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 or incomplete from the onset, i.e.

Democratic revolution was neither top-down nor bottom-up,

and ...



Democratic features of constitution were essentially superimposed on older Reich structures left intact


Yes, existing civil and social institutions and elites -- judiciary, bureaucracy, churches, army -- remained in place and were intervening dampeners on success of democratic institutions.


- well-designed and balanced constitution

- popular sovereignty - with President balancing Reichstag

- lib-dem individual rights

- PR and federalism protects minority and regional groups


Article 48 gave means for political stalemate




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

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








2. War and Aftermath

Cataclysm doomed WRep (1918on)






- WRep damned by association with loss of war

- ‘stab-in-back’ myth


Prestige of Military, incl. Hindenburg and Ludendorff remains intact


Yes – this was wide perception although unjustifiably so


- WRep associated with harsh and humiliating terms of Versailles – especially Art 231 ‘war-guilt clause’


1924 Ruhr invasion by French infuriates all Germans across the spectrum


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


- Versailles debt cripples economy



Yes - contributed to early econ crisis

- Amount so large that technically Germ just recently paid off


- Versailles demobilizes soldiers abruptly, many scarred, violently oriented domestically, and wanting a re-match abroad



Yes – political parties develop paramilitary wings, NSDAP - SA

But crucially - myths of heroism and ingratitude are also social constructed

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








3. Electoral


Proportional Representation, or ‘List system,’ proved unworkable in that it permitted too many rigid (and even anti-democratic) parties to achieve and maintain stable 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)

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 would have come to power in 1932 already




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.


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 too.








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 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,


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

- 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








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 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