Yascha Mounk’s review of my book, which appeared in n+1 (a hip Brooklyn-based magazine set up by novelist Benjamin Kunkel) last week, was one of the most illuminating and thought-provoking I’ve read. Mounk brilliantly explains the argument of the book but also makes several points that I guess were implicit in the book but which I hadn’t seen quite so clearly until I read his review. Perhaps the most interesting relates to post-war Germany’s search for what he calls a “moment of redemption”. For the West German centre right, this moment was 1945, which they thought of as “zero hour” – in other words what Mounk calls a “clear moment of rupture” with the Nazi past. The Achtundsechziger, on the other hand, rejected this idea of a clear break and devoted much energy to pointing out the continuities between the Third Reich and the Federal Republic. (They were to some extent right; they went wrong, I argue in the book, when they went from the individual to the structural level.)
The interesting point that Mounk makes, however, is that 1968 itself came to function as the left’s equivalent of 1945 – its own “moment of redemption”. Just as the right imagined that Germany had been created anew in 1945, the left imagined it had been created anew in 1968. Many in Germany, not just among the Achtundsechziger themselves but among the left generally, still tend to idealise 1968 as the moment when the Federal Republic became truly democratic. The problem, however, as Mounk says, is that the 1968 generation “was itself shaped by all the contradictions of postwar Germany” and therefore “1968 was no more the hour of rebirth than 1945”. I could not agree more with Mounk that, in searching for an elusive “moment of redemption”, many on both right and left miss the point that they “might have reason to be proud of the Federal Republic even though it has been shaped – and, yes, contaminated – by the legacy of the Third Reich”.