Time and Power: Visions of History in German Politics, from the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich.

AuthorHare, J. Laurence

Clark, Christopher, Time and Power: Visions of History in German Politics, from the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019. 293 + x pages. Hardcover, $29.95.

Based on a series of lectures delivered at Princeton University, historian Christopher Clark's Time and Power addresses the latest in the seemingly never-ending series of "turns" that have come to dot the landscape of contemporary historiography. Clark's volume is aimed at the "temporal turn," which endeavors to lay bare constructed perceptions of time. Though the focus on time may be somewhat new, the temporal turn actually has a fairly deep pedigree, tracing its lineage back to the work of the sociologist Emile Durkheim and more recently to the eminent German conceptual historian Reinhart Koselleck, who famously identified a transformation of temporality as a hallmark of modernization. Current scholarship has since worked to learn more about the thorny relationship between time and modernity. Clark enters this line of inquiry already well known both for taking on big questions, like the origins of the First World War, and for tackling long periods of time, as in the history of Prussia. So he certainly has the scholarly chops to address the central issue of temporality. Yet Clark comes at the issue from a fresh angle by asking equally elemental questions about the relationship between time and power. His reflections are remarkably astute and tell us a great deal, but they may ultimately say even more about the temporal turn itself.

Time and Power has a modest structure, comprising a mere four chapters, with each focusing on a single moment in German history and on the thought world of a single political figure. The featured leaders share common roots in the Prussian state, but they span a wide chronological range, from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. They include Frederick William, the Great Elector, who consolidated his modest kingdom during the Thirty Years' War; Frederick II, the Great, the enlightened despot who transformed Prussia into a world power; and Otto von Bismarck, the conservative chancellor of Prussia who forged the German Empire. A fourth chapter is ostensibly focused on Adolf Hitler but in practice entertains a larger discussion about the ideological rhetoric of the upper echelons of the Nazi Party. Each chapter stands alone with a unique thesis and a highly engaging narrative, but the chapters work best...

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