Practicing Democracy

Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany by Margaret Lavinia Anderson

What happens when manhood suffrage, a radically egalitarian institution, gets introduced into a deeply hierarchical society? In her sweeping history of Imperial Germany’s electoral culture, Anderson shows how the sudden opportunity to “practice” democracy in 1867 opened up a free space in the land of Kaisers, generals, and Junkers. Originally designed to make voters susceptible to manipulation by the authorities, the suffrage’s unintended consequence was to enmesh its participants in ever more democratic procedures and practices. The result was the growth of an increasingly democratic culture in the decades before 1914.Explicit comparisons with Britain, France, and America give us a vivid picture of the coercive pressures–from employers, clergy, and communities–that German voters faced, but also of the legalistic culture that shielded them from the fraud, bribery, and violence so characteristic of other early “franchise regimes.” We emerge with a new sense that Germans were in no way less modern in the practice of democratic politics. Anderson, in fact, argues convincingly against the widely accepted notion that it was pre-war Germany’s lack of democratic values and experience that ultimately led to Weimar’s failure and the Third Reich.

“Practicing Democracy” is a surprising reinterpretation of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germany and will engage historians concerned with the question of Germany’s “special path” to modernity; sociologists interested in obedience, popular mobilization, and civil society; political scientists debating the relative role of institutions versus culture in the transition to democracy. By showing how political activity shaped and was shapedby the experiences of ordinary men and women, it conveys the excitement of democratic politics.

Margaret Anderson

About Margaret Anderson

Teaching: Europe since 1453; Central Europe from the late 18th century ff, especially modern Germany; World War I; Fascist Europe. Research: Until recently I worked on political culture, including electoral politics, in Imperial Germany and in comparative European perspective; the intersection of religion and politics; religion and society–especially Catholicism in the 19th century. She is now working on the relations (on the level of governments as well as civil society) between Germany and the Ottoman Empire from the time of the massacres of the Armenians in 1894-1896 to c. 1933. Prizes: 2006 Best Graduate Syllabus in German History, awarded by H-German 1995 Best Article: Judith Lee Ridge Memorial Prize for best article by a woman historian, awarded by the Western Association of Women Historians. For "Voter, Junker, Landrat, Priest...." 1993 Best syllabus in German Studies, awarded by the DAAD. 1987 Best Article on Central European History, awarded bi-annually, by the Conference Group on Central European History. For "The Kulturkampf and the Course of German History." 1985 Teaching: Flack Faculty Award for Teaching (Swarthmore College). 1984 Best Article on Central European History, awarded bi-annually, by the Conference Group on Central European History. For the "Myth of the Puttkamer Purge..." co-authored by Kenneth Barkin.
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