The sins of the fathers : the Third Reich and West German legitimation / by Jeffrey Keith Olick
Includes bibliographical references (p. 533-556)
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Electronic version from ProQuest
The goal of this study is to discover and to understand the ways in which West Germany's political leaders portrayed the Nazi past throughout the forty years of their state's history, from 1949 to 1989. The central question is: what roles have these images of the past played in the general symbolic work those leaders did to produce legitimacy? The purpose is both to advance theorization of collective memory and of political culture, as well as to contribute substantively to debates within and about German politics. This study sees presentations of the past by West German leaders as falling perspicuously into four distinct genres based on commonalities in such things as location, occasion, purpose, as well as substance. The dissertation argues that these genres are discursive fields with their own contours, resources, constraints, and histories, with earlier statements in a genre providing materials for, and effecting, later ones, and shaping what is appropriate to say in a given situation. Additionally, I interpret three major discursive epochs in the history of West German legitimation, and argue that they are characterized by three different general discursive profiles, which include a central image of the past and an integrally associated legitimacy claim: (1) the "Reliable Nation" (from 1949 to the mid-1960s) constructs the Nazi experience as aberrant, and sees West Germany as obviously reliable, given its institutional reorientation; (2) the "Moral Nation" (from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s) constructs the Nazi past as essential, and draws a generalized responsibility towards the world as a whole as the legacy of Germany's own mistakes; and, (3) the "Normal Nation" constructs the Nazi experience as universal, relativizes the burdens of the past, and thus sees West Germany as a normal state. The dissertation also defines and defends its focus on political speech methodologically, reviewing arguments about symbolic politics. The study employs and develops a view of political culture that moves away from the focus on subjective orientations (political psychology) towards understanding political culture as a system of symbols and meanings sui generis. And, it develops a view of collective memory as not simply the product of political culture, of social structure, or of symbolic entrepreneurship, but as an analytically independent system as well.
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