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.