The long lines of nationalism, authoritarianism and democracy in Europe and Germany


27. Januar 2023

Akademiegebäude am Gendarmenmarkt, Leibniz-Saal, Markgrafenstraße 38, 10117 Berlin

The Holberg Prize and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities will host a discussion on the long lines of nationalism, authoritarianism, and democracy in Europe and Germany.

Democracy versus autocracy, © iStock

The rise of far-right movements has led to concerns about a growing crisis of democratic institutions in Europe today. The relationship between nationalism, authoritarianism, and democracy has long been debated within the field of history, and perhaps nowhere more so than in Germany. What is the contemporary relevance of these debates, and what can German history tell us about the challenges we face today?

On 27 January 2023, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) and the Holberg Prize invite the public to a panel discussion on the long lines of nationalism, authoritarianism, and democracy in Germany and Europe at large. Marking the 20th anniversary of the Holberg Prize, the 2011 Holberg laureate, Professor Jürgen Kocka, meets Professor Hedwig Richter and Professor Michael Zürn, in a discussion moderated by Professor Christoph Markschies, President of the BBAW. 

The “Sonderweg approach” – that there was something particular about German history that set it apart and could explain the rise of fascism and Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933 – came under scrutiny from the 1980s onwards. Recently the debate has been revitalized, with the publication of Hedwig Richter’s book Democracy: A German Affair, drawing historical lines of German democratic traditions back to the Wilhelmine Empire. In an interview, Professor Kocka pointed out that such recent research has found new material on how the period of the Wilhelmine Empire saw rapid economic development, with societal and cultural changes that had emancipatory characteristics. However, it loses sight of how the Wilhelmine Empire was also what he calls an “authoritarian militarist-and-civil-servant state, which pursued aggressive colonial politics and bred extreme nationalism until the First World War (…)”. In political science, Professor Zürn is working on the “democratic regression” and the “contestation of the liberal script”, in both European and global contexts. In this panel discussion we therefore ask:

  • What can German history since 1871 tell us about the relationship between nationalism, democracy, and authoritarianism, not only in Germany but in Europe at large?
  • How can historians and social scientists cooperate in dealing with basic challenges to liberal democracy in the past and present?


Jürgen Kocka is Professor Emeritus of Free University Berlin, the Berlin Social Science Center and member of the Berlin–Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. He is the author of numerous studies of modern, European, and comparative history and an advocate of social science approaches to history. For his outstanding work, Kocka received the 2011 Holberg Prize.

Hedwig Richter is Professor of Modern History at the Universität der Bundeswehr in Munich. In 2020 she received the Anna Krüger Prize from the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. Her most recent publications are: "Demokratie - eine deutsche Affäre" (C.H.Beck, 2020); "Aufbruch in die Moderne.  Reform und Massenpolitisierung im Kaiserreich. (Suhrkamp, 2021)

Michael Zürn is Director of the Global Governance unit at WZB Berlin Social Science Center and Professor of International Relations at Freie Universität Berlin. He is director of the DFG-funded Cluster of Excellence “Contestations of the Liberal Script” (SCRIPTS) and member of the Berlin–Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Academia Europaea.

Christoph Markschies is professor of Ancient Christianity at Humboldt-University in Berlin and currently serving as president of both the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities as well as Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. Among other awards and honours, he has received the Leibniz Award of the German National Research Council.

Einen Livestream der Veranstaltung finden Sie unter

Die Veranstaltung findet in englischer Sprache statt. Der Einlass beginnt um 17:00 Uhr.

Franziska Urban
Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Tel.: +49 (0)30 20370 529 
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10117 Berlin
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