree, however, that, regardless of its efficacy, the underpinnings of Nazi social policy are to be located in the Third Reich's drive to construct a racial utopia at home while securing popular support for wars of conquest abroad.

(Online publication May 23 2011)

Eric Kurlander is an associate professor of modern European history and chair at Stetson University. His recent book, Living With Hitler: Liberal Democrats in the Third Reich (Yale University Press, 2009), examines the ways in which German liberals negotiated, resisted, and in some ways accommodated the Third Reich. His first book, The Price of Exclusion: Ethnicity, National Identity, and the Decline of German Liberalism, 1898–1933 (Berghahn Books, 2006), describes how ethnic nationalist ideology gradually undermined the liberal parties in late-Imperial and Weimar Germany. His articles have appeared in Central European History, The Journal of Contemporary History, The Historian, The Bulletin of the German Historical Institute, Ethnopolitics, and The European Review of History, as well as a number of edited collections. Kurlander has held research and writing fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; the German Historical Institute; the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD); the Krupp Foundation; and Harvard University's Program for the Study of Germany and Europe. His current projects include a textbook, The West in Question: Continuity and Change (Pearson-Longman), and Nazi Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich.


I am grateful to a number of colleagues who provided invaluable feedback and editorial assistance on earlier versions of this article. I would particularly like to thank Joel Davis, William Dean, Catherine Epstein, Geoff Eley, Charles Maier, David Meskill, A. Dirk Moses, Jennifer Snyder, James Tent, and Frank Trentmann.