HAUG-MORITZ, GABRIELE (Professor of Modern History, Graz University)
PROCEEDINGS OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, VOL. 152, NO. 2, DECEMBER (2008)
Historiographical consensus concerning the connection between the Reformation in general, the Schmalkald League in particular, and the question of “confessional nation-building,”which was secure and predominant until the middle of the twentieth century, has now disappeared. Until recently, historians, mostly Protestants of Prussian background, agreed: in the age of the Reformation, Germans missed the chance to build a “Protestant empire of the German nation.” The failure was attributed to Catholic powers, namely, the emperor and the pope, and it was believed to have severe consequences for German history. In the nineteenth-century view, a development had been interrupted, which for the cultural Protestants of the German Empire seemed to be a telos, namely, to build a powerful nation-state in the heart of Europe. This interpretation still influenced the widely discussed thesis of the “late nation” (verspätete Nation) after World War II and seemed to pave a “special German path” (deutscher Sonderweg) through the course of modern history.
Thanks to fundamentally new ways of approach, research on nationalism over the past twenty-five years has overthrown such inter- pretations. By historicizing these interpretations, i.e., by describing them as integral parts of the process of nation-building during the nineteenth century, scholars have created a new field of research, the study of “nationalism before nationalism.” Before considering the Schmalkald League and the Holy Roman Empire in the light of this new approach, I will summarize its most important conclusions for the first half of the sixteenth century (section 1). Then I will briefly introduce the Schmalkald League (section 2). Finally, I will comment on the “idea of confessional nation-building” using the example of the Schmalkald War (section 3).
German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400-1650, by Thomas A. Brady Jr.
This book studies the connections between the political reform of the Holy Roman Empire and the German lands around 1500 and the sixteenth-century religious reformations, both Protestant and Catholic. It argues that the character of the political changes (dispersed sovereignty, local autonomy) prevented both a general reformation of the Church before 1520 and a national reformation thereafter. The resulting settlement maintained the public peace through politically structured religious communities (confessions), thereby avoiding further religious strife and fixing the confessions into the Empire’s constitution. The Germans’ emergence into the modern era as a people having two national religions was the reformation’s principal legacy to modern Germany.
The Shaping of German Identity: Authority and Crisis, 1245-1414, by Len Scales
German identity began to take shape in the late Middle Ages during a period of political weakness and fragmentation for the Holy Roman Empire, the monarchy under which most Germans lived. Between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, the idea that there existed a single German people, with its own lands, language and character, became increasingly widespread, as was expressed in written works of the period. This book – the first on its subject in any language – poses a challenge to some dominant assumptions of current historical scholarship: that early European nation-making inevitably took place within the developing structures of the institutional state; and that, in the absence of such structural growth, the idea of a German nation was uniquely, radically and fatally retarded. In recounting the formation of German identity in the late Middle Ages, this book offers an important new perspective both on German history and on European nation-making.