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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Sonderweg (literally: "special path") is a controversial theory in German historiography that considers the German-speaking lands, or the country Germany, to have followed a unique course from aristocracy into democracy, distinct from other European countries. It is also used to explain German foreign policy and ideology before and during World War I, which was characterized by trying to find a "Third Way" to be implemented for the world, other than western "vulgar" democracy or eastern Czaristic autocracy.

The modern school of thought by that name arose early during World War II in consequence of the rise of Nazi Germany. In consequence of the scale of the devastation wrought on Europe by Nazi Germany, the Sonderweg theory of German history has progressively gained a following inside and outside of Germany, especially since the late 1960s. In particular, its proponents argue that the way Germany developed over the centuries virtually ensured the evolution of a social and political order along the lines of Nazi Germany. In their view, German mentalities, the structure of society, and institutional developments followed a different course in comparison with the other nations of the West, which had a "normal" development of their histories.

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