Political Culture and Political Change in Eastern Germany: Theoretical Alternatives

in German Politics and Society
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In the past century, Germany, for better and for worse, offered itself

as a natural laboratory for political science. Indeed, Germany’s

excesses of political violence and its dramatic regime changes largely

motivated the development of postwar American political science,

much of it the work of German émigrés and German-Jewish

refugees, of course. The continuing vicissitudes of the German experience

have, however, posed a particular challenge to the concept of

political culture as elaborated in the 1950s and 1960s,1 at least in

part to explain lingering authoritarianism in formally democratic

West Germany. Generally associated with political continuity or only

incremental change,2 the concept of political culture has been illequipped

to deal with historical ruptures such as Germany’s “break

with civilization” of 1933-1945 and the East German popular revolution

of 1989. As well, even less dramatic but still important and relatively

rapid cultural changes such as the rise of a liberal democratic

Verfassungspatriotismus sometime around the late 1970s in West Germany3

and the emergence of a postmodern, consumer capitalist culture

in eastern Germany since 19944 do not conform to mainstream

political culture theory’s expectations of gradual, only generational

change. To be sure, continuity, if not inertia, characterizes much of

politics, even in Germany. Still, to be of theoretical value, the concept

of political culture must be able not only to admit but to

account for change.