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Back to the Future

Tradition and Innovation in German Studies


Edited By Marc Silberman

In the course of the 1970s, interdisciplinary German studies emerged in North America, breaking with what many in the field saw as a suffocating and politically tainted tradition of canon-based philology by broadening both the corpus of texts and the framing concept of culture. In the meantime the innovative impulses that characterized this response to the legacy of Germanistik have themselves become traditions. The essays in this volume critically examine a selection of those past attempts at renewal to gauge where we are now and how we move into the future: exile and forced migration, race and identity, humanism and utopian thought, solidarity and global inequality. A younger generation of scholars demonstrates how reviving and refining the questions of yore leads to new insights into literary and theatrical texts, fundamental philosophical and political ideas, and the structure of memory in ethnographic performance and photography. Looking back into the future is a self-reflexive gesture that asks how tradition inspires innovation, and it displays compelling evidence for the importance of historically informed cultural research in the field of German studies.

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9 Last Liberals Standing? German Politics and Transcultural Readings of Populism (Crister S. Garrett)


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9 Last Liberals Standing? German Politics and Transcultural Readings of Populism


In this essay reading Germany through the lens of populist movements provides an initial frame for exploring how developments in cultural studies such as the translational and transcultural “turns” can enrich scholarship on German politics and society. The phrase “Last Liberals Standing” became an international narrative of German political culture in the context of Brexit, the Trump election, and the outcome of diverse European elections. Here it provides a second frame for exploring the tensions between populism and the western context of liberal societies. The contrast between liberalism and populism can be especially productive in light of the 2017 German election and the rise of the populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the return of the liberal Freie demokratische Partei (FDP) to the Bundestag, and Germany’s challenges to practice a politics of the center as part of an overall ordo-liberal tradition of societal stability and political competition.

John Stuart Mill, one of Europe’s leading philosophers and commentators on nineteenth-century liberalism, may well have felt validated by the unfolding of Germany’s 2017 political season. The global narrative about the relative lack of sharp dissent and debate leading to election day on September 24, 2017, could be summarized as follows: although Germans were dissatisfied about many things in their country, looking around the globe and in their pocketbooks, they felt a relative sense of material...

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