Weimar Summary

Explaining the demise of the Weimar Democratic Republic (WRep)

Independent Variable ą intervening ą Dependent Variable (collapse of democratic political institutions)







The Argument



Intervening variable/

trigger or





Our Analysis







1. Political - Weimar Constitution

Flawed constitution






No, well-designed and balanced constitution

- popular sovereignty

- with President balancing Reichstag and Reichsrat

- lib-dem individual rights

- PR and federalism protects minority and regional groups


incomplete from the onset, i.e. the democratic revolution was neither top-down and transformative nor bottom-up and popular; rather ...


pre-existing authoritarian  and hierarchic social structures – judiciary, army & police, civil service, school, church, - left intact


Yes, existing civil and social institutions and elites were intervening dampeners on success of democratic institutions – judges favored the right, punished the left, teachers critiques modern life etc

No, there was some guarded early enthusiasm for Rep, reflected in first party brought to power


Article 48 let Pres overcome political stalemate through auth means, rule by decree




No, not at first, indeed arguably Ebert’s occasional use of it saved the Republic from coups etc.

Yes, eventually, 1930 on, triggering politics by decree, and general suspension of Reichstag.






See below








2. Colonial, War and Aftermath

Imperialism, Militarism, & failed WW1 doomed WRep (1918on)



- WRep damned by association with loss of war

- ‘stab-in-back’ myth



Yes, this was wide perception although unjustifiably so,

society did not undermine army,

– Kaiser & imperial army forced a losing war

prestige of Military, incl. Hindenburg (who voiced myth), Ludendorff remained




militaristic notions of national & masculine honor


Yes, somewhat distinctive to prewar German culture, evident in prestige of Prussian officer, uniforms, honor, dueling; get renewed




Versailles Treaty associated Rep with humiliating terms; esp Art 231 ‘war-guilt clause’


Yes, this was wide perception although unjustifiably so, Republic opposed but had to accept terms

1920 Kapp putsch against new Rep





- Versailles demobilizes army, many soldiers scarred, left predisposed to violence; wanting a re-match abroad


Yes, turn to violence

– Communist uprising, 1919 Spartacists

many political parties develop paramilitary wings, esp NSDAP (SA), KPD;

– 356 assassinations, and street fights.

– 1923 Beerhall Putsch

But crucially - myths of tragic heroism are social constructed

- i.e., some veterans also become well-adjusted democrats and/or pacifists etc.




- Versailles reparations & debt cripples economy


Yes - contributed to early econ crisis

- Amount so large that technically Germ just recently paid off in 2010



1924 French invasion by Ruhr


Yes - infuriates all Germans across the ideol spectrum









3. Electoral


PR, Proportional Representation, aka ‘List system,’ proved unworkable in that it permitted too many ideolog rigid (and even anti-democratic) parties that then blocked coalitions and viable policies




Sheer number of parties aligned with divisive social groupings, classes and identities



Yes, PR encourages multiple parties with platforms or Weltanschauung that appeal to rigid stands, symbols, or leaders;

eg, NSDAP 25-pt plan (1919)

with no firm threshold, a mere 0.4% or 60,000 votes nationally earned a rep seat.

No – PR started well, offered better representation and hence assurance to some small groups with specific vulnerabilities and preferences;

Moreover - with first-past-post producing majority, NSDAP might actually have come to power sooner, ie 1932



Parties gone wild


Yes - Liberal split - DDP and DVP

- Left divided - SPD v USPD and KPD

- SPD – as order-oriented middle class party - refused to join coalitions

- Center and BVP - both sectarian and self-serving

- Right united against ‘System’ - DNVP, NSDAP

- 3 parties campaigned against WR - KPD, DNVP, NSDAP





Yes - Party leadership and political ministers trapped by respective Weltanschauung, having ‘out-partied’ internal competition lacked spirit of pragmatic compromise.

No – Ebert, Rathenau, Streseman, Weiss and others tried to defend workable democracy





Yes – lacked experience or patience with slow muddle of democratic process.

- early strong support for SPD but then disappointment and diffusion with it

- vote-switching and polarization

- wanted order restored

- wanted authority

- wanted to be saved

No – even in Mar 5 1933 election, fully 50% said no to Hitler and NSDAP








4. Authority, Media, Celebrity

Germany had a relatively authoritarian and patriarchal political culture, and remained only lukewarm towards democratic notions of egalitarian or leveled leadership




New mass media (news, advertising), and relative absence of national and nonpartisan media, enables party manipulation of public perceptions so that politics becomes partly about celebrity (and symbols).



Yes - authoritarian political culture and cultural expectations for strong masculine uniformed leaders persists.

- Ebert and other pro-democratic figures of WRep do not attempt to wield authority in this manipulative way.

- cf. Hindenburg does, successfully, resulting in 1925 Presidency and later from 1928-33, Hitler does too.

- NSDAP media-enabled aesthetics and symbolism outplays competitors.








5. Crises, Polarization and Putsch

Economic Crisis and ‘Beerhall Putsch’ defines subsequent polarized electoral politics, in that (1) public learns to flee to ideological extremes in time of crisis, (2) NSDAP is centralized and matures




Judicial leniency towards Hitler (sympathetic trial, minimum sentencing)



Yes, electorate prone to extremist party programs later;

Yes, early experience of NSDAP success (with its 25pt plan) in mobilizing at time of economic crisis; Hitler becomes celebrity because of Trial (a hero to nationalists though mocked by others); failure in violent Putsch defines subsequent legal and electoral strategy of pitching NSDAP as catch-all party above politics, even as SA continues to engage in street violence with KPD.

- Mein Kampf reflects what Hitler has learned








6. German Malaise with Socio-

Economic Modern-ization

Economy survives crisis but must continue to undergo economic modernization (urbanization, industrialization and other dislocating shifts to mass economy)




- Ongoing reparations obligations,

- dependence on ‘easy money’ of US capital investment resulting in inadequately diversified sectors and infrastructural development

- party coalitions did not generate coherent policies

- Hindenburg, after 1925, resorts to Art 48



Yes - economy emphasizes light consumerism, and only selected industries, so industrial investment turns to armaments

- authoritarian employment culture, tension with growing welfare benefits, unemployment on rise,

- weakened Ag sector

- old Middle-class experiences ongoing decline of socioeconomic status/honor to new white collar M-class and certain nouveaux-riche and hence resents Wrep status quo

- right parties gain in radicalism and yet cohesiveness, nsdap surfaces in 1928 w promises of econ remedy and socioecon restoration








7. Negative reactions to cultural modern-ization in the form of the ‘Golden Twenties’

Widespread reaction against modern popular-commercial developments, and ‘golden’ artistic products -- in architecture (Bauhaus), art (expressionism, Dadaism, cubism, etc), music (Jazz etc) -- deemed ‘ugly,’ as well as against lifestyles (secularism, cosmopolitanism gender equality, sexual freedom, hedonism) felt to be ‘degenerate’, both of which are associated with democratic freedom and equality (1918-33)



Hitler and several of the other Nazi elite figures are themselves artists or architects and hence are very explicit from the onset about restoring beauty, ie German folk art.





Yes – commercial facades are unsettling (Roth) and some of the new art is against traditional religious and conventional bourgeois M-class ethics and aesthetics.

- NSDAP rallies and directs M-class aesthetic disorientation

- eg. effective social mobilization around Schmutz- und Schundgesetz (Trashy and Dirty literature) resulting in a law known as the Harmful Publications (Young Persons) Act18 Dec 1926,

- eg. in 1929 Rosenberg founded the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur (Combat League for German Culture, or KfdK), one of the more effective Nazi organizations for social mobilization.








8. Jews, world-Jewry, and the Jew

WRep and all frustrations and failings of status quo are associated with the success and prominence (in economic, cultural, and political realms) of scapegoated Jews (be they practicing or not) (late 1920s)



Available authoritative discourses:

1 religion (9)

2 science: social evolution, eugenics

3 criminology

4 sexual anxieties



Yes, role of AS political agitators - only local before WW1 but becomes national with access to media under WRep

- NSDAP esp (25 pt plan), though by no means only, focuses public attention through Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer.

- AS Weltanschauung is non-falsifiable, i.e., everything the Jews do is proof of malice.









9. Christianity & Antisemitism

WRep undermined for being secular, sinful, anti-Christian and Jewish (encouraging Jewish materialist and corrupt values)





- Catholic

legacy of super-cessionist critique of Judaism and figure of the Eternal Wandering Jew doomed by God, eg St Chrysostom

 - Protestant legacy of Luther esp in Germany as prophetic, nationalist and AS figure



Yes, churches remained critical of WRep, supported Hitler and the NSDAP in various ways, esp so begg in 1933, and did so in ways that were explicitly anti-Judaism, and arguably also AS.

- Catholic Center Party central in almost all Weimar coalition governments but resented for it by Protestant nationalists and NSDAP








10. Crises upon crises

Great Depression in US prompts withdrawal of capital from Germany and resulting severe economic depression that required policy solutions that were in turn severe (cutting welfare supports, raising taxes), all of which polarized or radicalized the dissatisfied electorate (1929on)



The growing opposition to WRep appeared more cohesive than status quo oriented ineffectual parties and govt



Yes, loss of political legitimacy

- Left-Center declines: as a result of gaps between SPD, Centre and DVP, DDP and other liberal groups, coalitions always struggled to generate coherent policies, and esp so after 1929

- rise of the Right:

1. NSDAP party overhaul (1925-28)

2. Radicalization of the DNVP – towards NSDAP and anti-dem

3. Hindenburg, was anti-dem enough to use article 48 increasingly.


NSDAP has first notable electoral success in 1928 before Depression and was arguably mobilizing rapidly anyway by claiming to be above party/partisan politics, and thereby encompassing the spectrum from nationalist to socialist.







11. Democratic capitulation

In the 11th hour, fearing violent disorder (open civil war and/or communist revolution), underestimating Hitler, and lacking appreciation for alternatives, the democratic process chose anti-democratic means to protect itself by appointing Hitler as Chancellor




Individual personalities of key decision-makers

- ambitious Bruning using Article 48 and ruling by decree

- authoritarian Hindenburg

- self-protecting Ludwig Kaas of Center Party voting to approve the Enabling Law



Yes, decision to appoint Hitler surprised even many close observers of the political scene; was hardly inevitable;

-Hitler and NSDAP had lost electoral ground in Nov 1932

No, Hitler and NSDAP would have found some other way