In a unique application of critical theory to the study of the role of ideology in politics, Jeffrey Herf explores the paradox inherent in the German fascists' rejection of the rationalism of the Enlightenment while fully embracing modern technology. He documents evidence of a cultural tradition he calls 'reactionary modernism' found in the writings of German engineers and of the major intellectuals of the. Weimar right: Ernst Juenger, Oswald Spengler, Werner Sombart, Hans Freyer, Carl Schmitt, and Martin Heidegger. The book shows how German nationalism and later National Socialism created what Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, called the 'steel-like romanticism of the twentieth century'. By associating technology with the Germans, rather than the Jews, with beautiful form rather than the formlessness of the market, and with a strong state rather than a predominance of economic values and institutions, these right-wing intellectuals reconciled Germany's strength with its romantic soul and national identity.
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'Jeffrey Herf, in his most interesting and original study ... has drawn attention to a strain in German social thought which made it possible to link the ideas of the new technology of the twentieth century to the concepts of the German Volksgemeinschaft and of the uniqueness of the German spiritual experience.' The Times Literary Supplement
'Thomas Mann ... wrote that 'the really characteristic and dangerous aspect of National Socialism was its mixture of robust modernity and an affirmative stance toward progress combined with dreams of the past: a highly technological romanticism'. This accomodation of opposites Jeffrey Herf has labeled 'reactionary modernism, ' and in a highly original book he has described the way in which modern nationalism, without diminishing the system's romantic and antirational aspects.' The New York Review of Books
'The particular contribution of this exemplary piece of imaginative and well-researched historical sociology of ideas is a thorough analysis of the German thinking on the relation between society (culture) and technology among literary figures as well as among the professors at the technical universities.' German Studies Newsletter
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