Outrageous Comparisons in Modern History and Contemporary Politics

Outrageous Comparisons in Modern History and Contemporary Politics

Lecture | March 14 | 5-6:30 p.m. | 223 Moses Hall

 Willibald Steinmetz, Bielefeld University

 Akasemi Newsome, Institute of European Studies, UC Berkeley

 Institute of European StudiesGerman Historica Insitute Washington (Pacific Office, Berkeley)Department of History

Professor Willibald Steinmetz will give a work-in-progress report on a book he is currently writing about ‘outrageous comparisons’, i.e. comparisons that create public outrage or other strong emotional outbursts such as hatred, disgust, or long-lasting resentment. Polemical equations of someone with Hitler or the Nazis, or analogies to the Holocaust, are the most salient cases in point, but by no means the only instances of outrageous comparisons. Other examples are confessional polemics (equations with the Devil, the Antichrist, Mohammed-caricatures etc.) or accusations of committing war atrocities like the ‘Turks’, the ‘Huns’, the ‘Vandals’ etc.—comparisons touching the national honor of those so compared. Professor Steinmetz approaches the phenomenon not from a normative point of view; thus he does not ask whether certain comparisons might be, or might have been, (un)reasonable or (un)justified. His focus is on who-, when-, why-, and how-questions: Is it possible to discern certain patterns and trajectories of outrageous comparisons? Do such comparisons have life cycles of their own? Why is it that certain kinds of comparison, even Nazi- and Holocaust comparisons, that almost automatically provoke angry reactions now, in 21st-century politics, passed by unnoticed or even met with approval some fifty years earlier? What role do changes in media landscape play in the long-term history of those comparisons? The lecture will use recent examples from late 20th- and early 21st-century political debates and another case study of an Anglo-German controversy around 1900 as starting points for outlines of a typology and first hypotheses about the long-term history of outrageous comparisons.

This lecture is part of the Gerda Henkel Lecture Series, organized by the Pacific Office of the German Historical Institute Washington in cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation. The program brings German historians to the West Coast to present their research and engage in dialogue with their colleagues in the US and Canada.

Willibald Steinmetz is professor of modern and contemporary political history at Bielefeld University (Germany). Most of his scholarly work centers on the uses of concepts, arguments, rhetorics and languages in a broad variety of political (and other) spaces, ranging from the 17th century to the present. His major publications include books and edited volumes on British debates on parliamentary reform in the 18th and 19th centuries, on encounters between employers and employees in English and German courts of law (19th-20th centuries), on political languages in the ‘Age of Extremes’, on the comparative conceptual history of ‘politics’ and ‘the political’, and, more recently, on the historical semantics and political uses of comparison (16th-21st centuries). His most recent monograph (in German) is Europa im 19. Jahrhundert, a comprehensive history of Europe in the 19th century (Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 2019).

 heike.friedman@berkeley.edu, 12025528920

 Ray Savor,  rsavord@berkeley.edu,  202-552-8959