A review of Jeffrey Herf's "Reactionary Modernism: Technology, culture, and politics in Weimar and the Third Reich." By Michael J. Saporito, MA History candidate, Salem State College. "Reactionary Modernism: Technology, culture, and politics in Weimar and the Third Reich." By Jeffrey Herf. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1984. pp. ix, 251.
Jeffrey Herf's Reactionary Modernism studies the complexities involved in Weimar and Nazi Germany's attempts to simultaneously modernize and antiquate their nation. Herf explores the conservative, anti-democratic groups during Weimar and how they were able to bring together the technological modernization of Germany, while at the same time rejecting almost of the liberal qualities of the Enlightenment. Herf looks to the intellectual, political writings of Juenger, Sombart and Spengler (also, Heidegger, Schmitt and Freyer) to demonstrate how the intellectual community desired to bring Germany into the modern era, while still retaining their distinct German Kultur. Other interesting sources that Herf uses to state his case are German engineering journals and the research of historian Karl-Heinz Ludwig. These sources show how German engineers were brought inline with the reactionary modernist line of thought. Herf successfully demonstrates how the synthesis of technology and German Kultur not only existed, but also thrived. Reactionary Modernism's incorporation of anti-Semitism is detailed if full. Herf explains that this explanation of modern German anti-Semitism is more solid than the version set forth by Adorno and Horkheimer in "The Dialectic of Enlightenment." Anti-democratic groups in Weimar Germany saw the Jew as the reason behind everything that was wrong with Germany. Herf's conclusions show how the Nazis became lost in their ideology and this ended up making technology that was needed for the war effort suffer. The popular myths of German technological supremacy are put to rest. a "Reactionary Modernism" is a valuable source for anyone studying Weimar, the Third Reich or the influence of the Enlightenment in totalitarian governments.