Negotiating violence: public discourses about political violence in Interwar Britain and German
Klingler, Anita Manisha
This thesis analyses public discourses about political violence in interwar Britain and Germany. Much of the existing work on political violence in the aftermath of the First World War has focused on the defeated countries of Central and Eastern Europe. A comparative study on Germany and Great Britain, however, has not previously been undertaken and therefore presents a novel and ambitious addition to the field. The study’s approach is based on the assumption that analysing inherently public discourses, primarily press and parliamentary language, can provide insights into both nations’ identity construction, both domestically and internationally. A series of case studies from the early and late interwar period has been chosen for this purpose. In examining the discourses exhibited in reaction to these case studies, the thesis will find that the language used publicly to discuss political violence in both countries referenced a series of common themes which aided in constructing the desired national narratives and identities. In the aftermath of the experience of extreme violence during the First World War, in particular, these themes revolved around notions of civilisation, justice, law and order, and, especially in the case of the young Weimar Republic, the desire to establish membership in the international community of civilised, democratic nations. Additionally, race, class, nation, gender, and political conviction were recurring rhetorical frameworks, along which public discourses sought to categorise victims and perpetrators of violence, legitimising certain acts of political violence while delegitimising others. While the thesis presents these thematic similarities, crucial differences in the nature, intensity, and contexts of German and British public discourses on political violence were obvious, pointing towards both countries’ divergent paths. The thesis’ undisputed conceptual vanishing point is the rise of Nazism in Germany. Thus, by comparing German interwar discourses on political violence to British ones, the thesis retraces important watershed moments at which language contributed to shifting the boundaries of acceptable uses of violence in the name of politics. Furthermore, by its comparative approach, the thesis actively seeks to Europeanise British history more than it traditionally has been; similarly, by consciously including case studies from the colonial sphere, it seeks to integrate British and imperial histories more meaningfully.