Journal Article

Liberalism, the Worker and the Limits of Bourgeois Öffentlichkeit in Wilhelmine Germany

Dennis Sweeney

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 22, issue 1, pages 36-75
Published in print January 2004 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online January 2004 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Liberalism, the Worker and the Limits of Bourgeois Öffentlichkeit in Wilhelmine Germany

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In the past decade or so, long-standing arguments about the absence or failures of German liberalism during the Wilhelmine period have given way to a new emphasis on its surprising strengths and even revival after 1900. Inspired by this historiographical shift, this essay explores the hegemony and the dynamics of National Liberalism—especially its movement from a paternalist to a reform liberalism—in response to the two most important moments of labour militancy in the Saar during this period: the miners' strikes from 1889 to 1893 and the Burbach steel strike of 1906. As workers attempted to build their own organizations and sought access to the arenas of political debate, and Centre politicians and Social Democrats threatened to win working-class votes, Saar liberals increasingly embraced a programme of social reform and a more popular style of political mobilization. Yet this essay argues that the key to the pre-war success of Saar liberals lay not in the intrinsic appeal of their civic and political ideals but rather in their capacity narrowly to define the terms of proper political activity and to fix the boundaries of permissible speech in the public sphere. Drawing on recent debates over the work of Jürgen Habermas, therefore, this essay locates the strength of Saar liberalism in its ability to secure the class-based and gendered exclusions intrinsic to the institutions and discursive strategies of bourgeois Öffentlichkeit and thereby to prevent the emergence of alternative, popular-democratic forms of working-class politics in the pre-war Saar.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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