Cold War liberalism in West Germany: Richard Löwenthal and ‘Western civilization’

Riccardo Bavaj*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Richard Löwenthal’s response to the challenges of ‘1968’ was more complex than that of most of his liberal colleagues. He did not simply remain beholden to the interpretative patterns of a German ‘special path’ (Sonderweg). He also, and increasingly so, drew on the conceptual framework of ‘Western civilization’ to make sense of and cope with the socio-cultural transformations of his times. What many like-minded intellectuals perceived solely as a ‘deviation from the West’, he also viewed as a ‘crisis of the West’. This article argues that this transnationally ‘Western’ stance was part and parcel of Löwenthal’s intellectual profile as ‘cold war liberal’. This was a relatively rare species in Cold War Germany, and Löwenthal was rather exceptional in his sustained engagement with the topic of ‘Western civilization’. Compared with luminaries such as Carl Joachim Friedrich, Ernst Fraenkel or Karl Loewenstein, Richard Löwenthal may be lesser known in English-speaking scholarship, but he makes for a particularly instructive case when discussing ‘cold war liberalism’ in West Germany. With its focus on the spatialization of political thought, and ‘the West’ as a spatial imaginary, this article also seeks to contribute to the growing discussion of how to ‘spatialize’ intellectual history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-624
Number of pages18
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Volume49
Issue number3
Early online date5 Jul 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2023

Keywords

  • The West
  • Intellectual history
  • Liberalism
  • Cold War
  • Spatial history

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