Facing the Abyss: Civil Society and the State in Weimar Germany

From the closing decades of the nineteenth-century, a number of eminent writers, from Ranke, Gierke and Burckhardt to Meinecke and Cassirer, began to reflect on the origins of the modern state and its character. German historians of the Wilhelmine era had become preoccupied with the study of the state in the wake of the formation first of the Prussian state and then the first unified German state. Reflection extended to criticism of Hegel for what Meinecke called ‘the false deification of the State’ which had continued under Hegel’s aegis since his death. Seeking alternatives, intellectuals in this period went back to the Renaissance, exploring both the ‘myth of the state’ (the title of Cassirer’s posthumous work), and its Renaissance republican alternatives. This strand of research explores the developing war of minds over these issues during the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism.