Resistance, Collaboration or Third Way? Responses to Napoleonic Rule in Germany

  • Michael Rowe


The terms ‘resistance’ and ‘collaboration’ are evocative, and are generally applied to Nazi-occupied Europe. The characteristics of the collaborator are uniformly negative: somebody motivated by cowardice, malice or even ideological affiliation with the invader who betrays his country and fellow citizens. The resister is a hero, courageous, patriotic, fighting against the odds. These are the popular images. Of course, theorists of ‘collaboration’ and ‘resistance’, be they political scientists, sociologists or historians, are dissatisfied with such a simple dichotomy. Stephen Gilliatt, in his recent exploration of the dynamics of the phenomenon, notes that the term collaborazionistas, when it first appeared in an Italian dictionary in 1922 as a descriptor for socialists wanting to work with the bourgeois government, initially carried with it no negative connotations.1 However, it quickly gained these even before World War II, when its current emotive meaning became widespread. Works of scholarly detachment, in contrast, view ‘collaboration’ as a political strategy, not pathological behaviour: it is a possible way of managing conflicting interests, as indeed is resistance. Beyond that, they fail to agree on any definitions, but tend to recognise that both ‘collaboration’ and ‘resistance’ are blanket terms covering various forms of behaviour and motivation. Typical is the following, from Peter Davies’s recent book on wartime France: ‘… an act of resistance was, basically, anything that, in the mind of the person or group executing the act, felt like an act of resistance’.2


Eighteenth Century French Revolution German Nation Occupied Territory French Army 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Michael Rowe

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