Containment, co-optation, cooperation: The United States and the European Right, 1945--1955

Date of Completion

January 2001


History, United States|History, Modern|Political Science, International Law and Relations




This dissertation compares U.S. responses to right-wing political parties and movements in West Germany, France, and Italy during the first decade of the Cold War (1945–1955). It demonstrates that in Western Europe both the Right and U.S. responses to it were more complex than has commonly been acknowledged. While generally preferring conservative figures over left-wing radical forces, Americans sought neither “order” nor “stability” as ends in themselves. Rather, they alternately “contained,” “cooperated” with, and “co-opted” rightists based on which groups helped or hindered the exercise of American power. This process reflected and intersected with techniques used by the dominant classes to maintain control of society and government within the United States itself. Understanding U.S. responses to the European Right illuminates American efforts to build postwar hegemony in Europe and the links between U.S. domestic and international history more broadly. ^ A case study of American responses to the West German Right during the Allied occupation comprises the heart of the study. Chapter 1 discusses major themes and defines the West German “Right.” Chapter 2 examines the United States' favored relationship with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and especially with the CDU leader and chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. Chapter 3 shows that the United States during the early 1950s secretly co-opted German far rightists whose programs ostensibly undercut democratization, but who helped to contest Communism in Europe. Chapter 4 discusses U.S., U.K., and West German efforts to limit the influence of the ex-Nazi Otto Strasser, lest he rouse nationalist and neutralist sentiment harmful to American hegemony in Europe. Chapter 5 demonstrates that the United States similarly cooperated with, co-opted, and contained French and Italian Rightists based on their perceived utility or threat to the United States. The willingness of the United States to ally with overseas political figures based on expediency, rather than principle, demonstrates that an opportunistic search for power, defined largely in economic terms, but reflected materially and culturally as well, animated U.S. policy toward Europe during the Cold War. ^