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Biopolitics, Fascism, Democracy: Some Reflections on Our Discourse About “Modernity”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Edward Ross Dickinson
Affiliation:
University of Cincinnati

Extract

In recent years the outlines of a new master narrative of modern German history have begun to emerge in a wide range of publications. This narrative draws heavily on the theoretical and historical works of Michel Foucault and Detlev J. K. Peukert, and on the earlier work of the Frankfurt School, Max Weber, and the French theorists of postmodernism. In it, rationalization and science, and specifically the extended discursive field of “biopolitics” (the whole complex of disciplines and practices addressing issues of health, reproduction, and welfare) play a key role as the marker and most important content of modernization. Increasingly, this model has a function in German historiography similar to that long virtually monopolized by the “Sonderweg thesis”: it serves as a broad theoretical or interpretive framework that can guide the construction of meaning in “smaller” studies, which are legitimated by their function in confirming or countering this broader argument.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association 2004

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References

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92. See for example Usborne, The Politics and Grossmann, Reforming Sex.

93. Mitchell, MB. R., European Historical Statistics, 1750–1970 (New York, 1975), 130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar By 1969 it had fallen to 2.3 percent (132).

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98. Again, Baumans formulation is revealing: for him, “making things better than they are” means making them “more pliable, obedient, willing to serve.” Modernity and Ambivalence, 39.

99. Schwartz, Michael, “Eugenik und Bevölkerungspolitik,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 32 (1992): 434Google Scholar; Weindling, , Health, 343Google Scholar quoted in ibid., 440.

100. Detlev Peukert, “‘Rationalisierung’ zwischen utopischem Entwurf und krisenhafter Zurücknahme,” in idem, Max Webers Diagnose, 79, 81.

101. Bauman, , Modernity and Ambivalence, 8.Google Scholar For a similar view see Stepan, Nancy, “Race, Gender, Science, and Citizenship,” in Cultures of Empire, ed. Hall, Catherine (New York, 2000), esp. 68.Google Scholar

102. See for example Grossmann, , Reforming, 161Google Scholar; Schwartz, , Sozialistische Eugenik, esp. 1214Google Scholar; and the older discussions of British eugenics in Paul, Diane, “Eugenics and the Left,” Journal of the History of Ideas 45 (1984)CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed and Freeden, Michael, “Eugenics and Progressive Thought: A Study in Ideological Affinity,” Historical Journal 22 (1979).CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

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108. See Suval, Stanley, Electoral Politics in Wilhelmine Germany (Chapel Hill, 1985)Google Scholar and Anderson, Margaret, Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany (Princeton, 2000).Google Scholar There is a good discussion of these issues in Geoff Eley, “The Social Construction.”

109. Eisenstadt, , “Multiple,” 5.Google Scholar For an even more positive assessment of “Western modernity,” see Taylor, Charles, “Modern Social Imaginaries,” Public Culture 14 (2002): esp. 92, 99, 103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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