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1 - Capitalism and Agency in Interwar Germany

from Part I - Debating Capitalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2022

Moritz Föllmer
Affiliation:
Universiteit van Amsterdam
Pamela E. Swett
Affiliation:
McMaster University, Ontario
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Summary

In the interwar period, the issue of how much space capitalism left for human agency preoccupied many Germans. Would they be able to revolutionize or reform this economic order, or were they compelled to work and live within it? This chapter argues that capitalism proved remarkably capable of confining individual, collective, and governmental agency. Therefore, expectations of transformation were often disappointed or scaled back, as the first section shows. The second section examines more tacit ways of adapting to a capitalist logic, while the third turns to the attempts of Chancellor Hermann Brüning’s two cabinets to steer Germany through the economic depression. Brüning was caught between calls for decisive leadership, doubts about the effectiveness of government intervention, and a rapidly shifting situation. Adolf Hitler, by contrast, promised to restore human control over the economy. After 1933, his regime loudly claimed to have transcended capitalism while inconspicuously exploiting its logic.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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