We Europeans

After the loss of innocence

17 January 2014
Only in en
No wonder the Germans accepted the idea of Europe so readily after 1945, writes Rainer Hank: they did not need to change their habits of thought greatly. Moreover, widespread ignorance about this problematic continuity poses yet another threat to mutual trust in Europe.

In 1926, the German diplomat Gustav Krukenberg (1888-1980) took up his new post in Paris as secretary to the Mayrisch Committee, an initiative of the Luxemburg steel magnate Emile Mayrisch (1862-1928) who invited prominent German and French industrialists, politicians and intellectuals for a meeting of minds two or three times a year. The committee had a bureau in Berlin as well as the Paris office, and its stated purpose was to improve Franco-German relations. For Germany, this meant above all revising the Treaties of Versailles and abolishing customs barriers between the countries. Krukenberg the lobbyist was strongly in favour of a common market, as was Mayrisch, who had business interests in Germany and France.

Photo: Jaromir Chalabala. Source:Shutterstock

The Mayrisch committee failed after a few short years. “The Frenchman does not think about Europe, but only about France”, Krukenberg concluded, and resigned in disappointment. After 1933, he tried to cosy up to the Nazis, though without any great success and he was unable to make a career of it. During the war he fought in Poland, France, Holland, Russia and Yugoslavia. As a military quartermaster he dealt with organisation and logistics, and his grandson and biographer, the historian Peter Schöttler, surmises that he must have spent years “in the vicinity of mass murder and war crimes”.1 Schöttler adds that like many of his generation, Krukenberg never spoke of those years. Neither was he ever named in any indictment.

It was only toward the end of the Second World War that Krukenberg’s career took off. He was promoted to Brigadeführer and then to Inspekteur of the newly-formed French SS Division Charlemagne. This Waffen-SS division, founded in 1940, was largely made up of French volunteer collaborators (including some from the colonies), who were deployed on the Eastern Front “contre le bolchévisme“. The division’s name was meant to bring to mind the Europe of Charlemagne and the division itself was to defend “Fortress Europe” (Heinrich Himmler) against “Bolshevist tyranny”. The commander of the French legion issued a call for volunteers stating that “the Legion strives to build cooperation to lay the foundations for the coming peace, for a new, healthy Europe”. A “new kind of man” would be born in the “trenches and battlefields of the East […] the very model of the European freedom fighter”. Though in their early years the Nazis had denounced Charlemagne as the “butcher of the Saxon tribes”, he was now rehabilitated as a figurehead for western identity.

It all ended abruptly. The Division Charlemagne was smashed to pieces by the Red Army in Pomerania; the French commander was killed. Krukenberg survived and retreated, with the tattered remnants of the Division, to defend Berlin. He became a Soviet prisoner-of-war and was only released in 1956.

On his return to Germany, Krukenberg got a job with the Stifterverband für die deutsche Wissenschaft, an industrial donors’ club that awards grants for scientific research to this day; he was also an active board member of the influential association of returned prisoners-of-war, the Heimkehrerverband (for a while, their periodical Der Heimkehrer had a print run of 250,000 copies) and he was much in demand as a lecturer. His main theme followed naturally from his life up until that point; he spoke about “Europe and Franco-German friendship”. Krukenberg taught that “Franco-German reconciliation” would have to be “at the heart of a peaceful settlement in Europe”. Schöttler reports that he based his outlook on a Christian view of history, disregarding everything that had happened between 1933 and 1945 and instead concentrating on “Occidental culture” and the positive steps toward cooperation between 1920 and 1930. Krukenberg preached “peace, reconciliation and the common fight against Communism”. In return he (and the Heimkehrerverband) asked for “amnesty, limits to prosecutions and an end to ideological witch-hunts”.

“As Krukenberg travelled the length and breadth of the land – from the Mayrisch committee to the Coal and Steel Community and finally to the European Economic Community, as it was in his day – he never forgot to invoke the Communist threat and emphasize that the West was ready and willing to defend itself.” (Schöttler). Precisely because his own life story had been so fragmented by the events of the time, he felt it important to impose shape and meaning in retrospect. Krukenberg found this easy enough: he saw himself as a campaigner for European unity and a fighter against Bolshevism in all three politically significant phases of his life. But of course he also found it advisable to skip over the middle phase, when he had fought for the European cause in the Division Charlemagne.

Because Krukenberg’s silence is not untypical, we know very little about the National Socialist idea of Europe and we tend not to think of National Socialism and World War II in connection with the European unification movement. Krukenberg never needed to deny to himself the links between his three lives. No wonder that in the Federal Republic of Germany he saw himself as a democrat, yet at the same time kept in touch with his former “comrades”, the French collaborators. “Our Europe will be a different Europe – not what it was yesterday or the day before yesterday, not a Europe of simmering resentments to be manipulated, not a Europe of the victors and vanquished as in 1945, but rather a Europe of those who know the value of freedom better than any others”, Krukenberg proclaimed after the war.

That the idea of a “united Europe” displays such continuities deprives “us Europeans” of our innocence. A year after Krukenberg returned from Russia, the Treaties of Rome were signed by member states committing them to securing social, economic and political progress. Returned prisoners-of-war had no trouble signing up to these goals; there was no need for re-education or de-Nazification here. The Germans had always, even in the years before 1945, been committed to the rhetoric of a common European peace agreement directed against an outside enemy, especially against Bolshevism.


The French psychoanalyst and writer Julia Kristeva believes that Europe has a blind spot, in that it has never truly confronted its own history. “I am not just thinking of the Holocaust here. I am thinking of the Inquisition, of the pogroms, of colonialism, of machismo or of the wars which devastated the continent and spread out across the whole world.”2 This may sound frivolous given that historians have written whole libraries worth of books about the history of Europe. But Julia Kristeva has nevertheless put her finger on the decisive point. As we have seen in Krukenberg’s case, the “sacralization of Europe” (Hans Joas) has always functioned as a kind of immunisation; as a strategy to postpone the task of confronting history. “As long as this hidden shadow is not examined and subject to criticism, Europe will make no progress but is condemned to go backwards”, as Kristeva puts it.

This sacralization always assumes a teleology at work in history. The classical philologist Bruno Snell published his celebrated work The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought in 1946 (with the English translation following in 1953), its subtitle suggesting that ever since Greece first embarked upon its intellectual journey there has been a constant progression to higher and better things. Yet the Holocaust, the incomparable crime of the twentieth century, was not some “aberration” along an otherwise direct route created through shared European cultural achievement, leading toward a common goal. Among the many earlier pogroms were the diabolical crusades against the “Cathars” in the thirteenth century, when the crusaders gouged out the eyes of “heretics” without provocation and sent them off on death marches in which only the man at the head of the column was mercifully allowed to keep an eye so that he could lead the others. Or when two hundred heretics were burned alive at the stake in Montségur. Progress or decline? Granted, Montségur is “the benighted Middle Ages” but things had been considerably brighter beforehand, as the historian R. I. Moore has so convincingly described.3 Anyone wishing to argue teleologically will also find enough indications of an anti-teleological, anti-progressive current running through the course of European history, a current of permanent dehumanization and savagery. Moore sees the later middle ages as the “formation of a persecuting society” becoming increasingly intolerant in the wake of that dreadful “war on heresy,” refusing to countenance difference, instead ready to exclude fellow human beings as “the others” to be persecuted and destroyed.

If there ever was a period in European history when barbarity, fanaticism and wars of conquest had largely come to a halt, it was a very short span of time in the last decades of the much-maligned Ancien Régime, between the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 and the French Revolution in 1789, when the states of Europe communicated in a civilized manner, through free trade and to everybody’s mutual advantage.4 Yet we cannot talk of a final result, there is no bottom line as yet on the balance of inclusion and exclusion in European history; this should make us sceptical of any kind of European utopia that proposes a theology of history (“more Europe”), and even more sceptical of the rhetoric of inevitability, using John Pocock’s image of the fisherman who coaxes his lobster to take the first step into the lobster pot, then shows it that the step was irreversible. From now on it can only go forward.


The discourse of the years from 1940 to 1957 is crucial to today’s narrative of European unification. The unofficial founding document is the Ventotene Manifesto (Per un’ Europa libera e unita) by the Italian anti-fascists Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, written secretly in prison in 1941 on an island in the Gulf of Gaeta (between Rome and Naples) and smuggled out on cigarette paper.

The manifesto has all the necessary ingredients of a founding myth. Salvation comes at the time of greatest danger, and in opposition to the nationalist mainstream of the day. Resistance anti-fascism wins through with the unification of Europe against the nationalism of the wicked Fascists who were in power. The foundational scene is thereby secured.

The authors of the manifesto blame the outbreak of the war on the nation-states’ egotistical concern for sovereignty, and demand a European federal state to ensure peace and freedom in the future – founded by a revolutionary movement free of both capitalist imperialism and totalitarian statism. These two Italian anti-fascists are the first to use the term “United States of Europe” in their text.5 There will only be peace in Europe, they write, when “the patriotic sentiment” is successfully extirpated. “It will be the moment of new action and it will also be the moment for new men: the moment for a free and united Europe.”

This European strand in the political history of ideas began with the two Italian anti-fascists Spinelli and Rossi, and the “Ventotene Manifesto”, and the latest stage in its development is a manifesto by a group of prominent European politicians calling themselves the Spinelli Group; membership runs from Joschka Fischer through Mario Monti to Jacques Delors (and many others). This manifesto from 2010 proclaims that: “In a time of interdependence and a globalised world, clinging to national sovereignties and intergovernmentalism is not only a declaration of war against the European spirit but an addiction to political impotence. […] We oppose this backward and reactionary direction. Europe has been yet again abandoned – by a coalition of national politicians. It is time to bring her back. We believe that this is not the moment for Europe to slow down further integration, but on the contrary to accelerate it.”6

The authors declare that they know what is reactionary and what is progressive. The historian Eric Hobsbawm has called such an approach the “invention of tradition”. We frequently find rhetorical engineering like this at work in the construction of the European narrative. The “we” of the “imagined community” of all Europeans can never reveal, of course, the constructed nature of “our” character, for then we will have given away that this is a strategic narrative, a speech act and a narration that aims to create a political reality in Europe by means of foundational myths. After 1945 the slogan of the Europeans was not the poetological “inventing Europe” but rather the politically successful “building Europe”. Jacques Le Goff’s series The Making of Europe, a joint venture by five different publishers, explicitly formulates the ambition to create “a common cultural field” based on the history of Europe and to look at the historical truth through the eyes of an impartial scholar. This is an especially bold move, since no-one can do both: it is impossible to “build” with intent, construct a rhetoric and look on impartially all at once. Le Goff is lying to us here, or to put it more mildly he is guilty of ideology, or more mildly yet, he is using a narrative based on the assumption that it can and should cast no shadow.

The result of the narrative process through which the European “Us” was constructed can be seen in the sentiment surrounding the Charlemagne Prize today. Marked by the experience of discord among nations and the terrors of Nazism, the founders of the European Union – Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman, among others – set out to overcome nationalism and, starting with the economic measure of a common market, to create a European society, a European state – a European community of peace and lasting friendship among nations. The narrative serves to bring into line those who dare to question the centripetal inevitability of the unification process. The unification myth forged after 1945 projects the idea of “good Europe” backwards in history. In 2009 the Council of the European Union published the richly illustrated volume Europe: Giving Shape to an Idea, a textbook example (so to speak) of this “invention of tradition”. The book seeks to prove that “the objective of Europe at peace with itself has roots which go back deep in history, and that many of the ideas put forward to achieve that objective over the years contained the seeds of the European Union as it exists today”. Yet Europe is in fact a historical construct that began to take shape in the seventeenth century at the earliest.

But for the teleologists, “there is no alternative” to the process of integration. “How small-minded we would be if we sought to call the European project into question, rather than simply thinking it through”, the 2012 Charlemagne laureate Wolfgang Schäuble declared in his acceptance speech. These enthusiasts overlook the fact, however, that their permanent appeal to a European teleology may well strengthen the centrifugal forces of scepticism. Nothing has divided Europe so much in the last three years as the permanent rhetoric of integration.


In May 1942, Peter Coulmas published an article entitled “the Decline and Grandeur of the European Idea” in the journal Junges Europa. The journal was, according its strapline, “the news-sheet for frontline fighters among Europe’s young academics”. Coulmas argues strongly for a “re-foundation of Europe” whose success would depend on a “constructive European idea and a cadre of leaders [Führerschicht]”. The nationalism which the French Revolution had unleashed upon the world must be overcome, along with the “small-minded chauvinism” that had infected the Treaty of Versailles: “Though the world had begun to think in ever broader categories, though the economy was spreading out to become ever more universal, Versailles saw the foundation of ever smaller states.” This tendency had to be countered, Coulmas argued, by the “European notion of unity”, which had a social and a national side: “the organization of the masses and the arrangement of the nations in Europe”.7

Coulmas was born in 1914 as Petros Koulmassis, the son of a Greek cigarette factory owner in esden. He studied sociology, philosophy and literature and from 1936 lectured at the University of Athens. After the war he became foreign affairs editor at the West German radio station WDR, was seen as a cosmopolitan figure and campaigned against the military dictatorship in Greece. Coulmas was a prominent journalist and lecturer in the Bonn Republic, an activist for world peace and a friend of Willy Brandt, Gustav Heinemann and Walter Scheel.

While Coulmas was rather vague in 1942 as to what exactly this European idea might mean in positive terms, other than a few broad hints, he was more precise when he wrote about what it did not include: capitalism and, with it, the “free” economy that, he argued, had been dead and buried ever since the world financial crises. He also excluded the socialist or nihilist individualism of a “free-floating intelligentsia”. Both of these, he declared, had shattered the framework of European society: “There were no longer leaders and followers, bound together by a unifying idea.” Thus the task at hand was to restore just this idea of community. For “the European idea grew from the native soil of a diversity of peoples recognizing one another in their diversity, and the strongest nation among them always took the lead, assuming the initiative and responsibility for the whole”.

After 1945 “unity in diversity” became a key theme in descriptions of Europe. We find it already in 1942 in Junges Europa. Coulmas takes care always to speak of “leadership” (Führung), never of “the Führer” and certainly never mentions Hitler by name. If we were to rewrite the text to remove such troublesome terminology, it would be difficult to date it exactly. The disdain for the smaller states and for “false individualism” is part of the vocabulary of today’s discourse on Europe, as is the resentment felt toward the “free” economy.

Coulmas’ text is not an exception but rather the rule. While the German right wing was anti-European after 1918, there was a veritable “craze for Europe” (Ulrich Herbert) after the victory over France in 1940. The attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 then unleashed high expectations of “saving Europe from the onslaught of the barbarian hordes.” Goebbels’ speech in the Berlin Sportpalast on 18 February 1943 invoked the “storm raging against our venerable continent from the steppes”. This, he declared, was a Bolshevik “threat to the Reich and to the European continent that casts all previous dangers into the shadows. If we fail, we will have failed our historic mission”.

Adolf Hitler himself was not noted for his commitment to the “European ideal” but, according to Goebbels’ diaries, on 8 May 1943, Hitler uttered the following: “It must remain our war aim to create a united Europe. But Europe can only undergo clear organization through Germany”.

The point here is that the “invention of Europe” is not – contrary to what official documents from the Council of the European Union would have us believe – a monopoly of the anti-fascist resistance. The blueprint for a future European order was also much discussed in Junges Europa. The many speeches delivered at the Charlemagne Prize ceremonies after the war make no mention of Europe as a “key term” in Nazi discourse (Ulrich Herbert). Which is exactly why the term belongs to the “hidden shadow” (Julia Kristeva) of untold history.

What strikes us here is that, against all expectation, Nazi discourse on Europe does not use imperialist semantic gestures that rely on the myth of “Germanism”. Granted, the reader is left in no doubt that Germany will exercise hegemony within Europe. Yet, at the same time, the talk is of equal rights, and of preserving Europe’s cultural diversity. It may well be that this ambivalence lies at the root of, for instance, the scepticism toward Germans today in Greece, which underwent Nazi occupation. Junges Europa played an important but by no means unique role in the discourse on Europe of the 1940s (we may for instance name Abendland, another journal of the time). This widespread discourse was not confined to one publication or outlet. Junges Europa was published by the “Student Cultural Exchange Service” and edited by Rupert Rupp. From May 1942, when Peter Coulmas’ article appeared, the journal focused on the theme of “European union”: “Contributions to the journal will examine the union of Europe from the political, cultural, economic and technical perspectives […] Our task here is to defend the tradition of European culture, and fight for the new ideas of the young nations.” “Young” here has two meanings: the younger generation to whom Europe will belong after the war; and the young nations of Europe, which form the unity in Europe’s diversity. The editorial board sets great store by having contributors from all European countries, not just German authors.

It would be wrong to see the National Socialist idea of Europe, as articulated by the authors, editors and readers of Junges Europa, as part of an “anti-liberal” tradition, and as quite distinct from the liberal Europe of the after-war period. The idea of Europe after 1945 is far too disparate for such an opposition: it has the intellectual heritage of conservative, socialist and corporatist thought, all massively anti-liberal traditions. This applies even today. At the same time, it would be difficult to exclude Junges Europa by defining it as exclusively and unequivocally “anti-liberal” or rightist/fascist. There are various counter-arguments, among them the later biography of Peter Coulmas (whom we would otherwise have to characterize as an unprincipled turncoat, quite against the letter and the spirit of his article). It is also ruled out by the nuanced picture of Europe, of “unity in diversity”, which comes to the fore in so many articles by both fascists and anti-fascists, the moment we disregard what we know about when and where each article was written. Instead we must assume a continuity, rather than a discontinuity, in the idea of Europe; and a continuity also in the anti-liberal strand, which those involved (Gustav Krukenberg!) had good reason to keep quiet about after 1945.

This much is clear; the idea of Europe is politically all-encompassing and it is ideologically robust. The project of a United States of Europe is not in itself a peaceful project, for otherwise it would hardly have been available to the National Socialists as a war goal or vision of the post-war order. Rather, the distinguishing feature of the European idea is that it needs both inward integration and an outward opponent. Or better yet: integration is always presented as ineluctable, if we are really to assert our identity and survive in the outside world. Even today, the “blocs” to our east and west serve to justify (for advocates of the idea, from the corporate boards of listed companies in Germany’s export industries to Jürgen Habermas) why Europe must stand united. After all, so the argument runs, a small nation-state on its own can hardly compete with the political and economic powers in Asia or America.

Along with the arch-enemy of “Bolshevism” to the east, Nazi journalism invoked American capitalism as a central opponent in a war on two fronts. An article by Giselher Wirsing in the final issue of Junges Europa from 1944 (no. 7/8) is entitled “Europe’s hour of decision” (Europa in der Entscheidung). Unlike Asia, America and the Soviet Union, Wirsing writes, Europe has few raw materials and natural resources, so the continent can only survive “if the Europeans themselves want this”. Wirsing demands that Europe must therefore take shape as an “intellectual concept” against “Sovietism”, “Americanism”, “hypercapitalism” and the “dictatorship of public opinion”. He polemicizes sharply against the nationalism of the European nations (thus German nationalism as well?): “Here we are confronted once more by the fateful question: will the European people choke on their own nationalism, or will they recognize, despite the difficulties the war has created, unfortunate in so many respects, that the great world powers outside Europe are driven by a dynamic that gives them no other aim than to subject Europe completely or to strip it bare.”

Wirsing was born in 1907, attained the Nazi party rank of Sturmbannführer and from 1930 to 1941 was an editor at the monthly journal Die Tat, and also editor of the journal Das XX. Jahrhundert. During the war, Wirsing was chief of the German foreign ministry’s cultural policy department. From 1954 to 1970 he was editor-in-chief of Christ und Welt, which for a while had the highest print run of any weekly newspaper in the Federal Republic of Germany. Wirsing’s bestseller The Insatiable Continent: Roosevelt’s Fight for World Dominance (Der masslose Kontinent: Roosevelts Kampf um die Weltherrschaft) was published in 1942, ran through several editions and was translated into other languages; it attacked America’s “degenerate” mixture of “Puritanism and an asocial conception of freedom […] which serves only the lifestyle of the finance oligarchy”. Plutocracy, rule by the rich, is an anti-capitalist topos in texts by German Europhiles, and Wirsing too opposes it in the name of “man the measure of all things”, the “creative, pugnacious personality” in which he sees the source of “the creative cooperation of the nations of this continent for the common good”. Per Øhrgaard regards this idea of Europe as not far removed from those of “the fathers of western European union after the Second World War”. Europe finds balance and purpose in the fight against Bolshevism and capitalism.

Also not far removed from the concepts of the fathers of Western European union were the National Socialist elite’s economic ideas for a united Europe. Thus Walther Funk, at one and the same time both Reich economics minister and president of the Reichsbank, began his speech to the University of Königsberg (printed in Junges Europa no. 4/5, in 1944) with an invective against “Anglo-American financial imperialism (which we also call plutocracy)”: “We will not tolerate the value of our currency being dictated by a foreign government or by the bankers of Wall Street, and we will not permit German prices to be determined on the Chicago Stock Exchange.” Funk argues against this “financial dollar imperialism” and for a future European economic order along the lines drawn up by the Schlotterer Commission, under his secretary of state Gustav Schlotterer, from 1940 onwards. The commission was agreed that intra-German trade had to be free of all customs duties and currency differentials, and that the Ruhrgebiet must be united with Northern France and the Benelux countries in a “natural economic area”. This was to be based upon a production cartel organized by private finance, to be known as “economic Paneuropa”. As the historian Thomas Sandkühler writes, “There can be no talk of anti-European sentiment among these actors; the corporate pre-history of the European Coal and Steel Community included the Third Reich.”8

The Schlotterer Commission drew up plans for a future European bank based in Vienna that in many ways resembles the ECB of today; even at the time it was suggested that the bank would be able to extent loans to heavily indebted member states. Minister Funk did not want to go quite that far but drew up detailed plans for a multilateral “clearing system” using the Reichsmark to handle the balance of payments between the countries of Europe internally, allowing them to forego direct currency transactions. Sandkühler rightly remarks that Funk’s ambitious plans, which he had fundamentally set out in a speech on the “new European financial order ” in 1940, looked well beyond the end of the war and, at least theoretically, anticipated today’s single currency: “German and Allied emissaries communicated regularly during the war, meeting in neutral Switzerland to discuss the global currency issues of the post-war world.” Modern historical scholarship, by contrast, usually stops at the much-quoted phrase of the French economic adviser Jacques Rueff in 1949: “L’Europe se fera par la monnaie ou ne se fera pas.”

For all that, German businesses had already thoroughly Europeanised their advertising in the final years of the war. “When the weapons fall silent”, begins a Mercedes-Benz poster from 1944, “the cars on the roads of a united and independent Europe will bear the Mercedes-Benz badge and will represent the sum of all the lessons learnt in gruelling tests on the battlefields and supply lines of the war, in East and West, North and South.”9 As indeed they did. Perhaps that might be a subject for a future Charlemagne Prize winner?


The discourse on Europe after 1945 is marked not by discontinuity but by unexamined and unreflective continuity. It is well known that there never was a “Zero Hour” in German society. Yet it is still surprising that this is also true of discourse around Europe. In 1946 Winston Churchill not only coined the term “Iron Curtain” but also called for a new, united Europe from which no nation should be excluded: “We must build a kind of United States of Europe. […] In all this urgent work, France and Germany must take the lead together. […] Therefore I say to you: Let Europe arise.” Churchill, who – as Hans Magnus Enzensberger mockingly remarks – disliked the Germans more than any other nation apart from the Indians, was not thinking here of benefits to the Germans so much as of the Soviet threat, which the projected United States of Europe were to block: Europe here was to serve not as a project of peace but as a defensive bulwark. The idea of Europe had to serve the interests of security politics and strategy, just as it had for the Nazis in the final years of the war.10

Overarching all these vague political concepts of Europe was a whole skyful of poetic dreams. Bruno Snell’s book of 1946, already mentioned above, offers idealistic and high-minded suggestions for a European national state, which are naïve from an institutional and political point of view but intellectually rooted in Classical precedent: it opens with the sentence “European thinking begins with the Greeks. They have made it what it is: our only way of thinking”.11 Given that the actual landscape of Europe lay in ruins in 1946, Snell wisely located his utopia in the politically uncontroversial “spiritual landscape” of Arcadia: he paints an escapist, idealist picture of a bucolic idyll in the Peloponnese, where the shepherd lives in peace with his flocks and politics plays no role. “Arcadia knows no reckoning in numbers, no precise reasoning of any kind. There is only feeling, which suffuses everything with its glow; not a fierce or passionate feeling: even love is but a delicate desire, gentle and sad.”

“European thought” of this sort (as also invoked in the strapline of the journal Merkur, founded in 1947), a style of thought that absolved the thinker from “precise reasoning of any kind” (Snell), was hardly unfamiliar to Germans coming home from the war; it was much like the slogan of the “living commonwealth of Europe” under which they had marched off to the war they had now lost. They would hear the idea of “Europe as a moral principle” put forward again and again, by Ortega y Gasset and Ernst Robert Curtius, and they would hold fast to the roots of “the Occident” as a unity – Christian or Classical, to suit all tastes. The concept enjoyed great popularity both during the war and afterwards. At a ceremony on 16 September 1950 in Heilbronn, at which a school was named in his honour, President Theodor Heuss spoke rhapsodically of “three hills from which the Occident grew forth: Golgotha, the Acropolis in Athens, the Capitol in Rome. All three have influenced the spirit and the mind of the West, and we may, indeed we must see these three as a unity”.

No wonder the Germans accepted the idea of Europe so quickly and so easily after 1945. They did not need to change their habits of thought greatly. On 15 August 1946 Alfred Andersch launched the periodical Der Ruf with an article that later became famous, entitled “Young Europe takes shape” (Das junge Europa formt sein Gesicht).12 Andersch saw no difficulty in using the experience of young Europeans fighting on the frontlines on both sides and praising them as pioneers of “young Europe” (it remains unclear whether he knew the Nazi periodical of the same name, but we may assume so). Andersch writes that even if the term “young Germany” had meant the “wrong ideal” in the years before 1945, nevertheless the young people of the time had shown “commitment” – invoking existential philosophy, he declares that “The thin rope that binds together the enemy camps is commitment”. This distinguishes them from the older generation in Germany, “whose conception of tolerance was so faint-hearted, who were so fearful of pledging their all, that they allowed the monster to come to power.” Here at least the continuity of anti-liberalism is plain to see.

Hans-Georg Gadamer, born in 1900, doubtless belongs to what Andersch sees as the “older generation”. In 1945 he gave a speech as Rector of the University of Heidelberg entitled The Significance of Philosophy for Modern Education, in which he accused neo-Kantian “subjectivism”, “individualism” and “self-satisfied relativism” of having destroyed all values; this was an unreflective appeal to the anti-liberal rage of Junges Europa. As Gerhard Oexle points out, Gadamer does not mention that the liberal neo-Kantians were hounded by the Nazis and, in 1945, he has no difficulty in making the victims of 1933 into culprits – and brazenly insinuates that those who were stripped of their rights in 1933, persecuted and chased from the country, need not be invited back in 1945. The speech was aimed at those who wished to build the new Europe themselves, both before and after 1945: German, and by no means liberal.


In an irony of post-war history, the Germans truly had no economic alternative to European unification – and this had nothing to do with any chosen course, proclaimed either before or after 1945. The key terms of post-war history were the “dollar clause” and the “dollar gap”. The dollar clause was a measure imposed by the Allied Control Council in 1945, whereby other European countries had to pay for imports from Germany in scarce US dollars. Most of them, most of the time, simply did not have the dollars to do so. European opposition mounted steadily and they were always trying to circumvent the dollar clause through bilateral agreements and even though barter, thereby justifying the expectations of German industrialists and intellectuals before 1945: Europe still depended on German products and capital goods, even after the Germans had lost the war. “Though many countries would have preferred to avoid any contact with the old enemy, they were forced to seek trade with West Germany”, as the historian Christoph Buchheim puts it – even if this was only because it was so much stronger in all kinds of capital goods (and coal).13

The dollar clause was dropped in 1949, but the US dollar remained in short supply in Europe. The “dollar gap” thus refers to the strength of the dollar as a currency and the imbalance whereby the United States, as the economic super-power, exported considerably more goods to Europe immediately after the end of the war than it imported, so that in the long – or even the short – run, the Europeans did not have the hard currency to pay for their imports from America. When the West German economy then recovered relatively quickly after 1945 (indeed, it had never been entirely moribund) and the dollar clause was dropped, the demand for affordable German goods on the European export market as an alternative to the unaffordable American imports was so enormous that this economic factor worked to encourage European integration practically all by itself, since western European countries quite clearly could not produce what they needed on their own. This process of substitution, in the end, also contributed to a reduction in the dollar gap. European integration was a simple by-product of the economic situation after the war. The economic unification of Europe enforced economic liberalism, while the discourse on Europe remained for the most part anti-liberal.

It would be simply untrue to say that “there was no alternative” to this process of integration into a mutually beneficial common market. In 1945 Henry Morgenthau Jr. wanted to turn Germany into an agrarian state; if the Americans had listened to him, then not only would Germany have remained in poverty but in the long run, most of the rest of western Europe would never have got back on its feet. If the states of southern Europe had listened to Alexandre Kojève, who drew up a memorandum for General de Gaulle in 1945 suggesting a Catholic union made up only of the Latin countries, there too everything would have been different.

Yet as long as Europe’s “hidden shadow” (Julia Kristeva), that is, the anti-liberal narrative of before and after 1945, remains largely unseen, nobody will clearly understand the fears that other Europeans still have of a German claim to hegemony. This is especially the case because we Germans have always sought to prove ourselves one-hundred-and-fifty per cent European, and today we feel that we have been treated unfairly. The continuity of the European narrative in those crucial years between 1940 and the Treaty of Rome shows why politically, economically and culturally disparate nations accepted the idea of Europe so readily, yet at the same time the widespread ignorance about this problematic continuity suggests how mutual trust in Europe could vanish quickly, as it has since the onset of the European crisis.

  1. The biographical details recounted here are based on research by Peter Schöttler, "Dreierlei Kollaboration: Europa-Konzepte und 'deutschfranzösische Verständigung' -- am Beispiel der Karriere von SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg",Zeithistorische Forschungen 9 (2012), no. 3, online edition. I would like to thank Per Øhrgaard und Werner Plumpe at this point for their valuable guidance on the discourse about Europe before and after 1945.
  2. "Sprich über deine Schatten. Olivier Guez im Gespräch mit Julia Kristeva", Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 3 May 2013
  3. R. I. Moore, The War on Heresy. Faith and Power in Medieval Europe, Profile Books, 2012
  4. Cf. John Pocock, "Some Europes and Their History", in: Anthony Pagden (ed.), The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to The European Union, Cambridge University Press, 2002
  5. An English version of the manifesto ("For a Free and United Europe: A Draft Manifesto") can be found in Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni (ed.), Debates on European Integration, Palgrave, 2006, or online at www.alteriospinelli.org.
  6. www.alteriospinelli.org
  7. Junges Europa. I looked at all issues held in the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Leipzig, from no. 1 (1941) to no. 7/8 (1944). Cf. Per Øhrgaard, "Die Zeitschrift 'Junges Europa': Ein Beispiel für die Europa-Propaganda der Nazis", in Franciszek Grucza (ed.), Vielheit und Einheit der Germanistik weltweit, vol. 5, Peter Lang, 2012; Otto Gerhard Oexle, "Leitbegriffe, Deutungsmuster, Paradigmenkämpfe: Über Vorstellungen vom 'Neuen Europa' in Deutschland 1944", in Hartmut Lehmann and Otto Gerhard Oexle (ed.), Nationalsozialismus in den Kulturwissenschaften, vol. 2, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2004.
  8. Thomas Sandkühler, "Europa und der Nationalsozialismus: Ideologie, Währungspolitik, Massengewalt", Zeithistorische Forschungen, 9 (2012)
  9. This advertisement and others are documented in Oexle's article (note 7).
  10. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, "The Half-Forgotten History", in: Brussels, the Gentle Monster or the disenfranchisement of Europe, trans. Martin Chalmers, Seagull Books, 2011
  11. Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought, trans. T.G. Rosenberg, Basil Blackwell, 1953
  12. Per Øhrgaard, "Europa -- aber wo lag es? Oder: Qui parlait Europe? Beispiele in der frühen Nachkriegszeit", in: Helmut Böttiger et al. (ed.), Doppelleben. Literarische Szenen aus Nachkriegsdeutschland,Wallstein, 2009
  13. Christoph Buchheim, Die Wiedereingliederung Deutschlands in die Weltwirtschaft 1945-1958, Oldenbourg, 1990

Published 17 January 2014

Original in German
Translation by Samuel Willcocks
First published in Merkur 10-11/2013 (German version); Eurozine (English version)

Contributed by Merkur
© Rainer Hank / Merkur / Eurozine


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