Model America

von by Marcus Gräser Original aufOriginal in German, angezeigt aufdisplayed in EnglischEnglish
PublishedErschienen: 2011-02-08
    PrintDrucken PDF E-mailE-mail XML MetadataXML Metadaten   

    Early on, the USA – "America" – became a point of reference within European consciousnesses against which European societies could analyse themselves. At the same time, America acted as a repository for new models which Europe studied in order to discover whether they could be exported. This article discusses European perceptions of America from the 17th century onwards and some of the types of models created. A review of "Americanisation" – much discussed in the 20th century – follows, offering an opportunity to investigate the limits of the transferability of these models.

    InhaltsverzeichnisTable of Contents


    A few years ago, the American political scientist James W. Ceaser angrily called for a struggle to reclaim the power to define his country: "It is time to take America back." He felt that "" had become the symbolic hostage; he had in his sights those "literary critics, philosophers and self-styled postmodern thinkers" for whom "America" could only have meaning with negative connotations, as a symbol "for that which is grotesque, obscene, monstrous, stultifying, stunted, leveling, deadening, deracinating, deforming, rootless, uncultured and – always in quotation marks – 'free'". Above all, among the great German and French thinkers – "from Hegel to Heidegger … and from Buffon to Baudrillard" – Ceaser discovered a tendency not to perceive America as a place or country: "they have converted it into a concept of philosophy and a trope of literature."1 In Ceaser's eyes, this form of imagined, symbolic or "metaphysical" "America" – coupled with terms such as "Americanism" or "Americanisation" – offers the intellectuals only material for anti-Americanism.

    In taking up battle lines against the and philosophical traditions, Ceaser's attack had conservative motives. His patriotic polemic failed entirely, however, to see that not only Europeans, but also Americans themselves loaded "America" with "metaphysical" content. Indeed, this had been the case ever since the very first appropriations of land by Europeans: from John Winthrop's (1588–1649) Puritan euphoria in 1630 that could be a "city upon a hill", a new ,2 to the social sciences' theory of modernisation in the 20th century, whose ideological precursors wanted to see the as the incarnation of Western development,3 the English colonies and, later, the USA were ascribed an importance that transcended that of a mere place. These two variants of an "America", which was responsible for its own metaphysical connotations, reveal two options that at first sight seem to be contradictory: the "city upon a hill" designates an exceptionalism that (in a secularised form) was developed into a complete ideology. The singularity of America postulated here provided an interpretive framework, a "grand narrative", into which the many "small" histories of immigration, economic success and social advancement could be easily incorporated. However, exceptionalism did not offer a model, did not invite imitation elsewhere. Those who wanted to participate in the American experiment had to become involved in America. However, the social sciences' theory of modernisation (which included the idea of a "normal" path of development) which regarded America as a model of Western development and recommended its imitation seems to contradict this singularity. Nevertheless, both interpretative frameworks are closely connected: only on the basis of a self-image of unique development could the civilising mission (which was, at the latest, evident from the end of the 19th century, and culminated in Woodrow Wilson's (1856–1924) concept of world politics) emerge in which the equation of America with democracy allowed "America" to become universal – a beacon, yardstick and exportable model (at least in its basic democratic configuration) all rolled into one.

    This view of "America" as a trend was already implicit in the work of Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859)[Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856), Portrait von Alexis Charles Henry de Toqueville (1805-1859), Zeichnung, 1848; Bildquelle:, Permalink:]. Tocqueville (see below) also took up the semantic shift (and contributed to its implementation like few others) that was the prerequisite to imbuing the concept of "America" with its "metaphysical" content: the equation of the USA and America. But how was it possible for the name of a large continent to become synonymous with one state within it as early as the 19th century? Indeed, well into the 18th century, had by no means dominated the European perception of the New World. In contrast to the rich colonies in the and , on the coast and in the , the English and French colonies on North America's eastern coast and the banks of the were more peripheral; above all, they were not economically successful and of lesser importance for the mother countries than the Caribbean. In the 18th century, "America" was more a synonym for the south of the continent. However, during the so-called "Sattelzeit" (transition period) between the early modern and the modern period (1750 to 1850), this perception shifted – and Tocqueville could write in 1835 of "Democracy in America" and be certain that his readers would not think of or . The reasons for the USA's semantic success, for its right to be the exclusive representative of "America", lay in the achievement of state independence, won by the American Revolution (which ended by peace with in 1783). This unprecedented process of founding a state by means of an anti-colonial revolt and the rapid stabilisation of the American republic drew at once attention to the experiment in the USA. There, the New World seemed to have found its most advanced form. In the second half of the 19th century, the south of the continent accepted the term of "" put forward by France (which meant to advance its own political ambitions). This was a sign of the fact that the south had given up the discursive struggle for the concept of "America".4 The New World was now semantically organised: America was now a synonym for the USA; south of the USA began Latin America – and have since wondered whether they are "Americans", too.5

    The equation of the USA and "America", and the USA's progressive increase in importance and power has, however, led to the fact that "America" really has achieved a "status of pure abstraction" and – especially in the era of globalisation – become an "object of universal reference".6 There is no other point of reference today that is so embedded in the consciousness in all parts of the world than that which is understood by the word "America": "People may either love or hate America, but they almost never ignore it".7 In the globalised communicative space this is a one way street: there is no American view of Germany, Sweden or Ethiopia in the way that there are German, and images of America.8

    This, however, necessitates an investigation of America's function as a model for Europe, both today and in the past, which examines not only chronology, but also pluralisation. The level of abstraction achieved and the universality admit a range of interpretative frameworks: there were and there are many "Americas", and there exist almost unlimited possibilities for the transfer of select "parts" or the "entirety" of the model (including America as a negative model). The possibilities can be limited by the conditions prevailing in the receiving countries, but hardly by the construct of "America" itself. The perception of "America" and its function as a model are related: because there are so many "Americas" available, the USA also offers a very large pool of models. And because the international demand for models – for purposes of imitation or delimitation – is so high, a wide range of "Americas" exist. However, from the European perspective, the appropriation of "America" has a special quality: because Europeans see "America" as a branch on the family tree,9 the reception and use of "America" is always connected to the Europeans' self-analysis: the perpetual European debate about America gives rise to proximity – the feeling of representing variations of a common "West" – as well as to the impression of distance, which leads to the use of America as a point of contrast. In dealing with convergence and divergence, the two principle viewpoints of the European discourse on America, one further fact also plays an important role: Europe was itself a point of reference for the USA and provided a model long after independence had been achieved. Tocqueville's famous book, which saw America as a trend that would inevitably pull Europe with it, should not obscure the fact that until the early 20th century the USA was a cultural province of Europe, not least in the self-image of its own elite.

    Indeed, since the beginnings of this reciprocal observation – i.e. since the permanent European settlement of the continent from the early 17th century on – there has been, on both sides of the , an over- as well as an underestimation of the other: while the American self-image oscillates between euphoria ("city upon a hill") and a feeling of cultural inferiority, European perceptions range from regarding the American experiment as the future to feeling contempt for America as a colonial backwater (albeit with modifications to fit the changing circumstances). How, however, do models emerge and take shape from this mesh of many-voiced perceptions? Who in Europe needs models from America and for what reasons? The ways in which America can function as a model can be differentiated systematically; there are four ideal types:

    1. "America" as a component in social theory. This "America" has an extremely high level of abstraction and those who need and use it may not have direct experience of the country.

    2. "America" as a reality for travellers who informed their European audience of the "essence" of America or parts of it and in doing so almost inevitably made statements about the differences between Europe and America. These statements, in turn, are the precursors to the explicit and implicit creation of models of the foreign country.

    3. America as an "invented" country – not in the sense of an utopos, but rather imbuing it with values. Here, the European motives of cultural criticism and contemporary analysis are more clearly evident than in the case of travelogues. The "invented" America is in demand when Europe believes itself to be in crisis. To a Europe undergoing accelerated change, "America" therefore seems to be less a place and more a process.

    4. "America" as a motor and trendsetter of transnational transformation. The Americanisation of Europe – and the world – that has been much-discussed since the early 20th century has a complex relationship to the image of America as a model. With the concept of "Americanisation", "America" was clearly no longer marked out as just a process, but rather as an event that crossed national borders and arrived as a way of life, emancipated from a place and therefore transferrable. Where such a real or imagined Americanisation was seen as undesired or even as a threat, America had already lost its potential to serve as a (positive) model. However, even where Americanisation was met with indifference or acclaim, it also did not seem to offer a model. The model "America" offers a chance for those receiving it to decide: do I learn from "America", do I learn from the conscious rejection of "America" or do I remain neutral? Americanisation, however, does not seem to permit this choice; it comes crushing down like a natural force of modernity. Certainly, there is no Americanisation without a ready-made interpretative framework of America. Americanisation is decoded on the basis of existing attitudes towards very particular configurations of "America" – and the way in which the transformations in one's environment understood as Americanisation unfold, of course, has an impact on the perception of the USA. The decisive aspect in this context is that the agents of Americanisation rarely come from the USA. However, the proponents of modernisation in the after the two world wars certainly used models of America (as well as the positive image of the USA) in order to bring in and justify rationalisation, mechanisation, consumption, changes in gender relationships etc. They – and not the distant USA – were always the targets and objects of hate of anti-Americanism.

    These four patterns of using "America" as a model, however, can also be assessed in a further way: in all of them, America can be presented as a country of progress and the future, but also as a latecomer and European province. These two interpretative frameworks, in turn, work in two variants: they can both be positive or negative. Those who want to see the USA as an incarnation of progress do not necessarily have to recommend it for imitation; those, on the other hand, who see in "America" a raw, archaic offshoot of Europe could see in it an opportunity to revitalise the old world.10

    The following will examine more closely these four types of models of "America" using selected examples. It is not possible to present a complete catalogue of the models. Rather, the paper aims to give a systematising overview with the goal of clearly analysing the four examples presented so that the numerous other models can be referred back to the basic types. A review of the four types also creates a chronology: the path from the abstraction of social theory to the debate over Americanisation stretches from the 17th century into the present.

    Locke and Hegel: "America" Unseen

    John Locke's (1632–1704)[Portrait John Locke (1632–1704 ), Lithographie von de Fonroug[e] nach H. Garnier, ohne Datum; Bildquelle: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division Washington, ] famous sentence from his Second Treatise of Government of 1690 "In the beginning all the world was America"11 marks the beginning of America's career in European social theory. Locke wrote this sentence in the context of his theory of a social contract based on natural law. By describing America as a model (ideal type) of the state of nature, he pioneered the use of America for Europe's self-examination. The thing that directs his attention to America is his interest in European conditions – and the attempt to describe these in the light of the American new beginning.12 Certainly, with this sentence Locke also intended to provide the optimal starting point for justifying the settlement of the territory.13 However, this promotional aspect was, at best, only a by-product, as Locke, of course, was describing an ideal moment that could only be identified theoretically, and which evaporated the moment a monetary economy was introduced.14 Locke cannot have overseen the fact that the future of the English colonies in North America depended on this monetary economy and on the connection to the economy of the mother country. For Locke, "America" was therefore at best a model in the theory of natural law; in practice, it was Europe who offered the model for America from the moment America was removed from the state of "genesis" – and this removal was the result of European settlement. Inherent to this was not only America's dependence on Europe, but also its social backwardness: this perspective gave later also rise to historians' long-held image of colonial society as a mere simplification of the conditions in the home country.

    This idea of an original American order received an update at the end of the 19th century under the influence of both Darwin's theory of evolution and Social Darwinism (which is not the same as the theory of evolution): for the Englishman Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), America really did represent an example of a late but accelerated evolution, whose significant stages ranged from the original "simplification" of the first settlers to the growing complexity of agriculture to industrialisation and urbanisation.15 The American historian Frederick Jackson Turner (1861–1932) also referred to this idea of a "natural" social evolution in his 1893 examination of the frontier as America's original space;16 he "Americanised" Locke's model and thereby not only presented an extremely successful interpretation of the advancing settled border, but also established historiography as form of analysing the present: the starting point for Turner's thesis was the disappearance of the frontier at the end of the 19th century when the American census authorities officially "declared" the state's territory to have been settled.

    Roughly 130 years after Locke, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) [Lazarus Sichling (1812–1863) nach einer Lithographie von Julius L. Sebbers (1804–1837), Portrait von Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), Stahlstich, nach 1828; Bildquelle: Wikimedia Commons,, gemeinfrei.] still understood America to be clearly dependent on European developments: "What takes place in America is but an emanation of Europe … What has taken place in the New World up to the present time is only an echo of the Old World."17 Nevertheless, Hegel saw America – in explicit contrast to the "conquered" but not "colonised" 18 – as the "land of the future". Unlike Tocqueville later, this formulation did not contain a prophecy that the USA would adopt a leading role. Rather, Hegel refers here to America's backwardness in the early 19th century compared to the European nations: according to Hegel, America was still in a "civil condition", the characteristics of which were that the "general object" of the political was "not yet fixed and determined" because for Hegel there did not exist "a real state and a real government". The relative equality of American society and the chances to move to the West seemed, for the time being, to make a state superfluous. It would only arise "after a distinction of classes has arisen, when wealth and poverty become extreme".19 "America" was the future for Hegel only in the sense of a "motion for adjournment". However, Hegel also made reference to America's function as a model for Europe and this extended well beyond Locke's natural law model – Hegel saw America as the collecting tank for Europe's "surplus" population:

    Europe has sent its surplus population to America in much the same way as from the old Imperial Cities, where trade-guilds were dominant and trade was stereotyped, many persons escaped to other towns which were not under such a yoke, and where the burden of imposts was not so heavy. Thus arose, by the side of Hamburg, Altona, by Frankfort, Offenbach, by Nuremberg, Fürth … The relation between North America and Europe is sinilar.20

    This assessment of "America" does not contain, as is sometimes claimed, a contempt for America as a periphery21 or even a vehement criticism of America.22 Rather, Hegel described – with quite precise knowledge of urban conditions in Germany – America's comparative advantage. In Hegel's eyes, just as could establish freedom of trade as Hesse's industrial city and for a couple of decades drain off business and political status (and attract competent entrepreneurs) from the stagnating Free City of ,23 so could America do the same to Europe. America was not only a dependent periphery, but also a free space for development, unharmed by traditions and customary blockades. Offenbach and Frankfurt, America and Europe: from the perspective of the dissolution of German corporate society in the early 19th century, this was the chance for progress, maybe even for taking the lead.

    Tocqueville and the German Liberals: The Problem of Transferability

    In contrast to Locke, Hegel was a contemporary of the independent American republic. Although the statehood of this republic did not seem assured, he was conscious of the "permanent example of a republican constitution".24 Colonial North America had provided at best a model for a natural law argument. After the American Revolution, the confirmation of the USA's independence and the proclamation of the American constitution, it offered much more to learn from. However, Hegel did express a dismissive attitude if not to America itself, then to the American Revolution: while he is clearly preoccupied by the meaning of the French Revolution and its impact on Germany and elsewhere,25 the American Revolution has no place in Hegel's works. The audience for his lectures on the "Philosophy of World History" remained in the dark as to why the creation of the US nation state happened at all. Hegel provides an important example for what Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) in her book On Revolution (1963) called the "non-influence of the American Revolution upon the course of modern revolutions".26 While the French Revolution "made world history" the American Revolution "has remained an event of little more than local importance".27 The very factors which Arendt identified as the prerequisite for the success of the American Revolution with it's lineal development of a state and the stabilisation of freedom, forced the revolution into the background of the European consciousness: according to Arendt, the American Revolution was a genuine political revolution, which – in her interpretation of a careful divide between the political and social spheres inspired by Aristotle28 – succeeded because the social question played little role in the colonies' struggle for independence. The French Revolution, however, fed on the social question and it was exactly here that its problem lay, but also its international and historical power.

    Certainly, the protagonists of both revolutions understood their revolution to have an international historical mission: in the case of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine (1737–1809) wrote in his book Common Sense (1776): "The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind."29 Paine later saw the connection between the two revolutions (and worked for both), but the British politician and publicist Edmund Burke (1729–1797), who had supported the American Revolution but rejected its French counterpart, did not see a common "Atlantic" process of democratic revolutions at all. For Burke, the American Revolution was the "legitimate daughter of the Glorious Revolution" of 1688 in England: it defended the time-honoured rights of the freeborn Englishman against parliament, which had "forgotten" in the treatment of the colonists that this was the foundation of its strength in : no taxation without representation. In Burke's eyes, the American Revolution did not subvert or innovate, but rather confirmed and conserved.30 For Burke, "America" could only be a model in so far as it helped to (latently) universalise the real English model. Is something that only caught up with and confirmed the level of European development a suitable model?

    Indeed, America only became interesting for European development if one was willing to see the American experiment as being about more than just the preservation of traditional freedoms. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that a Frenchman, the liberal aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, against the background of the recurring experience of revolution in his own country, understood the democratic qualities of the USA as an innovation and process. His greatest work, which has since become a classic, Democracy in America (two volumes 1835/1840)Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), De la démocratie en Amérique, Titelblatt, 12. Auflage, Paris 1848; Bildquelle:, Permalink:, was the fruit of a nine-and-a-half-month journey in 1831/1832, which took him through the USA's entire territory. Tocqueville was convinced that a democratic age had dawned and that the American situation would reveal to Europeans an insight into a common future:

    It appears to me beyond a doubt that sooner or later we shall arrive, like the Americans, at an almost complete equality of conditions. … It is not, then, merely to satisfy a legitimate curiosity that I have examined America; my wish has been to find instruction by which we may ourselves profit.31

    Now, with Tocqueville, America had really become a model – not just in the sense of the direct transfer of institutions or customs to Europe, but rather in the sense of an object of study through which one could better understand the direction of European development. It is certainly true that Tocqueville's book became a classic of American political theory (the only classic alongside the Federalist Papers) because Tocqueville – even today – allows the different political camps (normally referred to as conservatives and liberals) to agree on his insights.32 However, the work is also a classic of the European commentary upon America, especially because it maintains a careful balance: Tocqueville knows the America about which he writes,33 but he also knows his European audience's interest in America which he has to satisfy. Apart from Tocqueville, no one investigating the concept of America has managed to write a work that became a popular classic in both Europe and America.

    Tocqueville was above all interested in the question of how a democratic order based on equality and freedom could remain stable. From the obvious success of democracy in America, he concluded that not democracy itself but rather the transition to democracy endangered stability. America had not undergone such a transition because democracy had always existed there. The "novelty" of freedom in Europe made room for a dynamic which could threaten freedom. With this essential insight, Tocqueville rightly directed attention to the social and historical conditions of democracy and freedom. This (almost) answered the question of the transferability of the American model from the outset: Tocqueville was less interested in the adoption of American institutions or customs than in a comparative perspective that would reveal the possible national characteristics of (and barriers to) universal (Western) trends.

    For Tocqueville's liberal contemporaries in Germany, the example of the USA (which, on the whole, they did not know from personal experience) remained, in the words of Carl von Rotteck (1775–1840), "reine Theorie, welcher sich in Europa so feindselig das historische Recht entgegenstellt".34 The example of the American constitution played the role of an intellectual wellspring in the debates of the liberals before the 1848 Revolutions and then in the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848/1849. More was not possible because the basic prerequisites which would have allowed to regard the American constitutional ideas as a paradigm did not exist in Germany before 1848.35 The position of the monarch was enshrined in the constitutional and political thought of the liberals. This largely ruled out an orientation towards the model of the American constitution.36

    Max Weber and James Bryce: The "Invention" and the "Discovery" of America at the End of the 19th Century

    It is difficult to judge the level of interest in "America" within 19th century European societies. Certain trends, however, are evident: especially in the last decade of the 19th century, the interest in the USA increased considerably. There were various reasons for this. The USA acquired a greater significance for those in Europe with an interest in world politics, on the one hand due to its increasing economic importance and, on the other, following – at the latest – the military conflict with in 1898 and the country's participation in the "occidental" phenomenon of imperialism. However, the interest of a new generation of observers of America was not only provoked by the growing importance of the USA, but also by a particular sense of crisis in Europe. This sense of crisis was not simply a result of the realisation that Europe was no longer at the centre of world history.37 It was also – above all for the opinion-shaping middle classes – the product of a highly varied uncertainty created by, to name but two causes, the disintegration of old value systems (religion) and the challenge to liberalism's political power posed by the new mass movements of socialism and political Catholicism.38

    An important representative of this sense of crisis was Max Weber (1864–1920)[Max Weber (1864–1920), schwarz-weiß Photographie, o. J. [um 1903], unbekannter Photograph; Bildquelle: Weber, Marianne: Max Weber: Ein Lebensbild, Tübingen 1926, o. S. [Bildtafel VII].], for whom the stagnation of the European bourgeois world could be described using terms such as bureaucratisation, rationalisation and de-personalisation signifying the reduction to one's professional or specialist function (Berufs- and Fachmenschentum). Weber's "America" was based on personal experience: in 1904, he was invited to an academic conference at the world fair in and undertook a journey to the USA that lasted several months. Weber did not write a book on America, but his socio-religious work on the Protestant ethic had already revealed an interest in the particularities of American religion; moreover, the references to the situation in America, including the political conditions, are so numerous in Weber's uncompleted work on the "Economy and Society" that the role of "America" in Weber's thought is difficult to miss. America fascinated him: Weber wondered whether the particular challenges faced by American Protestants, and above all their liberal ideal of life (the great importance of the Protestant sects "und ihre[r] säkularen Derivat[e] wie Clubs und andere[r] freiwillige[r] Vereinigungen"39 ("and their secular derivations such as clubs and other voluntary associations") really offered an alternative route to modernity – one that did not lead to the "shell of bondage" ("Gehäus der Hörigkeit"). In a letter to the Protestant theologian Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930), Weber wrote of Puritanism's historical achievement:

    Wir dürfen doch nicht vergessen, dass wir den Sekten Dinge verdanken, die niemand von uns heute missen könnte, Gewissensfreiheit und die elementarsten Menschenrechte, die uns heute selbstverständlicher Besitz sind. Nur radikaler Idealismus konnte das schaffen.40

    For Weber, here was the basis for the chance for personal charisma and a permanent revitalisation of freedom with all their consequences for very different spheres of society – a revitalisation which he could scarcely find in the German Lutheran state-church.

    At the same time, Weber's hope in America remained ambivalent. Regardless of the USA's apparently unique guarantee of freedom, Weber believed that sooner or later America would follow the path already taken by European societies, which for Weber posed a growing threat to freedom in the form of "occidental rationalism". In several respects, Weber reproduces here the old pattern of a picture of "America" that has not yet reached the same level of development as the (West) European nations. In contrast to the culturally conservative and pessimistic reading, which perceived in this backwardness the "unculturedness" of America, Weber saw in this "backwardness" the chance to preserve elemental freedoms, whose existence, however, was threatened by the process of convergence or "Europeanisation", a danger also feared by many Americans. Thus, it has been rightly argued that Weber did not "discover", but rather "invented" his America.41 This differentiation does not aim to accuse Weber of possessing only a superficial knowledge of the country. Rather, his model can be characterised as an "invention" for two reasons: on the one hand, Weber employed "America" as a "strategic argument" in order to underpin via a "strategy of plausibility" his political sociology and its ideas on the concept of charisma and the selection of leaders; on the other – and this seems to be a possible motive for the ideas of "America" held by many of Weber's contemporaries – "America" was invented in order to evaluate critically the situation and undesirable political developments in his own country.42

    Of course, this may have been particular to Germany. Elsewhere, "America" was not always "invented" at the end of the 19th century in order to analysis the present. The British historian and politician James Bryce (1838–1922)[Portrait von James Bryce (1838–1922), Schwarz-Weiß-Photographie, 1914, unbekannter Photograph; Bildquelle: Current History of the War, New York, 1914; The University of Texas at Austin,], who in 1888 published a two-volume study on the "American Commonwealth" (which was later repeatedly revised and republished) was not as "nervous" when writing about his subject, which he "discovered" rather than "invented". Bryce's work, which at the time also appeared in American editions and established its author as a central contemporary interpreter of America in the English-speaking world, effortlessly took up Tocqueville's themes. However, Bryce concentrated on institutions – from the president to the city administrations – and only touched on the "customs" and behaviour of Americans.43 For Bryce, too, America seemed to be a model, but it was not a critical yardstick against which to judge his own society. He preferred Tocqueville's perspective on the USA as an advanced nation that showed European nations the future:

    something more than an experiment, for they are believed to disclose and display the type of institutions towards which, as by a law of fate, the rest of civilized mankind are forced to move, some with swifter, others with slower, but all with unresting feet.44

    Bryce had a nuanced view of the transfer of institutions and ideas across the Atlantic based on insights into the social and historical background:

    Many an American institution would bear different fruit if transplanted to England, as there is hardly an English institution which has not undergone, like the plants and animals of the Old World, some change in America. The examination and appraisement of the institutions of the United States is no doubt full of instruction for Europe, full of encouragement, full of warning; but its chief value lies in what may be called the laws of political biology which it reveals ... Now and then we may directly claim transatlantic experience as accrediting or discrediting some specific constitutional device or the policy of some enactment. But even in these cases he who desires to rely on the results shown in America must first satisfy himself that there is such a parity of conditions and surroundings in respect to the particular matter as justifies him in reasoning directly from ascertained results there to probable results in his own country.45

    In an imaginary dialogue with Weber, both could have probably come to an agreement on the concept of fate, but beyond that their models of America were diametric opposites: Weber believed fate to be at home in Europe and believed that, in the long run, America could not avoid it; Bryce, by contrast, considered America to have a head start, while Europe was straggling behind (and going at different speeds). Bryce was interested in institutions and, on the basis of this, the possibility of transfer; in contrast, Weber did not consider the transfer of institutions at all, but rather placed his hopes in the scope of freedom that (still) existed in the USA. One can call Weber a pessimist and Bryce an optimist. Bryce argued, of course, against the background of the special relationship between Britain and the USA, and with the confidence of a British subject whose commonwealth did not need to hide from the USA. Weber could not draw on such a "national" self-assurance.

    "Americanisation" in the 20th Century and the Limits of the Model

    When Weber and Bryce were thinking and writing about "America", it seemed possible to draw a clear dividing line between Europe and America. Only things that are separate can be placed in a relationship with one another, only at a distance can one talk about models. At the turn of the 20th century, however, a concept emerged that seemed to question this very distance: in 1902, the British journalist William Thomas Stead (1849–1912)[Portrait von William Thomas Stead (1849–1912), Schwarz-Weiß-Photographie, o. J. [vor 1913], Bain News Service, New York, USA; Bildquelle: Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection, DIGITAL ID: (digital file from original neg.) ggbain 03860 ] published his book The Americanization of the World, or the Trend of the 20th Century, which appeared in German and French in the same year.46 It introduced a concept to the world according to which "America" was less a model and more a trend – but in a different way to that described by Tocqueville: America was now no longer seen as a pioneer whose development pointed the way to one's own future – and thus benefited the stragglers, who could avoid "mistakes" by learning from America. "Americanisation" meant something else: the swift creation of "simultaneity", if not in the "world", then at least in the areas of American influence, above all in Europe. The ideal of this "simultaneity" did not mean a complete conformity with the USA, but rather a high level of receptiveness.

    In the early 20th century, "Americanisation" did not refer to the transfer of political ideas and institutions. Instead, it concerned the performance and exportability of American industry. Stead quoted in his book from the article of a journalist colleague:

    The average man [in England] rises in the morning from his New England sheets, he shaves with 'Williams' soap and a Yankee razor, pulls on his Boston boots over his socks from North Carolina, fastens his Connecticut braces, slips his Waltham or Waterbury watch in his pocket, and sits down to breakfast. There he congratulates his wife on the way her Illinois straight-front corset sets off her Massachusetts blouse, and he tackles his breakfast, where he eats bread made from prairie flour … tinned oysters from Baltimore and a little Kansas City bacon, while his wife plays with a slice of Chicago ox-tongue.47

    While the concept of "Americanisation" – above all in the USA itself – could also refer to the homogenisation of the country's ethnically diverse population,48 outside the USA it quickly came to mean a situation describable less in terms of convergence or divergence and more in terms of inundation by and submission to the American consumer economy. "Americanisation" provoked in the European discourse – at the latest after the end of the First World War – a feeling of inferiority or an insisting on a "residual" superiority.49

    The first large surge of "Americanisation" – beyond the export of goods and intellectual reflections on the concept – came with the end of the First World War and the economic weakening experienced by nearly all European states. The successful American economy seemed to offer a range of models that promised to revitalise the European economy and help it catch up with the American competition. In his Prison Notebooks written between 1929 and 1935, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) pondered upon the coherent basis of "Americanism". He found it to exist not only in the syndromes of Taylorism and Fordism, but also, and indeed above all, in a "rational demographic composition" that "consists in the fact that there do not exist numerous classes with no essential function in the world of production, in other words classes which are purely parasitic".50 In this way, Gramsci marked out a fundamental difference to Europe where there were too many "pensioners of economy history" who were "living 'on their ancestral patrimony'".51 Gramsci was anything but "anti-American"; America seemed to him – as it had earlier to Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895)52 – to be the most advanced capitalist society, which pointed the way forward to European societies. For Gramsci it remained unsettled, whether America could force Europe to change its socio-economic system through its real economic power, or if the changes in the system only seemed to be the result of an American invasion but represented, in fact, a somewhat slower, but genuinely European phenomenon.53 In any case, he imbued "Americanism" with a power that could help modernise , which Gramsci saw as backward and pre-industrial: only in an "Americanised" society could the working class achieve better conditions for their advancement.54

    The topics discussed by Gramsci and others under the terms Taylorism and Fordism, i.e. scientific management and the technologies of mass production based on the division of labour, rarely went beyond the discursive sphere because the structural preconditions for a thorough Americanisation as modernisation in the sphere of the industrial economy and the organisation of labour did not exist in the 1920s to a sufficient degree, as a result of which the American example only had a limited range.55 It was much easier to adopt the consumption of the products of popular culture (film) than models of organising labour or entrepreneurship.56

    Certainly, in the years after the Great Depression – and then at an accelerated pace after the Second World WarEuropean economies successfully adapted American standards. However, the transfer of models always took place in the form of the integration of individual elements into the particular national framework: self-service in food retailing for example was tried in the USA in 1912 and introduced in in 1938, where after the Second World War it became the norm alongside the creation of chain stores (also adopted from the USA).57 But these changes took place within the context of a "social market economy", which was not the result of an orientation towards the American example, but rather – in its combination of market structures and state intervention – represented a modernisation of the German tradition of corporatism.

    With the international conflict between democracy and dictatorship and the Second World War, however, "America" as a transferable model had to prove its worth in other ways. The famous dictum of the "American Century" formulated by Henry Robinson Luce (1898–1967) in a 1941 essay in the magazine Life did not limit itself to consumption and cinema: of primary importance for Luce was the universally relevant trend towards a constitutional state and democracy (which, it is true, were for him irrevocably bound up with the capitalist economy).58 At the period when democracy was not a practice which could be taken for granted – especially in Germany –, "Americanisation" had a double meaning: democracy plus popular culture.59 Only when democracy (and "Westernisation") became a matter of course in Germany, was the formula "Americanisation" again reduced, as it had been in the first decades of the 20th century, to processes in the sphere of popular culture and the economy.

    After the Second World War, "Americanisation" went hand in hand with the USA's international economic and political hegemony.60 In the second half of the 20th century, Germany was – like other and West European states – receptive and keen to learn, but only in so far as American models could be adapted to local conditions. Rotteck's statement on the contradictions between "theory" and "the law of history" are still valid and indicate clearly the limits of the American model in so far as one might want to see it as a repository of potentially transferable institutions and ideas. The "law of history" is known today as "path dependence"61: the study and adoption of examples from other states and societies takes place – at best – only via adaptation to one's own traditions and routes of development. This does not a priori rule out interest in foreign models; they can always be used to mark out a (mental) space and force the existing system, especially where it requires reform, to justify itself.62 Such models are beneficial in creating this space for social change and much of that which was commonly debated (especially since 1945) under the term "Americanisation" had this function.63 However, transfers would soon come up against the problem of path dependence – and the European societies, which do not even follow a common "path" or differ from America in the same way, contain less "America" – even at the current apex of globalisation – than either the euphoric proponents or bitter opponents of "Americanisation" like to think.

    Marcus Gräser, Washington, D.C.



    Arendt, Hannah: On Revolution, London et al. 2009.

    Bryce, James: The American Commonwealth, 3rd ed., New York 1910, vol. 1–2.

    Gramsci, Antonio: Gefängnishefte: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. by the Deutschen Gramsci-Projekt, scientific direction: Klaus Bochmann, Berlin 1999, vol. 9: Hefte 22–29.

    idem: Prison Notebooks: Selections, ed. and transl. by Quintin Hoare / Geoffrey Nowell Smith, London 1998.

    Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich: The Philosopy of History, New York 1900, online: [27.01.2011].

    Locke, John: Two Treatises of Government: A Critical Edition with an Introduction and Apparatus Criticus by Peter Laslett, Cambridge 1960.

    Tocqueville, Alexis de: Democracy in America, transl. by Henry Reeve, revised edition, New York 1899, vol. 1, online: [03.02.2011].


    Becker, Frank et al. (eds.): Mythos USA: "Amerikanisierung" in Deutschland seit 1900, Frankfurt am Main 2006.

    Ceaser, James W.: Reconstructing America: The Symbol of America in Modern Thought, New Haven 1997.

    Depkat, Volker: Amerikabilder in politischen Diskursen: Deutsche Zeitschriften von 1789 bis 1830, Stuttgart 1998.

    Dippel, Horst: Germany and the American Revolution, 1770–1800: A Sociohistorical Investigation of Late-Eighteenth-Century Political Thinking, Chapel Hill 1977.

    Doering-Manteuffel, Anselm: Wie westlich sind die Deutschen? Amerikanisierung und Westernisierung im 20. Jahrhundert, Göttingen 1999.

    Ertmann, Thomas: Pfadabhängige Entwicklung und systemimmanente Zwänge: Sind die Möglichkeiten des Lernens begrenzt?, in: Sabine Lang et al. (eds.): Jobwunder USA – Modell für Deutschland?, Münster 1999, pp. 266–297.

    Fraenkel, Ernst: Amerika im Spiegel des deutschen politischen Denkens: Äußerungen deutscher Staatsmänner und Staatsdenker über Staat und Gesellschaft von Amerika, Cologne 1959.

    Franz, Eckhart G.: Das Amerikabild der deutschen Revolution von 1848/49: Zum Problem der Übertragung gewachsener Verfassungsformen, Heidelberg 1958.

    Gassert, Philipp: Was meint Amerikanisierung? Über den Begriff des Jahrhunderts, in: Merkur 54 (2000), pp. 785–796.

    Gessner, Dieter: Die Anfänge der Industrialisierung am Mittelrhein und Untermain 1780–1866, Frankfurt am Main 1996.

    Greene, Jack P.: The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity From 1492 to 1800, Chapel Hill 1993.

    Habermas, Jürgen: Die Geschichte von den zwei Revolutionen, in: idem: Philosophisch-Politische Profile, extended ed., Frankfurt am Main 1981, pp. 223–228.

    Herrmann, Dietrich: "Be an American!": Amerikanisierungsbewegung und Theorien zur Einwandererintegration, Frankfurt am Main 1996.

    Hoerder, Dirk: From the Study of Canada to Canadian Studies: To Know Our Many Selves Changing Across Time and Space, Augsburg 2005.

    Iriye, Akira: Globalization as Americanization, in: Bruce Mazlish et al. (eds.): The Paradox of a Global USA, Stanford 2007, pp. 31–48.

    Kaelble, Hartmut: Europäer über Europa: Die Entstehung des europäischen Selbstverständnisses im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt am Main 2001.

    idem: Auf dem Weg zu einer europäischen Gesellschaft: Eine Sozialgeschichte Westeuropas 1880–1980, Munich 1987.

    Kamphausen, Georg: Die Erfindung Amerikas in der Kulturkritik der Generation von 1890, Weilerswist 2002.

    Klautke, Egbert: Unbegrenzte Möglichkeiten: "Amerikanisierung" in Deutschland und Frankreich (1900–1933), Stuttgart 2003.

    Lüdtke, Alf / Marßolek, Inge / Saldern, Adelheid von: Einleitung, in: Alf Lüdtke et al. (eds.): Amerikanisierung: Traum und Alptraum im Deutschland des 20. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart 1996, pp. 7–33.

    Maier, Charles: Zwischen Taylorismus und Technokratie: Gesellschaftspolitik im Zeichen industrieller Rationalisierung in den zwanziger Jahren in Europa, in: Michael Stürmer (ed.): Die Weimarer Republik: Belagerte Civitas, Königstein 1985, pp. 188–213.

    Mergel, Thomas: Geht es weiterhin voran? Die Modernisierungstheorie auf dem Weg zu einer Theorie der Moderne, in: idem et al. (eds.): Geschichte zwischen Kultur und Gesellschaft: Beiträge zur Theoriedebatte, Munich 1997, pp. 203–232.

    Meyer, Hildegard: Nord-Amerika im Urteil des deutschen Schrifttums bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts: Eine Untersuchung über Kürnbergers "Amerika-Müden", Hamburg 1929.

    Mommsen, Wolfgang J.: Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika, in: idem: Max Weber: Gesellschaft, Politik und Geschichte, 2nd ed., Frankfurt am Main 1982, pp. 72–96.

    Moore, R. Laurence: European Socialists and the American Promised Land, New York 1970.

    Offe, Claus: Selbstbetrachtung aus der Ferne: Tocqueville, Weber und Adorno in den Vereinigten Staaten, Frankfurt am Main 2004.

    Orozco, Teresa: Zur Renaissance des Unpolitischen: Arendt-Lektüren wiedergelesen, in: Berliner Debatte Initial 10 (1999), pp. 85–110.

    Radkau, Joachim: Max Weber: Die Leidenschaft des Denkens, Munich 2005.

    idem: Das Zeitalter der Nervosität: Deutschland zwischen Bismarck und Hitler, Munich 1998.

    Raynaud, Philippe: Art. "Amerikanische Revolution", in: François Furet et al. (eds.): Kritisches Wörterbuch der Französischen Revolution, Frankfurt am Main 1996, vol. 2, pp. 961–978.

    Rinke, Stefan: Vom "ersten Amerika" zu "Amerika": Der Bedeutungswandel des Namens "Amerika" im Zeitalter der Revolutionen, in: Ursula Lehmkuhl et al. (eds.): Amerika – Amerikas: Zur Geschichte eines Namens von 1507 bis zur Gegenwart, Stuttgart 2008, pp. 85–108.

    Ritter, Henning: Tocquevilles zwei Amerika: Die dunkle Seite, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 22/06/2004.

    Ritter, Joachim: Hegel und die Französische Revolution, Frankfurt am Main 1965.

    Rosenhaft, Eve: Lesewut, Kinosucht, Radiotismus: Zur (geschlechter-)politischen Relevanz neuer Massenmedien in den 1920er Jahren, in: Alf Lüdtke et al. (eds.): Amerikanisierung: Traum und Alptraum im Deutschland des 20. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart 1996, pp. 119–143.

    Schmale, Wolfgang: Geschichte und Zukunft der europäischen Identität, Stuttgart 2008.

    Schmidt, Alexander: Reisen in die Moderne: Der Amerika-Diskurs des deutschen Bürgertums vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg im europäischen Vergleich, Berlin 1997.

    Schröter, Harm G.: Winners and Losers: Eine kurze Geschichte der Amerikanisierung, Munich 2008.

    Tanner, Jakob: Art. "Amerikanismus", in: Historisch-kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus, ed. by Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Berlin 1994, vol. 1, col. 192–196.

    Taylor, Alan: American Colonies: The Settling of North America, New York 2001.

    Waechter, Matthias: Die Erfindung des amerikanischen Westens: Die Geschichte der Frontier-Debatte, Freiburg im Breisgau 1995.

    Wehler, Hans-Ulrich: Modernisierungstheorie und Geschichte, Göttingen 1975.

    Wellenreuther, Hermann: Die USA: Ein politisches Vorbild der bürgerlich-liberalen Kräfte des Vormärz?, in: Jürgen Elvert et al. (eds.): Deutschland und der Westen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Stuttgart 1993, pp. 23–41.

    Wolin, Sheldon S.: Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life, Princeton 2001.


      1. ^ Ceaser, America 1997, p. 1.
      2. ^ Cf. Taylor, Colonies 2001, pp. 167f.
      3. ^ Wehler, Modernisierungstheorie 1975. The possibilities for updating the theory of modernisation to transcend the schematisation of "normal" development and Sonderweg are emphasised by Mergel, Geht es weiterhin voran? 1997.
      4. ^ Rinke, Amerika 2008.
      5. ^ Hoerder, Canada 2005, pp. 65–87.
      6. ^ Ceaser, America 1997, pp. 2f.
      7. ^ ibidem, p. 3.
      8. ^ ibidem.
      9. ^ Offe, Selbstbetrachtung 2004, p. 10.
      10. ^ ibidem, p. 13.
      11. ^ Locke, Government 1960, p. 343.
      12. ^ Kamphausen, Erfindung 2002, p. 146.
      13. ^ Greene, Construction 1993, p. 52.
      14. ^ The complete quotation from Locke is: "Thus in the beginning all the World was America, and more so than that is now; for no such thing as money was any where known." (Locke, Government 1960, p. 343).
      15. ^ Waechter, Erfindung 1995, p. 104.
      16. ^ Kamphausen, Erfindung 2002, p. 170.
      17. ^ Hegel, Philosophy of History 1900, pp. 82, 87.
      18. ^ ibidem, p. 84.
      19. ^ ibidem, p. 86, 85.
      20. ^ ibidem, p. 82.
      21. ^ Kamphausen, Erfindung 2002, p. 151.
      22. ^ Offe, Selbstbetrachtung 2004, p. 13. Other statements from Hegel do not justify the claim that he aimed to depict Americans as bedraggled adolescents and was, as a result, an important source and court of appeal for anti-Americanism (ibidem, p. 14). Hegel's reference to America as the country of the future clearly underlined the historicity of his description.
      23. ^ On Offenbach's significance in the history of the industrialisation of the Rhein Main area, see Gessner, Industrialisierung 1996.
      24. ^ Hegel, Philosophy of History 1900, p. 84.
      25. ^ Cf. Ritter, Hegel 1965.
      26. ^ Arendt, Revolution 2009, p. 14. The traces of the American Revolution in German journalistic writings and political thought are explored in Dippel, Germany 1977, and Depkat, Amerikabilder 1998.
      27. ^ Arendt, Revolution 2009, p. 46.
      28. ^ On the criticism of Arendt's premises cf. Habermas, Geschichte 1981. I thank Teresa Orozco for her suggestions of reading material on Arendt (see also Orozco, Renaissance des Unpolitischen 1999.)
      29. ^ Rinke, Amerika 2008, p. 97.
      30. ^ Cf. Raynaud, Amerikanische Revolution 1996, pp. 961ff.
      31. ^ Tocqueville, Democracy 1899, p. 14.
      32. ^ Cf. Wolin, Tocqueville 2001, p. 3.
      33. ^ Certainly, he is regularly accused of drawing on a relatively small empirical basis and excluding elementary facts (steamship travel, rail etc.). Cf. Ritter, Tocqueville 2004.
      34. ^ "pure theory, which in Europe is contradicted with such hostility by the law of history " (translated by C.G.), Wellenreuther, USA 1993, p. 39.
      35. ^ ibidem, pp. 35f. The older work of Franz, Amerikabild 1958, offers a more optimistic evaluation of the reception of America before and during the 1848/1849 Revolution.
      36. ^ Meyer, Nord-Amerika 1929, remains even today an indispensible survey of the reception of America in Germany before the 1848 Revolution. Cf. also the large collection of documents by Fraenkel, Amerika 1959.
      37. ^ Kamphausen, Erfindung 2002, p. 22.
      38. ^ On nervousness as a "cultural state" in the Wilhelmine Empire cf. Radkau, Zeitalter 1998.
      39. ^ Offe, Selbstbetrachtung 2004, p. 74.
      40. ^ "We must not forget that we owe things to the sects that nobody can ignore today: freedom of conscience and the most elementary human rights that today we take for granted. Only radical idealism could achieve that" (transl. by C.G.). Quoted in Mommsen, Amerika 1982, p. 76. On Weber in America, cf. also Radkau, Weber 2005, pp. 375–379.
      41. ^ Kamphausen, Erfindung 2002, p. 197.
      42. ^ On the reflection of European moods and deficits in the image of America, cf. also Schmidt, Reisen 1997.
      43. ^ Bryce, Commonwealth 1910, p. 3.
      44. ^ ibidem, p. 1.
      45. ^ ibidem, p. 9.
      46. ^ Cf. Klautke, Möglichkeiten 2003, p. 7.
      47. ^ Quoted in Iriye, Globalization 2007, p. 32.
      48. ^ Cf. Lüdtke, Einleitung 1996, p. 9, and Herrmann, American 1996.
      49. ^ Cf. Kaelble, Europa 2001, pp. 128–183. Convergences and divergences in comparison between the European societies and the USA are examined in idem, Weg 1987.
      50. ^ Gramsci, Prison Notebooks 1998, p. 281.
      51. ^ ibidem.
      52. ^ Cf. Moore, Promised Land 1970, p. 9.
      53. ^ Gramsci, Gefängnishefte 1999, p. 2098.
      54. ^ Tanner, Art. "Amerikanismus" 1994, col. 193.
      55. ^ Doering-Manteuffel, Amerikanisierung 1999, p. 28. Cf. also Maier, Taylorismus 1985.
      56. ^ Rosenhaft, Kinosucht 1996. For general information cf. also the articles in Becker, Mythos 2006.
      57. ^ Schröter, Winners 2008, p. 85.
      58. ^ Gassert, Amerikanisierung 2000, p. 785.
      59. ^ ibidem, p. 787.
      60. ^ Doering-Manteuffel, Amerikanisierung 1999, pp. 28, 36.
      61. ^ Ertmann, Entwicklung 1999.
      62. ^ On the exemplary role of the USA in the debates about the "United States of Europe" see Schmale, Geschichte 2008, p. 135.
      63. ^ See Doering-Manteuffel, Amerikanisierung 1999, pp. 71–126 ("Westernisierung als Gesellschaftsreform").

      Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag
      Dieser Text ist lizensiert unter This text is licensed under: CC by-nc-nd 3.0 Germany - Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative Works

      Übersetzt von:Translated by: Christopher Gilley
      Fachherausgeber:Editor: Wolfgang Schmale
      Redaktion:Copy Editor: Lisa Landes



      : Model America, in: Europäische Geschichte Online (EGO), hg. vom Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte (IEG), Mainz European History Online (EGO), published by the Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG), Mainz 2011-02-08. URL: URN: URN: urn:nbn:de:0159-20101025397 [JJJJ-MM-TT][YYYY-MM-DD].

      Bitte setzen Sie beim Zitieren dieses Beitrages hinter der URL-Angabe in Klammern das Datum Ihres letzten Besuchs dieser Online-Adresse ein. Beim Zitieren einer bestimmten Passage aus dem Beitrag bitte zusätzlich die Nummer des Textabschnitts angeben, z.B. 2 oder 1-4.

      When quoting this article please add the date of your last retrieval in brackets after the url. When quoting a certain passage from the article please also insert the corresponding number(s), for example 2 or 1-4.

      Model America