This document originally appeared on the At
Work website at http:/www.yosh.org/~saji/weimar.html
This site went down in December 2005, so I have
copied it here.
This document was
written by and is therefore copyright Michael Saji, who was an AP European
Analyze the political and economic causes of the failure of
parliamentary democracy in the Weimar Republic.
The Weimar Republic was created in the aftermath of World War I to govern a
defeated Germany. Although its constitution was designed to make the state a
liberal parliamentary democracy, certain inherent political and economic factors
combined to make Germany a dictatorship within fifteen years. Several factors
undermined popular support for the new republic, while within the constitution
itself lay avenues for the seizure of absolute power.
This essay was written 4/23/96 in my tenth grade AP European History class. It
describes the years between the two World Wars, when a suffering Germany turned
to Hitler to alleviate its economic pain. The events that led up to this event
are presented here.
Germany was the losing state at the end of the First
World War, and although the Weimar Republic was born in 1919, the government
carried substantial negative baggage from the previous era. Chief of these were
the reparations paid by Germany to the victors, initially set at five billion
dollars annually until 1921. The economic hardship caused by these reparations
payments spread themselves throughout German society. Even more devastating and
sudden was the invasion of the Ruhr by France in 1923, and the government policy
of passive resistance set off runaway inflation that made money worthless.
Middle-class savings were wiped out, and contributed to the strong desire for
stability that brought the Nazi party into power.|
There had never been very much popular support for the
Weimar government. Germans accused the Social Democrats, reviled before the war,
for the onerous postwar reparations; although the government itself was modeled
after liberal institutions, the stigma of having signed the Treaty of Paris
continued to count against it. This was reinforced by the propaganda of the
German military, which continued to suggest that the German military defeat was
caused by treason at home.
The constitution of the Weimar Republic, though it
promised liberal parliamentary government, also had serious flaws that made it
vulnerable to attack. First, the parliament was made up of elected
representatives divided up by percentage of the popular vote, making it easy for
small parties to gain representation in the Reichstag. Second, the president
could, in an emergency, rule by decree according to Article 48, thus providing a
way to circumvent completely the authority of the Reichstag.
The AP European History class is a breakneck survey course of all of Western
history. Unfortunately we are expected to cover it in detail. But take heart,
sufferers! Afterwards, I was quite glad I had taken it, for it expanded my
These problems were initially masked by the smooth
operation of government, as epitomized by the period under Gustav Stresemann.
Stresemann was a moderate politician who moved against radical parties both to
the left and to the right, and adhered to the Treaty of Paris even as he sought
to negotiate better terms. New prosperity came to Germany, partially due to an
influx of American short-term loans. The election of Paul von Hindenburg, a
conservative monarchist, is an indication that conservatives had reconciled
themselves with the new government. However, the Wall Street crash of 1929 and
the subsequent withdrawal of American capital precipitated a major economic
crisis within Germany which was to be the downfall of the Republic.
The crisis served to break up the centrist coalition
headed by the Social Democrats; the left would not give up unemployment
insurance, while the right insisted upon a balanced budget, and paralyzed the
Reichstag. Government could now only operate by Article 48, or presidential
decree. By the end of 1930, Heinrich Brüning ruled as chancellor by the
authorization of Hindenburg. In December 1932 Kurt von Schleicher became
chancellor, and fearful of civil war he attempted to build a broad-based
coalition of the left and the right. In reaction Hindenburg appointed Adolf
Hitler as chancellor.
The text used in this class was The Western Heritage, by Kagan, Ozment,
and Turner. I remember it all too well, even though I remember far too little.
Hitler and the Nazis had exploited the insecurity
arising from the economic crises of the last decade, and controlled a large
portion of the popular vote; through his elected representatives and
intimidation of other parties Hitler effectively controlled the Reichstag. By
passing the Enabling Act, which allowed Hitler to rule by decree, and an
emergency decree suspending civil liberties, Hitler had effectively replaced the
constitution and turned the Weimar Republic into a Fascist dictatorship.