• West Germany;
  • intellectuals;
  • memory;
  • democratization;
  • liberalization;
  • Nazi past;
  • emotions


This review essay seeks to direct attention to intellectual history as a new and flourishing subfield in the historiography of post-1945 Germany. The essay probes and critically interrogates some of the basic arguments of Dirk Moses' prize-winning monograph German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past. It does so by engaging with a series of German-language monographs on key intellectuals of the postwar period (Alexander Mitscherlich, Jürgen Habermas, Herbert Marcuse) or groups of intellectuals that have appeared during the last few years. The essay also includes two books that focus on intellectual transfers from and to the United States and hence transcend the purely national framework. The essay highlights some broader themes such as West German intellectuals' confrontation with the Nazi past and with the memory of Germany's failed experiment with democracy during the interwar Weimar Republic. It also discusses the significance of the West German student movement in the 1960s for West German intellectual history. The essay concludes with some broader reflections on writing intellectual history of the postwar period, and it points to some avenues for further research. It underlines the significance of intellectual debates—and hence of intellectual history—for charting and explaining the process of postwar democratization and liberalization in the Federal Republic of Germany.