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German Angst

Fear and Democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany

Frank Biess

Publication Date - October 2022

ISBN: 9780192867872

432 pages
9.2 x 6.1 inches

In Stock


German Angst analyses the relationship between fear and democracy in postwar West Germany. While fear and anxiety have historically been associated with authoritarian regimes, Frank Biess demonstrates the ambivalent role of these emotions in a democratizing society: in West Germany, fear and anxiety both undermined democracy and stabilized it. By taking seriously postwar Germans' uncertainties about the future, this study challenges dominant linear and teleological narratives of postwar West German 'success', highlighting the prospective function of memories of war, National Socialism, and the Holocaust. Postwar Germans projected fears and anxieties that they derived from memories of a catastrophic past into the future.

Based on case studies from the 1940s to the present, German Angst provides a new interpretive synthesis of the Federal Republic. It tells the history of the Federal Republic as a series of cyclical crises in which specific fears and anxieties emerged, served a variety of political functions, and then again abated. Drawing on recent interdisciplinary insights generated by the field of emotion studies, Biess's study transcends the dichotomy of 'reason' and 'emotion'. Fear and anxiety were not exclusively irrational and dysfunctional, but served important roles in postwar democracy. These emotions sensitized postwar Germans to the dangers of an authoritarian transformation, and they also served as emotional engines of new social movements, including the environmental and peace movements. German Angst also provides an original analysis of the emotional basis of right-wing populism in Germany today, and it explores the possibilities of a democratic politics of emotion.


  • Provides a counterweight and corrective to the existing historiography of the Federal Republic, offering a new interpretive synthesis
  • Casts new light on some familiar themes and topics in postwar German history by applying the theoretical and methodological insights of the history of emotions
  • Analyses the relationship between fear and democracy, challenging the assumption that only authoritarian systems produce fear

About the Author(s)

Frank Biess, Professor of History, Co-Director of European, German, and Italian Studies, University of California, San Diego

Frank Biess is Professor of History at the University of California-San Diego. He started his academic career at the Universities of Marburg and Tübingen in Germany. He earned two M.A. degrees at Washington University in St. Louis, and he received his PhD from Brown University in 2000. He has published extensively on the history of 20th-century Germany, with a focus on the post-1945 period. In 2021, he published Homecomings: Returning POWs and the Legacies of Defeat in Postwar Germany with Princeton University Press. He is currently working on a set of projects relating to the global history of the interwar Weimar Republic.

Table of Contents

    Introduction: Fear and Democracy
    1. Postwar Angst
    2. Moral Angst
    3. Cold War Angst
    4. Modern Angst
    5. Democratic Angst
    6. Revolutionary Angst
    7. Proliferating Angst
    8. Apocalyptic Angst
    9. German Angst
    Primary Sources

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