Wolfgang Justin Mommsen
Born(1930-11-05)5 November 1930
Died11 August 2004(2004-08-11) (aged 73)
Bansin, Germany
Alma mater
Scientific career
FieldsModern History
German Empire
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
World War I
Max Weber
InstitutionsUniversity of Leeds, University of Cologne, University of Düsseldorf, German Historical Institute London
ThesisMax Weber und die deutsche Politik 1890-1920 (1958)
Doctoral advisorTheodor Schieder

Wolfgang Justin Mommsen (German pronunciation: [vɔlfgaŋ jʊʃtiːn mɔmzn̩]; November 5, 1930 – August 11, 2004) was a German historian. He was the twin brother of historian Hans Mommsen.


Wolfgang Mommsen was born in Marburg, the son of the historian Wilhelm Mommsen and great-grandson of the Roman historian Theodor Mommsen. He was educated at the University of Marburg, University of Cologne and University of Leeds between 1951 and 1959. He was assistant professor at the University of Cologne (1959–1967), full professor University of Düsseldorf (1967–1996) and served as director of the German Historical Institute in London between 1978 and 1985. In 1965, he married Sabine von Schalburg, with whom he had four children.

Mommsen wrote a biography of Max Weber in 1958. His dissertation, on Max Weber and German politics, published in English in 1984, revolutionized the "understanding of the 20th century's most influential sociologist by setting him firmly in the context of his times, and showing him to be a liberal nationalist and imperialist, much to the horror of many of his admirers. He went on to demonstrate that a knowledge of Weber's political thought and action was essential if one were to grasp accurately his theory of power. This was an outstanding achievement, and Wolfgang followed it up by playing a leading role in editing a new, comprehensive edition of Weber's works... The Mommsens were related to Weber by marriage, so there was something particularly iconoclastic in Wolfgang's book, which caused a huge storm when it first appeared."[1] His main areas of expertise were in 19th century-20th century British and German history. His interests were wide-ranging and he wrote about diplomatic, social, intellectual, and economic history. Mommsen championed a Sonderweg ("special path") interpretation of German history. Echoing the views of Hans-Ulrich Wehler and Fritz Fischer, he argued that 19th century Germany was only partially modernized. Economic modernization was not accompanied by political modernization. Much of Mommsen's comparative studies of British and German history concern why, in his view, the British had both a political and economic modernization while the Germans had only the latter. An Anglophile, Mommsen very much enjoyed teaching and living in Britain.

In Mommsen's view, the foreign policy of the Second Reich was driven by domestic concerns as the German elite sought distractions abroad to hold off demands for democracy at home. For Mommsen, the major responsibility for the outbreak of the First World War rests on Germany's shoulders. Furthermore, the November Revolution of 1918 did not go far enough and allowed the pre-1918 elite to continue to dominate German life, thus leading inevitably to the Third Reich. Mommsen has written books condemning appeasement.

In the Historikerstreit (historians' dispute), Mommsen took the position that the Holocaust was a uniquely evil event that should not be compared to Stalinist terror in the Soviet Union.[2]

In 1998, several younger German historians criticized Mommsen for not denouncing the Nazi past of his mentors while at university student in the 1950s.

See also

Interpretations of Weber's liberalism



  1. ^ Richard J. Evans (August 16, 2004). "Wolfgang Mommsen: A leading German historian, he brought academics together to further the understanding of his country's past". theguardian.com. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  2. ^ Mommsen, Wolfgang J. "Neither Denial nor Forgetfulness Will Free Us" pages 202-215 from Forever In The Shadow of Hitler? edited by Ernst Piper, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, 1993 page 209.