Charles Williams, Adenauer (cover)

Charles Williams, Adenauer:
The Father of a New Germany

(New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000), 584 pages.
UCSB: DD259.2.W518 2000

Book essay written by Patrick Osborne
March 15, 2006

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany since 1945
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2006

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About Patrick Osborne (back to top)

I am a junior, double majoring in history and Slavic languages. Next year I plan to study in Moscow through the education abroad program. After graduation I plan on doing a fellowship for a year in Russia. I have great interest in the history of Eastern Europe and have traveled throughout the region extensively. I chose to read this book because of the lack of knowledge I had about Konrad Adenauer and his place in German history.


While focusing mainly on the post war period between 1946 and 1963, Charles Williams’s biography examines the entire life of Konrad Adenauer. Williams follows every political move that shows how his domestic policies began to join with his international policies. His longing was to keep the West German state domestically safe from the Soviet military tactics, for example, leads to increased relations with Western super powers. Adenauer worked hard to move West Germany in a new direction while not alienating conservative party members of the Christian Democratic Union. Williams concludes through his careful analysis of Adenauer’s policies and motivations that Adenauer is the father of the West German state. I agree that it is in the areas of social, political, economic, and religious significance that Adenauer achieves this status.

Essay (back to top)

Adenauer and Leadership

Charles Williams argues that Konrad Adenauer represents the father of a new Germany for many cultural reasons. The main aspects are found in the areas of social, political, economic, and religious significance. Since the fall of the Nazi regime in 1945 Germany was looking for new leadership. Adenauer, who had been in political life prior to 1933, was one the main candidates to be chancellor of the new Germany. His relationships and policies helped to raise his political power in just a short time during the allied occupation. The policies he enacted made him idolized as father of West Germany as well as a crucial figure in European History.

The social leadership that Konrad Adenauer portrayed was one of a father-figure for the new Germany. His adoption of the social policies of Pius XI was a key to changing the social outlook after the defeat of Nazi Germany.

In line with the general post-war belief in Europe that the capitalism of the 1930’s had failed, the prevailing and recommended solution--of all but the American occupiers besides Adenauer to the problems of Germany of 1945 was to emphasize social cohesion rather than individual enterprise. (Williams, 308)

The foresight shows the wisdom and age that Adenauer possessed to lead Germany into the post-war era. Comparable to this social leadership at this specific time were the social skills needed when the new German government formed the party of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) in 1946 Williams describes Adenauer’s emergence as a political leader:

Adenauer was now in a position of strength. The result of the elections to the British Zone CDU executive committee was thus a foregone conclusion. Adenauer was elected unanimously as its ‘temporary’ chairman, with Holzapfel as his deputy. Adenauer had by then quite clearly occupied the high ground. (Williams, 312)

This example of efficient leadership shows him as the father figure; Adenauer continually played a big role in the formation of a new Germany. This social leadership extends to other areas of German society after the late 1940’s.

Adenauer’s political savvy and intelligence placed him in a paternal role in the political life of the new Germany. After the Nazi defeat in 1945, Adenauer was put back in the position of the mayor of Cologne. He quickly realized that he was one of the only people with political experience to do anything about the situation in the newly occupied Germany. As Williams writes:

But, as the spring of 1945 turned into early summer, it became irritatingly clear that the Americans had no understanding of what Adenauer regarded as ‘the German mentality’, and quite clearly no experience or aptitude in running a large German city. He quickly revised his previous favorable opinions. (Williams, 295)

This ability to revise and have the wisdom to foresee future complications is one of the reasons why Adenauer is considered the father figure of the new Germany. Political leadership is shown in another instance for Adenauer. In the political policies taken in reindustrializing the Rhineland Adenauer carefully chose his decisions because of the conflicts between British and French relations during the occupation period.

Both tasks required skills in political in-fighting. In his career as Mayor of Cologne, Adenauer had never had to confront his opponents in public. He had been, after all, the master of events, and within reason, could hire and fire as he wished. That was no longer the case. Everything he did was now in the public arena, and also under the scrutiny of the occupying powers. Nevertheless, and remarkably--given his age--he seemed to take almost naturally to the skills required. (Williams, 310)

The ability to handle these types of situation and complications showed that Adenauer was establishing himself as the father of the new Germany and was becoming a major political figurehead. What helped this was the religious leadership experience he had collected throughout his life.

Adenauer’s religious leadership bolsters his reputation as the father of the new Germany. Policies that the Roman Catholic Church published in the late 19th century had a large influence on his political leadership. He gained strength from these policies and was able to further his leadership role in his new country. In Williams’ words:

But by far his most important reading, in the context of his future political life were the two Papal Encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. These were the two great Encyclicals which defined the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to the question of social and economic problems of the day. Certainly, neither of them makes easy reading, but Adenauer had plenty of time at his disposal, and could afford to spend it studying the two documents in detail. (Williams, 221)

These readings founded his ideas about leadership in a religious context, which carried over to his political life. This is evident in his ideas about religious tolerance in the new Germany. As Williams writes;

Adenauer himself was, however, careful to keep the support--in extensive conversations--of Archbishop Frings, who turned out, in fact, to have no great love for the Centre Party. The Rhineland was a particularly sensitive area, as the population was predominately Catholic. There was, therefore, in Adenauer’s remarks, a nod towards Pius XI--and, indeed, toward Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum--on the liberation and development of the working people, but there was nothing about the Christian duties of private ownership, on which Pius XI had been particularly clear. Yet the important principle, which Adenauer spelled out at length, was that personal freedom should not be endangered by the activity of the state. (Williams, 308)

After the devastating consequences of social discrimination during the Nazi era Adenauer sought to increase social religious tolerance. From this tolerance for religion Adenauer created understanding for new economic policies.

Economic leadership was the greatest gift that Adenauer could give to the new German state. The idea of private property in the Western sense was an important development to Germany in the post-war era. Adenauer knew that economically this was going to be difficult, so he implemented plans to enact policies that created a relatively smooth transition.

It was finally agreed that there was nothing practical that could be done on the ‘urgent question of a socialization of parts of the economy, because the economy was not free’. In other words, the whole issue was kicked conveniently into thought. But where Adenauer had won, as he himself later put it, was in achieving Point 10 of the Neheim-Husten economic programme: ‘Property-holding is one of the essential safeguards of the democratic state. The acquisition of a moderate amount of property by all who toil honestly should be facilitated.’ (Williams, 313-314)

The expression of this economic plan was the Ahlen Programme of 1947, which called for fundamental economic change. This was one of the major successes of Adenauer’s career. Williams describes it:

The Ahlen Programme, as it became known, was certainly a radical proposal for economic and social change. The three most important parts of the programme were the transfer of the coal industry to public ownership, anti-cartel legislation, and the right of the workers to ‘co-determination’ on the major issues concerning the companies which employed them. There is no doubt that, in assenting to the Ahlen Programme. Adenauer had done much to calm the spirits in the left wing of his party. (Williams, 320)

These economic policies had a profound impact on the economy of the new Germany. Konrad Adenauer knew that the future success of his country depended on a well thought out economic strategy.

William’s views of Adenauer stand in contrast to the conclusion made about the politician in The EEC Crisis of 1963 by Oliver Bange. Bange argues that other Europeans leaders were more influential in creating a modern Germany. Bange points to the actions of Charles de Gaulle in the crisis of 1963 that opened real promise for West Germany.

It was, however, not on Adenauer’s initiative--as Osterheld claims--that "de Gaulle was ready to accept a preferred solution of the Brussels ‘calamities’". Rather, it was de Gaulle who ‘immediately seized the opportunity’. (Bange, 160)

Bange then states that the whole reason for alliance with Germany was so de Gaulle could dominate Germany politically and gain influence throughout Europe. "It had now become apparent that de Gaulle wanted to dominate Europe via the Franco-German alliance." (Bange, 170) This contrasts strongly with Williams’s conclusions about Adenauer.

Konrad Adenauer’s social, political, economic, and religious leadership distinguish him as the father of West Germany. The policies he enacted changed the cultural picture of Germany to make it adaptable and prosperous in the post-war era. Charles Williams agrees completely with this interpretation, while on the other hand Bange does not. The economic and political success of Konrad Adenauer cannot be denied, making him the father of West Germany as well as an important figure in European history.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)

Additional Sources:

  • Bange, Oliver. The EEC Crisis of 1963. St. Martin’s Press, Inc., New York, NY 2000. D843.B255
  • Klein, Hans. The German Chancellors. Edition Q, Inc., Carol, IL 1996. DD258.6 B8513

Published Reviews of Williams:

  1. Craig, Gordon. "Founding Father" The New York Review of Books. Nov 1, 2001 v48 n17 p.19. UCSB: Z1.N442.
  2. Wiley, John. Foreign Affairs. May-June 2001 v80 p.141. UCSB: JA1. F6 v.1 (2001) – v.3 (2001).
  3. Rezensionen auf Deutsch at


  • offers an online version of the Williams’s book. Some introductory material and the first page of each chapter are free otherwise one must pay to become a member of questia. (
  • offers biographies on important people throughout history; many important historical figures are mentioned throughout the reviews. Search to find biographies on Adenauer, de Gaulle, Hitler, and JFK. (
  • gives an in depth biographical profile of Adenauer’s personal life and public policies. (

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 3/28/06; last updated: 6/20/07
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