20 Pages

Agrarian transformation and right radicalism: Economics and politics in rural Prussia, 1830–1947

WithShelley Baranowski

Nazism has weighed so heavily on the history of Prussia and Germany both that we cannot divorce the long-term development of Prussia's rural economy from an assessment of its political consequences. In an essay written during the Second World War that was to influence profoundly post-war interpretations of the rise of National Socialism, the emigre economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron identified agricultural protectionism that privileged the Prussian landed elite, the Junkers, as responsible for sustaining authoritarianism in Germany after 1871. Although, as Gerschenkron noted, the large estates of the Prussian east concentrated on grains while peasants emphasized livestock breeding, agricultural producers of all sizes avoided monoculture because it reduced their ability to respond to changing demand. Recognizing its broad-based support, however, should not obscure the Agrarian League's most insidious contributions to the demagoguery that characterized German politics after 1890.