How postwar West German democracy was styled through word, image, sound, performance, and gathering

Table of contents


Introduction. Jennifer M. Kapczynski and Caroline A. Kita

Chapter 1. Imperiled Democracies: History and the Legacy of the Weimar Republic for the 21st Century
Kathleen Canning

Chapter 2. Intellectuals and the People: Conversation Forums and West German Democracy in the 1950s
Sean A. Forner

Chapter 3. Listening Towards Democracy: Axel Eggebrecht and the Postwar Radio Play
Caroline A. Kita

Chapter 4. Amateur Democrats
Jennifer M. Kapczynski

Chapter 5. No Country for Old Minds: The Psychology of West Germany’s Democratization
Anthony D. Kauders

Chapter 6. Democratic Reeducation: Hermann Broch’s Reflections on Postwar Germany
Paul Michael Lützeler

Chapter 7. Learning to Read Again: Thomas Mann, the U.S. Army’s POW Reeducation Efforts, and the Role of Literature in a Democratic Germany
Tobias Boes

Chapter 8. First Comes the Feeding, Then Comes the Democratization: Food, Hunger, and Democracy in the early FRG
Alice Weinreb

Chapter 9. Ruth Woodsmall, US Women’s Affairs and Democratic Practice in the Early Federal Republic of Germany
Darcy Buerkle

Chapter 10. Redemptive Whiteness: Racism and Democratization, or Figurations of Germanness in 1950s West German Cinema
Maja Figge

Chapter 11. Foundational Narratives: West German Nation-Building Through State-Sponsored PR Films, 1953-1963
Jan Uelzmann

Chapter 12. “A Memory Goes to Work”: The Visual Promise of the Marshall Plan
Frank Mehring



Scholars of democracy long looked to the Federal Republic of Germany as a notable “success story,” a model for how to transition from a violent, authoritarian regime to a peaceable nation of rights. Although this account has been contested since its inception, the narrative has proved resilient—and it is no surprise that the current moment of crisis that Western democracies are experiencing has provoked new interest in how democracies come to be. The Arts of Democratization: Styling Political Sensibilities in Postwar West Germany casts a fresh look at the early years of this fledgling democracy and draws attention to the broad range of ways democracy and the democratic subject were conceived and rendered at this time.

These essays highlight the contradictory and competing impulses that ran through the project to democratize postwar society and cast a critical eye toward the internal biases that shaped the model of Western democracy. In so doing, the contributions probe critical questions that we continue to grapple with today. How did postwar thinkers understand what it meant to be democratic? Did they conceive of democratic subjectivity in terms of acts of participation, a set of beliefs or principles, or perhaps in terms of particular feelings or emotions? How did the work to define democracy and its subjects deploy notions of nation, race, and gender or sexuality? As this book demonstrates, the case of West Germany offers compelling ways to think more broadly about the emergence of democracy. The Arts of Democratization offers lessons that resonate with the current moment as we consider what interventions may be necessary to resuscitate democracy today.


Jennifer M. Kapczynski is a psychotherapist in private practice in Berkeley, CA and former Associate Professor of German and Film & Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

Caroline A. Kita is Associate Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis.


“The volume represents an exciting selection of case studies and micro-histories that privilege not the large-scale, grand historical vistas of diplomatic history or individual politicians, but the lesser-known (though no less important) matters of radio plays, amateur theater, public discussion fora, book publishing, etc. This emphasis on the ‘minor’ moments within the life of democracy reveals new dimensions of late 1940s and 1950s West Germany.”
—Jonathan Wipplinger, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

- Jonathan Wipplinger