The Berlin Stories: The Modern State?

Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, is a novel about the changing pace of Germany during the late Weimar Republic. Set in 1931 the story follows Isherwood’s alias, William Bradshaw, and his relations with Arthur Norris, who is a member of the German Communist Party. As their friendship blossoms the reader is introduced to Berlin slowly under Nazification, through meeting many of Bradshaw’s acquaintances.

The book particularly shows an evolving Germany in the sense of the modern state that we have been examining. The cultural changes seen with in the cafes and discussion of women or education continue to show the progression that has been developing since the 1920s. Also between the Marxism and Nazism the idea of statism, and nationalism, and homogeneity are often found throughout the story pushing for those greater ideals. However I found that the story while a demonstration of what pre war Berlin was, also mocked the Nazis attempts to create the modern state. The intricate character Mr. Norris often goes against the grain of a homogeneous state and Bradshaw recognizes and enjoys that. Mr. Norris also goes against the classic conceptions of communists being wealthy, somewhat fiscally irresponsible, and a masochist. Also I could not tell if there was a serious homosexual undertone in the whole work between Arthur and Bradshaw.

Does this work represent the changing progression to the modern state as we have been studying? Does it mock the Nazi changes in Germany through its characters?

Early Nazi Platform: Liberalism and Socialism?

In 1920 the newly created Nazi party had to create a platform to stand for. To do so they wrote a 25 point program conveying their goals and demands that they saw as necessary to the future of Germany. The program expressed many changes for the German people, forefront among them ideas of socialism, expansionism, statism, and racism. In our discussion of the modern state I see another great step forward from fascism with the German extreme nationalism in this document.

The in all regards the platform attempts to build a stronger nation by homogenizing the population and enforcing strict centralized power both economically and politically. The Nazis want to create a single race of Germans (point 4) without the Jewish and “non German” people (points 4, 7, 8), and enforced by politically only appointing citizens (point 6). With a plan to have a new racial pure Germany they next sought to expand militarily shedding of the shackles of the 1919 treaty, and create a strong central government (points 1, 2, 3). All these show a direct attempt to instill a modern state in Germany with state control and a homogeneous society retaining a national identity.

These ideas are similar to many other documents of the time in regards to the modern state. The futurists and Mussolini’s definition of fascism obviously set much of the foundations for the political enlargements and conservative aggressiveness seen in the program. Works on eugenics influenced Hitler’s ideas about the Nazi’s goals. Even the hated Marxist Leninist communist doctrine is seen in the economic points about ensuring employment and working for the state.

Personally what I found most interesting was point 9 “All citizens must have equal rights and obligations”. This has the classic liberalist idea of rights, common in modern democracies and the trappings of socialist doctrine with obligations. This sounded very contradictory; can liberalism and socialism work together with their desired effect? By definition can one have rights and obligations? I think that the Nazis were able to make their system effective but to say that citizens had equal rights when many in the country lived in fear, had to share wealth, and the state tried to control everything that a true attempt at liberalism is possible.