Time and Power is a vehicle for Clark to elaborate his own understanding of history. On the one hand, it steps away from what he calls ‘the currently prevalent emphasis in temporality studies on diffused processes of agentless change’. In demonstrating the warping of temporality by power, Clark underlines his view that historical agents matter, and men of power mattered more than most. In an era preoccupied with inequalities not just of class but of gender and race, this is by no means a fashionable view – even if it does speak to a certain kind of historical reality.
By emphasising the distinctively Prusso-German notion of the state as history’s driving force, Clark shows what a devastating shock it was for Germans to experience the state’s collapse in 1918-19 after defeat in the first world war. Not only were the failings of the old monarchy brutally exposed, but the democratic Weimar Republic seemed an inadequate replacement. Yet Clark is surely right to argue that what makes Germany’s case special is not the understandably traumatised response of rulers and people to the upheavals of 1918-19, but rather “the profundity of the [German] revolt” and the descent into Nazism. Some language in Clark’s book is challenging. Nonetheless he deserves praise for presenting familiar fields of German history from unusual and always rewarding angles.
Clark’s book began life as a lecture series. Its style is forceful rather than elegant. But whatever it lacks in grace, it amply makes up for in intellectual vigour. To read this book is to be constantly stimulated to think new thoughts and to be exhilarated by the grandeur and subtlety of Clark’s argument.
He discusses Calvinism and Hegel and Mircea Eliade. He acknowledges the work of predecessors considering historiography’s “temporal turn”. He distinguishes illuminatingly between prophecy and prediction.
Clark has done as much to humanise German history as anyone else writing today in English... Time and Power is different. It is virtually an anecdote-free zone. It glides austerely over the wars and power politics that make up the stuff of conventional history. It often seems as though Clark is not interested in addressing himself to the lay reader, but just his academic peers. For all this, it is an occasionally stirring read that gathers momentum with every chapter.
Happily, Clark does not march under the ‘why leave it simple when it can be made to seem difficult?’ banner, although he does occasionally quote scholars who do (I am still puzzling over the Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade’s observation that humans ‘revolt against the nightmare of history’ by seeking refuge ‘outside the boundaries of profane time’). He himself writes with wit, elegance and vigour. He also illustrates his arguments with a polymathic range of cultural references, from paintings (Albrecht Altdorfer’s The Battle of Issus), composers (C P E Bach) and novelists (Lewis Carroll) to military theorists (Clausewitz), exhibitions (‘La Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista’) and museums (the Berlin Revolutionsmuseum), and so on.