Book Recommendations: Weimar Republic

We started Rotten Chestnuts with the idea of providing (among other things) a quick reference guide to lazy liberal bullshit — to reveal, in effect, how many of the things “everybody knows” are no such thing.  As such, and following an offline suggestion of Nate’s, I’m asking everyone to recommend some good, quick background reading in their areas of expertise.

By “expertise,” of course, I don’t necessarily mean “subjects you have degrees and certifications in.”  (Whaddaya think we are, leftists?).  But we — the cobloggers and the four regular readers — are better informed than lots of folks, on lots of different topics.  It would be useful to spread the knowledge.  So I ask you to do the following:

  • Introduce the topic;
  • Suggest a book or two that’s a good intro to it; and
  • Add any background you think we need to see its relevance.

For instance, I know a fair bit about certain aspects of history, so I’ll start with one of my favorite topics, the Weimar Republic.

The Weimar Period ran from the end of World War I (November 1918) to Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor (1933).  It’s relevant to our times in a lot of ways, but especially as it shows how “fringe” parties and ideas can sweep through a democratic system.

Unfortunately, most books on the period take Hitler as their starting point.  That’s the problem with almost all modern German history, actually — the past as prelude to Hitler.  Which is fine when discussing the mechanics of popular elections or propaganda, but they’re easily sidetracked into half-assed psychoanalysis.  Even writers like Sir Ian Kershaw feel the need to put scare quotes around phrases like “Hitler’s ‘worldview'” — as if he didn’t have a coherent set of beliefs.  What you need is context, without a lot of heavy breathing about what Nazism means for the human condition.

The best book I know, then, is Richard J. Evans’s The Coming of the Third Reich.  This covers the politics quickly, clearly, and comprehensively.  It leaves out a lot of the cultural stuff that formed the deep background — and Weimar decadence looks a lot like ours — but the political stuff is much more readily applicable to our own day.

The key idea is legitimacy.  The Weimar Republic, though officially a representative democracy, didn’t actually represent anybody.  Germany as a political nation only existed from the late 19th century.  There was no real democratic tradition.  And nobody really wanted “representation” — what most ordinary Germans wanted, it seems, was to have Bismarck back, guiding the hand of an older and slightly wiser Kaiser.  Throw in a massive depression on top of an economy already shackled by unpayable war reparations, and the whole mechanism of “democracy” started to look like nothing more than a make-work racket for otherwise unemployable bureaucrats.  Meanwhile, the only parties that promised real reform explicitly promised that their #1 reform would be the end of representative democracy.

The elites who ran the “elections” took the one issue people actually cared about — national survival — off the table.  Most Germans were worried that Germany — the ethnic group, the culture, the nation — was being destroyed piecemeal.  Chauvinistic France was robbing Germany’s industry, while hypocrite Britain stole her colonies and vulture America stood by to pick at the corpse of her economy.  The non-communist elites all seemed to be in the pockets of international financiers — often, but by no means always, code for “Jews” — while the communist ones actively campaigned to destroy Germanness in the name of international proletarian revolution.  The Weimar government was absolutely illegitimate — it was imposed by fiat in the hated Versailles treaty; it didn’t represent anybody; the only thing it was good at was destroying its own people’s way of life.  Sound familiar?

Which left the Nazis and their fellow far-right* paramilitaries as the only group that would stand up for Germany.  And, of course, the Nazis had the only leader of note….



*I know, I know.  But as every book of this kind insists on using “right wing” as a synonym for “nationalist,” you’ll just have to endure it.

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2 thoughts on “Book Recommendations: Weimar Republic

  1. nightfly

    I’m not sure I can claim expertise in anything; I just try to have sound principles and argue logically and clearly. With that in mind, I can recommend some of the stuff that helped form my principles and train me in logical thinking –

    Frank Sheed: Theology for Beginners and Theology and Sanity. Sheed was a Catholic street preacher in England for many years and codified a lot of what he talked about into these two books. The first is the shorter and the second covers a lot of the material in more depth, but both are worthy. Why these books first on the list? Basically, because it covers a lot of basic information about what humanity is, and once you’ve got that, you have a sound basis for figuring out specifics on how to treat ourselves and each other, what problems are likely, and which solutions stand a chance of helping vs. aggravating things.

    GK Chesterton: Orthodoxy. The same process Gilbert Keith uses to discuss theology can also apply to reasoning out sound thought in a variety of topics, so it has wide application. The beginning thesis strikes me as very sound advice – the best way to really see something is either to be a true part of it, or else to stand entirely apart. To be in the middle – to be neither hot nor cold, to use another familiar reference – is to miss both the genuine care for a thing and a true objective viewpoint. This strikes me as as good an explanation as any for why so many Millenials, born-and-raised with unprecedented material and cultural benefits, spend all their time attacking the roots of those blessings, despising the country and the culture that made them possible.

    CS Lewis: well, just about anything, really. The big ones are the Narnia books and Screwtape, but I’d like to recommend stuff not often paid attention to. If you can lay hands on the Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength), The Pilgrim’s Regress, or Till We Have Faces, you will have some ripping good yarns that don’t pretend there’s no such thing as faith… and since faith is one of the mainsprings of human thought and action, it makes the books engrossing and the characters convincing, even when you disagree with them.

  2. Gary

    Unfortunately, most of my “expertise” is in technical areas that wouldn’t interest many people, so I’ll just introduce a topic and recommend a book that people might find absorbing and informative.

    For as long as I can remember, the word “fascist” has been drained of any specific meaning, serving only as an insult with which to slander one’s political opponents. Lots of people (especially on the left) malign their foes with this slur, but it seems few have any idea what fascism actually means.* I suspect a good deal of this is due to intentional misinformation churned out by socialists and communists eager to dissociate themselves from Hitler and the Nazis (and Mussolini to a lesser extent).

    Consider, for example, that stupid political spectrum “everyone knows” in which communism appears at the far left, socialism at the “moderate” left, capitalism well to the right and Evil Fascism at the extreme right–as if leftist authoritarianism were the exact opposite of fascist authoritarianism, and free market economies were on a slippery slope to fascist dictatorship. Now there’s one stinking Rotten Chestnut that has earned a place in the compendium of fetid bromides.

    Several years ago, I noticed Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism in the local library and checked it out, thinking I might be able to plow through the first 100 pages or so (of about 500 pages) and learn a bit. But I found it so engaging I zipped past page 100 and soon finished the entire book. Along the way I came to believe, among other things, that communism, socialism and fascism are just three variants of “benevolent authoritarianism,” and therefore should be grouped together. The following excerpt from David McCune’s review on Amazon’s page nicely summarizes the book:

    For those willing to give Goldberg the chance, he offers the following thesis: that the label fascist has its roots in the governing philosophies of Italy’s National Fascist Party and Germany’s National Socialist (Nazi) Party. He argues that there has been a false duality created between the Soviet Socialists of the USSR and the socialists united under the fascists in Italy and Germany. He argues that the totalitarian impulse, the philosophy of state control of decisions taking priority over individual freedoms, is the core uniting principle behind these movements, and he argues that the ongoing home of such statism is in what has come to be known as the “liberal” politics of the modern progressive movement.

    Sometime in the last decade or so, Americans who demand larger and more powerful government traded in the name “liberal” for “progressive,” perhaps sensing that the former had become stale and unpopular while the latter, they imagine, sparkles with the promise of advancement and “progress.” IMHO, this is a good change, unintentionally providing some rare honesty about their program and methods.

    Goldberg examines the origins of Progressivism, revealing some of its more unsavory aspects, back when they were forthright about their admiration for Mussolini and fascism, their lust for unlimited power–to do only good, of course–their disdain for individualism and their willingness to ignore the constitution and proper legal procedure to attain their desired ends. To me, one of the most striking things about Liberal Fascism is the large number of enthusiastic quotes about fascism from Progressive writers, artists, celebrities and government officials prior to WW2.

    * Orwell said, “The word ‘fascism’ now has no meaning except in so far as it signals ‘something not desirable.’”

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