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Did Weimar Fail?

Review by: Peter Fritzsche


The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Sep., 1996), pp. 629-656
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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ReviewArticle
Did WeimarFail?*
Peter Fritzsche
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Whatis Weimarwithoutthe Republic?Not much,it seems,sincefor mostGerman


historiansthe plot thatholds the storytogetherhas been fragiledemocracyandits
demise."Weimar"
is, as numeroussubtitlesinformus, the "historyof the firstGeror failed.'The dramaof
man Democracy,"the site wheredemocracysurrendered
twentieth-century
Germanyhas largelyturnedon the failureof the WeimarRepublic. All the grandscholarlyinvestmentsin the studyof big-businessrelations,smalltown clubs,EastElbianprovinces,and a staggeringvarietyof interestgroupsand
politicalpartieshavebeen undertakento explainmore successfullythe frailtiesof
the Republic.This focus has been meritorioussince it has guidedpoliticalselfin postwarGermanyandindicatedpossiblelimitsto the legitimacy
understandings
of modemdemocraciesgenerally.EventhenotablepoliticalguruKevinPhillipshas
invokedWeimarto warnhis Republicanclients not to forget"MiddleAmerica.2
with the fate of the Republichas been so single-mindedthatit
But preoccupation
* I would like to thank Fred Jaher,Harry Liebersohn, Glenn Penny, and Joe Perry for their
helpful readingsof this article.The following books are underreview: FrankBajohr,WernerJohe,
and Uwe Lohalm, eds., Zivilisation und Barbarei:Die widerspriichlichePotentiale der Moderne
(Hamburg,1991); Shelley Baranowski,The Sanctity of Rural Life: Nobility, Protestantism,and
Nazism in WeimarPrussia (New York, 1995); RichardBessel, Germanyafter the First WorldWar
(Oxford, 1993); JiirgenFalter,Hitlers Wdhler(Munich, 1991); Donna Harsch, Gennan Social
Democracy and the Rise of Nazism (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1993); Elizabeth Harvey,Youthand the
WelfareState in WeimarGermany(Oxford, 1993); Anton Kaes, MartinJay,and EdwardDimendberg, eds., The WeimarRepublicSourcebook(Berkeley,1994);Alf Liidtke,Eigen-Sinn:Fabrikalltag, Arbeitererfahrungenund Politik vom Kaiserreichbis in den Faschismus (Hamburg,1993);
Hans Mommsen, Die verspielte Freiheit:Der Wegder Republikvon Weimarin den Untergang
1918 bis 1933 (Berlin, 1989); Mary Nolan, Visions of Modernity:American Business and the
Modernizationof Germany(New York, 1994); JonathanOsmond, Rural Protest in the Weimar
Republic: The Free Peasantry in the Rhineland and Bavaria (New York, 1993); GerhardPaul,
Aufstdndder Bilder: Die NS-Propagandavor 1933 (Bonn, 1990); WolframPyta, Gegen Hitler
undfiir die Republik:Die Auseinandersetzungder deutschenSozialdemokratiemit der NSDAP in
der WeimarerRepublik(Dusseldorf, 1989); Comelie Usbome, ThePolitics of the Body in Weimar
Germany:Women'sReproductiveRights and Duties (Ann Arbor,Mich., 1992); and HeinrichAugust Winkler, Weimar,1918-1933: Die Geschichte der ersten deutschen Demokratie (Munich,
1993).
' Winkler;KarlDietrichErdmannand Hagen Schulze, eds., Weimar:Selbstpreisgabeeiner Demokratie(Dusseldorf, 1980); Ian Kershaw,ed., Weimar:WhyDid GermanDemocracyFail? (New
York, 1990).
2 JuanLinz, "PoliticalSpace and Fascism as a Late-comer:ConditionsConduciveto the Success
or Failureof Fascism as a Mass Movementin Inter-warEurope,"in Who Werethe Fascists: The
[TheJournalof ModernHistory 68 (September1996): 629-656]
C 1996 by The Universityof Chicago. 0022-2801/96/6803-0005$01.00
All rights reserved.

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630

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has tendedto assignGermanythe partof the twentieth-century


delinquentwhose
role is to certifythe basicpoliticalvirtueof France,Britain,andthe UnitedStates,
in whatmightbe dubbed"NATOhistory."3
This assignmentnot only misconstrues
politicaldevelopmentsin theWestbut alsoreducespoliticsin theWeimarerato the
questionof supportfor or oppositionto parliamentary
liberalism,therebyturning
the 1920s into a politicaluniversethatrevolvesaroundthe Reichstagon the Platz
derRepublik.
Did the Republicreallymeanthatmuchto GermansafterWorldWarI? Thereis
considerableevidencethatit did not.In the firstplace,politiciansandvotersrepeatedly averredthat the crucialquestionsfacing Germanydid not turnon a formal
choice betweenrepublicanismor monarchismbut ratheron the qualityof social
relationsthatmadeupthenation.A look atthepoliticaldiscourseof the 1920s,when
contenderspeddledconceptssuch as "economicdemocracy"(Wirtschaftsdemokraor a moreconservative"corporate
tie), "nationalcommunity"(Volksgemeinschaft),
state"(Standestaat),
suggeststhatneitherliberalismnorilliberalismprovidesa helpAn intensereexamination
of socialgroups,culturalrepresentations,
ful benchmark.
andpoliticalinstitutionsin the last fifteenyearshas fundamentally
challengedthe
extentto whichhistoricalchangemaybe usefullyjudgedagainstnormativeconcepA greatdeal of the politicaldynamicin the 1920sis obscured
tions of liberalism.4
by the telos of Weimar'scollapse.At the grassrootslevel, Weimar'sfavoritesons
anddaughters-working-classsocialists-now appearmoreattractedto nationalist
sentimentsandmass-cultural
diversions,while history'smuggers-middle-classinsurgents-appearfar less pathologicalandmuchmoresocial reformist.Moreover,
growingnumbersof historiansacknowledgethe broadpopularityof the Nazis,who
areno longersimplyunderstoodas creaturesof crisisanddislocation.At the same
time, the left-liberalreformerswho constructedEurope'smost elaboratesocialwelfarestatein theyearsafter1918wereby no meansconsistentlyguidedby repubaboutcollectiveresponsibility
licanideals.Infact,theysharedcommonassumptions
andnationalhealthwith theirright-wingchallengers,who, for all the noxiousness
as scholarsonce assumed.5
of theirbeliefs,werenot nearlyas backward-looking
Social Roots of European Fascism, ed. Stein Ugelvik Larsen, Bernt Hagtvet, and Jan Petter
Myklebust(New York,1980), pp. 153-89; and Kevin Phillips,Post-conservativeAmerica:People,
Politics, and Ideology in a Timeof Crisis (New York, 1982).
3See Michael Geyer and KonradH. Jarausch,"The Futureof the GermanPast: Transatlantic
Reflections for the 1990s,"and Michael Geyer,"HistoricalFictions of Autonomy and the Europeanization of National History,"Central EuropeanHistory 22 (1989): 232-34, 326-33. See also
David Blackbournand Geoff Eley, The Peculiarities of GermanHistory: Bourgeois Society and
Politics in Nineteenth-CenturyGermany(New York, 1984).
4The liberal Republic remains central to most approachesto Weimar,althoughthe normative
standardof liberalismhas been underattackfor morethanten years.See KonradJarausch,"Illiberalism and Beyond: German History in Search of a Paradigm,"Journal of Modem History 55
(1983): 268-84; as well as Blackbournand Eley. The concepts of liberalismand illiberalismare
most closely associated with Fritz Stem, The Politics of CulturalDespair: A Study in the Rise of
the GermanicIdeology (Berkeley, 1961), and The Failure of Illiberalism:Essays on the Political
Cultureof Modern Germany(New York, 1972).
5A similartrendcan be detected in Americanhistoriography.See Michael Kazin, "The GrassRoots Right:New Historiesof U.S. Conservatismin the TwentiethCentury,"AmericanHistorical
Review 97 (February1992): 136-55.

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Did WeimarFail?

631

It is not surprisingthatthe red threadof progressis easy to lose when matters


so liberal.Indeed,
aredescribedas being "notnearly"so clear-cut,so reactionary,
the provocativeconsequenceof recentWeimarhistorieshas been to disconnect
modernismfrom liberalismand to rethinkwhatreally is modem or antimodern.
Radicalnationalists,right-wingaesthetes,illiberaljurists,and even NationalSocialistsnowjostle with Social Democrats,Bauhausarchitects,andCommunistintellectualsas hyphenatedmodernists.In turn,classicaltermslike politicalreactionaryandsocialprogressivehaveincreasinglylost theirresonance;historicalactions
appearmore indeterminateand open-ended.And once the protagonistsand retardantsof progresscan no longer be identifiedwith certainty,it becomes more
difficultto see the WeimarRepublicas a failureor to deny the ThirdReich status
civilization.Just how
as a legitimate,if extreme,outcomeof twentieth-century
muchthe narrativeof the Weimaryearshas strayedfromthe well-markedpathof
creation,crisis, and collapse is evident in the newly cherishedvocabularythat
"culturalexperiments,"
drawsattentionto theproliferationof "politicalblueprints,"
and "socialinitiatives"on the Left and the Right and summarizesWeimaras the
Mostlymintedby DetlevPeukertin the midlaboratoryof "classicalmodernity."6
1980s, and widely circulatedsince, this languagecalls into questionthe whole
notionof failure.If Weimaris conceivedin termsof experimentsdesignedto manage (howeverdeleteriously)the moderncondition,thenthe failureof politicaldemocracyis not the same as the destructionof the laboratory.Indeed,the Third
Reich can be regardedas one possible Weimarproduction.Perhapsthe longawaited"newparadigm"for Germanhistoryhas arrivedin the form of the disavowalof the masternarrativeof the Republicin the nameof the eclectic experimentalismof Weimar.
Scholarlyrevaluationsof aestheticsand power have preparedthe new frameworkfor interpretingthe Weimaryears.On the one hand,the politicalaspirations
of social groupsare no longerregardedin simpletermsof class.7The "linguistic
turn"has indicatedthe extentto which subjectsthinkaboutthe politicalworldin
bear
waysthatare not accuratereflectionsof social reality.These representations
the tracesof past traditions,linguisticconventions,and culturalmedia, and they
becameconstituentpartsof thatreality.8Moreover,individualsenteredthe public
spherein a varietyof social identities.Metalworkers,to take one examplediscussedat lengthby Alf Ludtke,werenot simplytradeunionistsand(often)Social
6
Kaes, Jay, and Dimendberg, eds., p. xviii; and Detlev Peukert, The WeimarRepublic: The
Crisis of Classical Modernity,trans.RichardDeveson (New York, 1989).
7William SheridanAllen, "Farewellto Class Analysis in the Rise of Nazism: Comment,' Central EuropeanHistory 17 (1984): 54-62; Peter Baldwin, "Social Interpretationsof Nazism: Renewing a Tradition'"Journal of ContemporaryHistory 25 (1990): 5-37.
8 The best effort for Germanhistory is still Thomas Childers,"The Social Languageof Politics
in Germany:The Sociology of Political Discourse in the WeimarRepublic,"AmericanHistorical
Review 95 (1990): 331-58. See also the broaderstatementsby KathleenCanning,"FeministHistory afterthe LinguisticTurn:HistoricizingDiscourse and Experience,"Signs: Joumnalof Women
in Cultureand Society 19 (1994): 368-405; Roger Chartier,"Texts,Printings,Readings,"in The
New CulturalHistory,ed. Lynn Hunt (Berkeley,1989), pp. 154-75; and JohnE. Toews, "Intellectual Historyafterthe LinguisticTurn:The Autonomyof Meaningand the Irreducibilityof Experience,"AmericanHistorical Review 92 (1987): 879-907.

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Democrats,but also husbandsand fathers,veteransand Germans,gymnastsand


gardeners.As such,theyrespondedto anynumberof compellingvisionsaboutthe
legitimateorderof society,the properroles for men andwomen,andthe futureof
the nation.Emotionalaffinitiesto the nation,in particular,
mobilizedconsiderable
politicalsentiment.It is now clearthatsubstantialnumbersof workers,including
longtimeSocial Democrats,votedfor the Nazis in 1930 and 1932, andthose who
did not still respondedpositivelyto nationalistappealsin the yearsthatfollowed
andaccommodated
themselvesmoreor less easilyto theNationalSocialistregime.
The reachof variousnationalistmobilizationswas far greaterthanclassic social
of the WeimarRepublichavesuggested.In the handsof "newculinterpretations
tural"historians,postwarpoliticsis as muchthe productof desireandimagination
as of functionandinterest.Intricatewebs of contingencynow obscurefromview
the previouslyconspicuousSonderweg,the peculiarlyGermanpath of illiberal
modernization
thatorientedmost historiansin the 1960s and 1970s.9
The imaginationof the nationis centralas well to the "newpolitical"history
thathas eschewedstrictlyparty-politicalquestionsaboutthe rise of NationalSocialismor the collapseof liberalismor the fate of Social Democracyandexpanded
theveryconceptof politicalpower.Innovativestudiesof socialwelfare,education,
andhealthduringtheWeimarperiodhavefocusedon the waysin whichindividual
bodieswereworkedon in the nameof the nationalbody,or Volkskdrper
Whilethe
emancipatory
potentialof social legislationis not overlooked,the centralthemeof
this scholarship(and many more studies are in press) is the regimentationand
disciplineof citizens in often dangerouslyimaginativeways.A Foucauldianperspectiveon the links betweenindividualand nationalbodies not only establishes
significantcontinuitiesbetweenthe Weimareraandthe ThirdReichbut also indicates how malleablepostwarsocial life hadbecome.Ratherthana modelbattlegroundbetweenmodernliberalsandantimodernauthoritarians,
Weimaris the fascinatingforegroundagainstwhichto trackthe darkshadowsof modemity.
The Weimarthatemergesfromrecenthistoriography
is strikinglyopen-ended.
Thisis notto suggestthatdemocracyas suchcouldhavesurvived.GeraldFeldman
is probablyrightto arguethatthe Republicwas, fromthe beginning,a "gamble
whichstoodvirtuallyno chanceof success."10But muchmorethanparliamentary
democracywas at stake.An astonishingvarietyof dreamersandadventurers
prosperedin the postwaryears.The fact thatWeimarcame withoutoperatinginstruc-

9 The classic statementsof the Sonderwegare Ralf Dahrendorf,Society and Democracyin Germany(GardenCity,N.Y., 1967); and Hans-UlrichWehler,The GermanEmpire,1871-1918, trans.
Kim Traynor(LeamingtonSpa, 1985). BlackbournandEley,Peculiarities,providedthe most comprehensivecritique, and the resulting debate is recapitulatedand assessed in Robert G. Moeller,
"TheKaiserreichRecast?Continuityand Changein Modem GermanHistoriography,"
Journalof
Social History 17 (1984): 442-50; James N. Retallack,"Social History with a Vengeance?Some
Reactions to H.-U. Wehler's 'Das Deutsche Kaiserreich,"' German Studies Review 7 (1984):
655-83; and Jurgen Kocka, "GermanHistory before Hitler: The Debate about the German
Sonderweg,"Journal of ContemporaryHistory 23 (1988): 3-16. See also Helga Grebing, Der
"deutscheSonderweg"in Europa, 1806-1945: Eine Kritik(Stuttgart,1986).
'?GeraldD. Feldman,"Weimarfrom Inflationto Depression:Experimentor Gamble?"in Die
Nachwirkungender Inflation auf die deutsche Geschichte, 1924-1933, ed. Gerald D. Feldman
(Munich, 1985), p. 385.

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Did WeimarFail?

633

tions (Gebrauchsanweisungen),
as AlfredDoblin once put it, encouragedexperimentationas muchas it hobbleddemocracy.At the end of WorldWarI, previously
authoritative
instructionsaboutlaw,legitimacy,andcommunityno longerseemed
applicable;new blueprintsandexperimentsfilled in the emptyspaceandgavethe
Germanfutureof the 1920s its uncertainand promiscuousaspect.The common
noteto the politicalandculturalhistoryof the periodis the widespreadconviction
thatthe materialworldcould be designed:BertoltBrechtbelievedthat it would
becomepossiblefor peopleto be takenapartandputbacktogetherlike machines,
CarlSchmittcitedGeorgesSorelto redeempoliticswithmyth,Bauhausarchitects
plottedout "regulatinglines"thatwouldrefurbishsocial life, radicalnationalists
envisionedfantastictechnologiesto circumventVersailles,geographersredrew
schoolbookmapsto revealGermany'sessentialcapacities,andsocialworkersenergeticallyrenovatednationalhealth.Giventhis industriousinventionof the future,
1933 is not simplya tragicand dramaticforeclosurebut an indicationas well of
the fullnessandthe contingencyof historicaldevelopment.As is evidentfromthe
booksunderreviewhere,historianscontinueto watchWeimarclosely,andtheydo
so not leastbecauseit is a place wheremodemhistoryappearsremarkablycontingent. The WeimarRepublicremainscompellingnot because of the glimpses of
socialdemocracyandsocialwelfareit offersbutbecauseits publiclife was formed
so forcefullyby the sense thatnothingwas certainandeverythingpossible.
REPUBLIC AS HERO

andcounterrevoluGiventhe fact thatthe Weimarperiodwitnessedrevolutionary


tionaryassaultsin Hamburg,Berlin,andMunich,a black-flaggedfarmers'insurpartiesandpararectionin the northernprovinces,the formationof "antisystem"
militarygroupsin almosteverytown andvillage, the largestCommunistpartyin
the West, and clumsy but nonethelessdeterminedefforts at reinvigoratingstate
authorityby ChancellorsBriuning,Papen,and SchleicherbeforeAdolf Hitlerand
the NationalSocialistsrapidlyestablishedone-partydictatorship,politicalinitiative was anythingbut restricted.Yet rifts, obstacles,and otherimmovablelandmarkscharacterizethe politicaltopographydescribedin the majorsynthesesby
two prominenthistorians,HeinrichAugustWinklerand Hans Mommsen.What
was blocked,of course,were republicanpossibilities,not politicalinitiatives.It is
this misleadingcorrespondence
betweenthe fate of the Republicandthe dramaof
Weimarthat keeps these two majorhistoriesrestrictedmainly to parliamentary
politics in Berlinand ratheruncertainabouthow to treatthe dramaticmovement
of so manyGermansawayfromthe establishedparties.
The centraltheme in Winkler's"historyof the first Germandemocracy"is a
tragicbutredemptiveone:thecooperationbetweenlaborandindustryandbetween
Social Democratsand modernconservativesthat eluded Weimar'shardworking
politiciansandis now the proudachievementof thosein Bonn.Recognitionof the
necessityfor compromiseis, for Winkler,the markof democrats,andin his view
Weimarhadmanymoreof themthanwe mightat firstimagine-a discoveryWinkler wantsto reinvestin the prospectof newly reunifiedGermany.Social Democratsgamerpraisefor turningagainstthe annexationistwar,resistingthe undemo-

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cratic council movement,joining with bourgeoiscoalition partnersin difficult


circumstancesand, despitesocial and economic sacrifices,keepingdesertionsto
the CommunistLeft modest.Less consistent,but praiseworthynonetheless,is the
moderateRight. Winkleremphasizesthe scope of the social peace that ensued
consensus"
duringthe "inflationconsensus"of 1919-21 and the "rationalization
of 1924-30.
Economicstabilizationafter1924providesWinklerthe opportunityto stepback
frompoliticalnarrative.But the highly informativechapteron the deep divisions
in Germansociety afterHindenburg'selection in April 1925 does not keep him
fromgiving the Republica realchancefor survival.He is rightlyimpressedby the
unemploymentinsurancethata bourgeoiscoalitionlegislatedin 1927. Moreover,
Winkler'sdramatization
of the GreatDepressionas a singulardisasterhighlights
the achievementof stabilitythatit concluded.It was economiccatastrophe,more
forcesthathadquietlyfurtheredtheir
thananythingelse, thatgavethe "antisystem"
aimsin highplacesthe chancetheywouldotherwisenot havegotten.In 1929 and
1930, more and more industrialistscame to sharethe ideologicalpredispositions
of right-wingnationalists,Reichswehrofficers,and Hindenburgcronies,viewing
democracy(particularlyonce the YoungPlan had been safely signed) as an economic liability.The result was the breakdownof a center-leftcoalitionand the
chancellorshipof HeinrichBruningin March 1930, a breakwith parliamentary
Althoughthe
democracythatWinklerfollowsArthurRosenbergin emphasizing.1I
numbersof Vernunftrepublikaner
(republicansof the headratherthanof theheart)
haddwindledby 1929almostto a singleman-Gustav Stresemann,whois accordingly well honoredhere-Winkler does not see the makingsof broadantisystem
insurgencybefore 1930. He notes but does not makemuchof the rise of splinter
parties,the activityof the Stahlhelm,andthe rumblingsof Landvolkprotest.As a
result,thereis little sense of the radicalnationalismthatGeoff Eley,RudyKoshar,
Germanpoland othershaveregardedas a centraldynamicin twentieth-century
itics.'2

ForWinklerit is the GreatDepressionthatdestroyedthe close-to-evenoddsthat


economicstabilizationhad offeredthe firstGermanRepublic.Withoutthis disaster,Winklerimplies,democracymighthavestumbledalongandevenwonconverts.
Indeed,as Winklerpointsout in a highly originalline of argument,the proofthat
basic lessons of democracyhad been learnedby ordinaryGermansis the very
successof the NationalSocialistswho, after1930,positionedthemselvesas represchemers.In 1932, as in 1918, most
sentativesof the people againstauthoritarian
this promisinginsight
Germansdemandedpopularrepresentation.
Unfortunately,
is not complementedby a moredetailedinvestigationof middle-classvoters,who
remainindistinct.As for the SocialDemocrats,theywerecaughtup in a gamethey
" ArthurRosenberg,A History of the GermanRepublic(New York, 1965).
12
Geoff Eley, "Conservativesand Radical Nationalistsin Germany:The Productionof Fascist
Potentials, 1912-1928," in Fascists and Conservativesin Europe, ed. MartinBlinkhorn(London,
1990), pp. 50-70; Rudy Koshar,Social Life, Local Politics and Nazism: Marburg, 1880-1935
(Chapel Hill, N.C., 1986); and Peter Fritzsche,Rehearsalsfor Fascism: Populism and Political
Mobilizationin WeimarGermany(New York, 1990).

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Did Weimar Fail?

635

could not win: honorably supporting constitutional legalism, but doing so in a way
that kept them from giving voice to popular indignation at increasingly ineffective
presidial regimes. In these final chapters, then, the Nazis emerge as populists, railing against unrepresentative, distant rulers and generating a sense of collective
unity. Winkler ends his elegantly written book with allusions to grassroots expectations and collective persuasions that are neglected in the body of this largely political history.
That Weimar was burdened by the archaic political traditions and intense social
conflicts of the Wilhelmine period forms the foundation of Mommsen's history of
Weimar as much as it does Winkler's. But Mommsen sees little of the democratic
development that Winkler cherishes. Right off, the reader is informed of the "extreme autism" of the German public (p. 9). Indeed, Mommsen is more generous to
politicians in the capital than to constituents in the provinces. He has little patience
with the million-headed public that allows itself to be mobilized first by imperial
nationalists before 1914, then by the Vaterlandspartei, in 1918 the largest mass
organization in Germany,and finally in the 1920s by polemical antiparliamentarians and volkisch demagogues. In other words, democracy was threatened from the
outset by broad-based chauvinist sentiments that the collective traumas of military
defeat, revolution, and inflation only hardened. This is the Germany that cheered
Ludendorff, applauded the Freikorps, voted for Hitler, and opposed the other,
mostly working-class Germany, which stood for social justice and democracy yet
grew alienated from the Republic. The confrontation of these two nations left little
room for effective statecraft, and Ebert and Stresemann accordingly play much
more subdued roles in Mommsen's narrative. Instead, the emphasis falls on bynow familiar middle-class anxieties, collective traumas, and humiliations of statusconscious elites, all of which were easily mobilized by extremists such as Hitler
who made the resentments of the public their own.
The result is a dramatic history in which readers find epic engagements between
ideological enemies who play out Wilhelmine scripts with more exaggerated Weimarian gestures. The title-"Squandered Freedom"-notwithstanding, there is little in this book about workable social coalitions, republican margins of safety, or
stabilization-era consensus. Virtue is reserved for social groups, notably, the organized working class, rather than the political practitioners whom Winkler commends. Although Mommsen recognizes the break of 1929/30, it takes the form of
a culmination of frustrationsratherthan the singular catastrophe of depression.
There is something satisfying about the active tense of this deeply felt history.
Strong-armed verbs and colorful adjectives bring to life the paramilitary groups
and volkisch speechmakers who appear only sporadically in Winkler's narrative.
Cultural politics are taken seriously in the form of fantasies, traumas, and Feindbilder:And yet Mommsen risks caricaturing Hitler's Germany.It comes too readymade from the Wilhelmine past. Collective inheritance overwhelms collective
identity, and readers get little sense of political transformationsor social exchanges
over time. Most middle-class Germans appear dead-set against the Republic, completely at odds with the cultural experimentation of the metropolis, and utterly
incapable of reacting except defensively or resentfully-though at least workers
get to be alienated. Thus, the National Socialists stand in line, hand-in-hand, with

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all sortsof reprehensiblenationalistgroupsfromthe Wilhelmineperiod.Mommsen is quiteclear:the Nazis' successwas not a simplefunctionof economiccatastrophe.But withno positiveideologicalappeal,theymadeno claimon Germany's
intellectualheritage.Weimarbecomes the final measureof politicalopportunism
andmoralindifference.
Politicalautismalso providesthe concludingnote to RichardBessel's recent
studyof demobilization,Gernanyafterthe First WorldWarThis comprehensive
troubledtransitionfromwarto peaceis a grandlyimpresexaminationof German's
sive piece of social historythatends with curiouslyidealisticconclusionsin the
realmof politicalcivics. Marshalingten yearsof archivalresearch,Bessel examines the widespreaddesirefor a returnto normalcy,notes the thoroughlyinadefor demobilization,andexploresin detailthe improvisedeffort
quatepreparations
thateventuallytook place in autumn1918. The unexpectedlyabruptdemobilization in Novemberand December1918 had threeimportantconsequences:it got
six million soldiershome withouttoo much trouble,put the postwartransition
largelyin the handsof industryandorganizedlabor,andpushedthe government
to subsidizeindustrialproductionand welfareexpenditureson a massivescale in
an attemptto wardoff social disorderby meansof full employment.Thatwartime
inflationgave way to postwarinflationexpressedthe classic Weimardilemma:
the economic policies of demobilizationwere "bothtemporarilysuccessfuland
politicallynecessary,"butthey"putoff the evil daywhenthe economicandpolitical bill for the warwould have to be paid"(p. 124). Likewise,"measureswhich
wereprobablyeconomicallynecessaryforthe long-termhealthof thecountrywere
politicallyimpossiblein the shortterm"(p. 123).Thus,the mainchaptersof Bessel's story,in whichhe surveyslabor,agricultural,andhousingconditions,delineate a surprisinglyorderlyreturnto economicnormalcy.Large-scaledisruptions
wereavoided,andgovernmentcontrolson the economygraduallylifted.Although
the socialpeacethatinflationpurchasedprovidedthe Republica marginof survival
in the firstyearsaftertheRevolution,"3
it also supportedtheillusionthattherecould
be a returnto 1913.
If the extremedislocationof the warembellishedthe fantasyof a largelypatriarchal world of security,the relativelymodest dislocationsof demobilizationenhancedits plausibility,burdening,in the long run,the WeimarRepublicwith expectationsthatcould not possiblybe met. ForBessel, it was preciselythe ease of
demobilizationthatkept Germansfromcomingto termswith the costs of the war
and thus led them to adoptan agendaincreasinglycenteredon moralissues to
accountfor theirpoliticalimpotence.As a result,politicalpracticein the Weimar
erawas cloudedby mythsthatcherishedthe securityof prewarlife andcastigated
republicanconspiratorswho withheldit. Theserecastthe horrorsveteransexperiencedin the trenchesintoheroics,the welcometheyin factreceivedinto shameful
andthe relativeease withwhichtheyreintegratedthemselvesin the
mistreatment,
postwareconomyintobewilderingchaos.
In the end, Bessel sounds a ratherfamiliartheme:dreamypoliticalmyth de13 See also Winkler,p. 144; GeraldD. Feldman, The GreatDisorder: Politics, Economics, and
Society in the GermanInflation,1914-1924 (New York, 1993), pp. 249-50.

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stroyedresponsiblepolitical discourse.Bessel repeatedlyindicatesthe extent to


which Germansdid not care to take a "soberlook" at accomplishmentsattained
anddifficultiesahead.Insteadof engagingin "openpoliticaldiscussion,""millions
of Germansretreatedintoirresponsiblepoliticaldemagogy,intothe antidemocratic
politicsof propagandaandillusion"(pp.282-83). Bessel'sassumptionhereis that
politicsusuallyis andcertainlyoughtto be about"realsocial needs andeconomic
priorities"(p. 282). Whilethe link betweensoberpolitics andrepublicansurvival
maybe credible,it is not at all clearthatpolitics is usuallyconductedsoberlyor
thatmythsandfictionsarenot regularconstituentsof worldviews.In the end, the
sharp,normativedistinctionbetweenresponsibilityanddemagogyconfusesanalysis of popularmotivations.A closer look suggeststhat"demagogicpolitics"may
be antidemocratic,
and surelysidestepspainfulchoices-but it is effective.Even
as Bessel acknowledgesthe force of mythand fantasy,he avoidsconcludingthat
Weimardemonstrates
preciselythe degreeto whichpoliticalmobilizationis rooted
in the imagination.To dismiss this as "playingto the gallery"is to take a very
limitedview of politics.14
A morenuancedif less ambitiousdiscussionof nostalgicmythsandantirepublican politics is Shelley Baranowski'sTheSanctityof RuralLife: Nobility,Protestantism,and Nazismin WeimarPrussia.Baranowski'selegant,almostelegiachistory shows how the rise of Nazism in Pomeraniawas rootedin pastoralmyth, a
findingthatchallengesthe repeatedemphasisin the last yearson the radicalnature
of fascism.At the centerof heranalysisis the "myth"of the "sanctityof rurallife"
thatultimatelyboundestateownersand agriculturallaborers.The resultis a fine
illustrationof how cultureshapespolitics in ways that are not rationalor sober.
Baranowskiis mindfulof ruralclass conflicts,but she arguesthateconomichardship in the 1920s reinforcedsocial conventionsof deference,which remained
economyof the estatevillage.Whatmadevillages
widespreadin the nonmonetary
of social harmonyinto seedbedsof politicalmilitancewere the unsettlingmarket
relations,big-citymorals,andharshsecularismof the WeimarRepublic.Oncethe
Nazis madetheirpeace with local elites, theyquicklyemergedas the best guarantorsof rurallife.
Baranowskiis surely rightto remindhistoriansof the degree to which Nazis
were tied to local conventionsandlocal hierarchies.Hitler'sbrownshirtswere not
hadbeen, andtheirpopulismwas not
adventurousoutsiders,as the Freikorpsmen
socialism.Nonetheless,the differencesbetween the Nazis and the conservative
GermanNationalistswhom they displacedso dramaticallyadd up to more than
"familyquarrels"(p. 163). The problemis not to explainwhy estateownerssupportedthe Nazis (withvaryingdegreesof enthusiasm),but why theydid not seem
to haveanyotherchoice.Why did all the "familyquarrels"of the early 1930s end
so resoundinglyin NationalSocialistvictories?Thisfamilyseems moreextended,
recombined,andtroubled,and,by extension,the Nazis seem moreintrusivethan
Baranowskiallows. Unfortunately,a more comprehensiveunderstandingof the
14RichardBessel, "Why Did the WeimarRepublic Collapse?"in Kershaw,ed. (n. 1 above), p.
122. See also Richard Bessel, "Die Krise der WeimarerRepublik als Erblast des verlorenen
Krieges,"in Bajohret al., eds., pp. 98-114.

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Fritzsche

Nazis is underminedby the difficultyBaranowskihas-despite her'bestefforts


in giving a voice to agriculturallaborersand peasantvillagers,and thus to the
majorityof Pomerania'sNazi voters.Extensiveresearchin local, regional,and
churcharchivesdoes notremovethefocusof thisfascinatingstudyin ruralpolitical
culturefromcolorfulbutsmallnumbersof estateownerssuchas thevonKrockows
with whomthis book opens andcloses.
A usefulcorrectiveis JonathanOsmond'sinvestigationof peasantprotestin the
Rhinelandand Bavariain the early 1920s.WhereasBaranowskiexaminesestates
andestatevillages,Osmondlooks at independentpeasants.Examininggrassroots
politics,Osmondveryplausiblyarguesin favorof anincreasinglyradicalmobilizationthattookplaceduringthe warandearlypostwaryears.Peasantslearneddemocraticforms and emergedas self-assertivepoliticalcontenders.Whethermonarchist, nationalist,or voilkisch,groupslike the FreePeasantrystudiedhere madea
virtueof mobilizationand quicklyovershadowedthe more deferentialPeasants'
Associations and AgrarianLeagues. The increasinglydense organizationand
pricklyself-relianceof peasantsis persuasiveandindicatesthatthe persistenceof
prewarsocialhierarchythatBaranowskisees in Pomeraniadoes not holdfor small
farmersin the West. Insubordinatepopulismthus remainsa crucialpart of the
of Weimarpolitics. Unfortunately,Osmonddoes not completely
transformation
succeedin animatinghis peasantsor theirpolitics.This is a slightbook thatlooks
at organizedgroupsbutnot at villagesandis basedlargelyon a readingof governmentreports.AlthoughOsmond'sanalysisreachesan interestingclimaxwhen he
examinesthe separatistactionsof the Free Peasantryin 1923, the dramais quite
secondaryto the disorderwroughtby the Landvolk-the ruralpeople'smovement
in northernGermany-some yearslater.Giventhe Landvolk'sexpressivelocalism
and explosivepolitics,it is surprisingthatthe movementhas been completelyignoredby recentworkon Germanrurallife.15A muchneededinvestigationof the
Landvolkwouldrevealmuchmoreclearlythanhasbeendonepreviouslyhow selfrelianceand politicalradicalismwent hand-in-handand challengedboth liberal
republicansandconservativenationalists.
Nonetheless,the virtueof local studiessuch as Baranowski'sand Osmond'sis
that the governingframeof the fate of the Republicis much less evident.They
illuminatethe full complexityof Weimareraconstituents.Whenpeasantsin Plotzig or Pinnasensopposed Berlin democrats,they did so on the basis of robust
activismandsturdyculturalassociationsthatcanhardlybe describedas autistic.In
otherwords,the elaborationof publiclife in whichconstituentssoughtto construct
collectivemeaningsand pursuecollectiveinterestsdid not lead to a strongerdemocracy-pace the classicsociologicaltraditionof Tocqueville,Weber,andDurkheim.As long as the fate of the Republicremainsthe emotionalcenterof Weimar
'5The Landvolkappearson the horizonof Baranowski'sstudy but, astonishinglyenough, is not
treatedin RobertMoeller,ed., Peasants and Lordsin Modem Germany:RecentStudiesinAgricultural History (Boston, 1986). Conan Fischer, The German Communistsand the Rise of Nazism
(New York, 1991), examinespolitical affinitiesbetween the Communistsand the Nazis but ignores
entirely the Landvolk,which both groupscelebratedand courted.The best study of the Landvolk
is Michelle Le Bars, Le mouvementpaysandans le Schleswig-Holstein,1928-1932 (Bern, 1986).

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history, the widespread political mobilization of working- and middle-class Germans and the political dynamic that culminated in the Nazi victories of 1930 and
1932 will remain misunderstood. At issue in the 1920s was not simply the recovery
of social stability or economic prosperity but questions of cultural value, political
entitlement, and nationalist sentiment that are not easily parsed in terms of support
for or opposition to parliamentary democracy. Weimar voters were much more
ideological, unpredictable, and, indeed, interesting figures than the anguished wanderers among the postwar ruins to which we continue to be introduced in even the
best syntheses.
Of course, it would be foolish to diminish estimates of the disruption caused by
the war. Richard Bessel effectively tabulates the costs of a war in which more
than thirteen million men-fully one-fifth of the total population-served in the
German army and, in most cases, actually fought at the front. At home, long working hours, poor hygiene, and unnourishing meals created horrible suffering. Moreover, wartime inflation served as a daily reminder that "the fixed relationships of
the prewarworld had been destroyed."16 There was good cause for Germans to look
back nostalgically on the years before the war. Nonetheless, postwar politics cannot
be reduced to the recovery of social order.
World War I generated a web of institutional practices and ideological ties that
connected citizens to the nation in novel ways. Even as historians have overdrawn
the popular resonance of patriotic community in August 1914,17 it is clear that
Germans developed new emotional affinities to the nation, found a mostly deferential monarchism wanting, and experimented with new, more democratic political
practices. The war provided the opportunity to reimagine national forms, and it
wrecked more than refurbished the legitimacy of the prewar world. Indeed, Bessel
acknowledges and Winkler emphasizes that most Germans had lost faith in the
monarchy and the military by 1918. Much of the subsequent electoral volatility of
middle-class voters, who distrusted social reactionaries as much as social revolutionaries, was the result of wartime experiences that enfranchised as well as conscripted citizens in a multitude of meaningful ways. At the same time, workers
mobilized to protect their interests but also supported the national struggle. While
the November 1918 revolution cannot be understood without reference to growing
radicalism on the shop floor and at the market square, the years that followed cannot be understood without acknowledging how wartime experiences upholstered
nationalist identities. Reflected in images of disciplined soldiers, skilled workers,
patriotic sisters, complex machines, and self-made heroes such as the ace Oswald Boelcke, Chief of Staff Erich Ludendorff, and even the people's favorite, the
Supreme Commander, Paul von Hindenburg, Germany at war increasingly recast
itself in plebian terms. Unfortunately,working-class nationalism has been virtually
ignored by historians, who focus instead on the quality of social-welfare arrangements that originated during the war and were expanded in the 1920s, inquire
whether the political victory of the Social Democrats in November 1918 proved
Bessel, Germanyafter the First WorldWar,p. 31.
Wolfgang Kruse, Krieg und nationale Integration:Eine Neuinterpretationdes sozialdemokratischenBurgfriedensschlusses,1914/15 (Essen, 1994).
16
17

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too economicallyburdensomein the long run,andemphasizethe degreeto which


the legitimacyof the Republicrestedon social legislation.'8The resultis thatthe
storyof workersin the 1920s is drivenby the fortunesof the Republic.However,
a series of new studiesquestionsconventionalassumptionsthat see workersas
alliedto the Republicandlargelyimmuneto nationalistsentiments.Now thatit is
evidentthateven socialistworkersvoted for the Nazis in considerablenumbers,
of theWeimarperiodand
historianswill haveto reconsider"socialinterpretations"
paymoreattentionto the nationalistimagination.
EMBRACES
SOMEAWKWARD
A discussionof nationalistsentimentis bestbegunwitha presentationof empirical
evidence.In a readable,tightlyarguedexpositionof his detailedstatisticalanalyses
thatin Septemon Weimarelections,JuirgenFalterhas indisputablydemonstrated
ber 1930, 13 percentof all workersvotedfor the Nazis;by July 1932, the number
had increasedto 27 percent.At these sametimes,workersrepresented27 percent
and 28 percentof the respectiveNazi electorates.These areveryhigh figurescutting againstthe grainof long-heldassumptions.Evenif ruralworkersarefactored
out, the Nazis madeconsiderablegains amongindustrialand urbanworkersand
were, in fact, Germany'slargestproletarianpartyfor most of the year 1932 (pp.
220, 224,225, 229). Oneof everysix SocialDemocraticvotersin the 1930election
abandonedthe partyfor the Nazis two yearslater,so thateven politicaltradition
did not immunizeworkers.One of every ten Nazi votersin the summerof 1932
was an ex-Social Democrat(p. 111).Clearly,the Nazi messageresonatedamong
left-wingworkers,andhistorianshaveto figureout why.Falteralso confirmsearlier findingsby ThomasChilders:white-collaremployeeswere surprisinglydisinclined to vote for the Nazis, while Protestantcivil servants,retailers,artisans,and
farmerswere muchmore predisposedto do so. "TheNationalSocialists,"Falter
concludes,"recruitedtheirelectoratefromso manysocial groupsthatthe NSDAP
is best describedwith Childersas a partyof collectiveprotest"(p. 289).
Faltergoes on to evaluatehis dataagainstthreeexplanatorymodels:the classbasedanalysisof SeymourMartinLipset,who underlinedthe lower-middle-class
natureof the Nazi electorateandpresumedthe immunityof industrialworkersto
NationalSocialism;the mass-societyhypothesisof ReinhardBendix,who located
Nazi gains among previouslyunmobilizedgroupssuch as first-timevoters and
previousnonvoters;andWalterDeanBurnham'sargumentaboutthe role of political confessionin regulatingelectoralbehavior.Weighingtheprosandcons of each,
modelmostcompletely.Evenif BurnFalterfindsthatthe evidencefits Burnham's
hamunderestimated
the susceptibilityof CatholicandSocialDemocraticvotersto
the Nazis, he underscoredthe degree to which the Protestantbourgeoisparties
18
David Abraham,The Collapse of the WeimarRepublic: Political Economy and Crisis, 2d
rev. ed. (New York, 1986); Peukert,The WeimarRepublic (n. 6 above), pp. 129, 253-54; Knut
Borchardt,"Constraintsand Room for Manoeuvrein the GreatDepression of the Early Thirties:
Towardsa Revision of the Received Historical Picture,"in his Perspectives on Modern German
EconomicHistory and Policy, trans.PeterLambert(Cambridge,1991), pp. 143-60.

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641

wereunableto hold ontotheirs.Forthis reason,Burnhamcalls Germany'sProtesBut if the bourgeoisbloc is expandedto includethe


tantburghers"unchurched."
Nazis,it suddenlydisplaysconsiderablecoherence,withonly veryfew votersleaving the fold overtime.'9This is confirmedby the remarkablefindingthatthe best
predictorof the resultsof Hitler's1932 presidentialcampaignagainstHindenburg
was, in fact, Hindenburg'sshowing againstWilhelmMarx in 1925. For Falter,
these two elections are among"themost fascinatingand historicallysignificant"
in Germanhistory(p. 123), indicatingthe degreeto which supportfor Hitlerwas
prefiguredin bourgeoiscoalitionswell before the Depressionand was confined
mostlyto a politicallycoherentif sociallyheterogeneous"burgherbloc."Falteris
quickto pointout thatSocial Democraticandeven Catholicvotes were important
in 1932.Nonetheless,the mainoutlineof the Nazi electo Nazi totals,particularly
toratebecomesclearif the politicalratherthansocialoriginsof votersareemphasized.Thisis reasonenoughto questionthecurrentassumptionthattheNazis were
Falter'scorrelationsindicatethatNazism
simply "a catch-allpartyof protest."20
restedon a broadnationalistinsurgency.
The sweep of Nazi gains among even Social Democraticworkerschallenges
of Germanfascism. Conventionalsocial
the value of a class-basedinterpretation
categoriessuch as worker,shopkeeper,or employee,and the politicalmarkersof
Left and Right or socialistand bourgeoisthey encompass,simply did not make
sense of the dynamicof Germanpolitics afterWorldWarI. To understandthe
primacyof politics that seems manifesthere, historianshave little choice but to
of collective identities,culturalpracventureout onto the flimsy superstructure
tices, andnationalistsentiments.
It is usefulto examinewhatthe NationalSocialistsofferedvotersthatthe Social
largestparty
Democratsdidnot,particularlysincetheNazisemergedas Germany's
in 1932, exactlytwentyyearsafterthe socialistshad. Both partieswere the main
contendersfor theheartsandmindsof Germanvotersin theearly1930s.TheNazis
not only won over large numbersof Social Democratsbut, in addition,as Falter
shows, the Social Democratshad alreadybenefitedfrom formerNazi votersin
1928 and 1930 (one in six 1928 socialistvotershadvotedNazi in December1924
[p. 111]). Indeed,there are strikingsimilaritiesbetween the Social Democratic
Party(SPD) and the NationalSocialist GermanWorkers'Party(NSDAP):each
partyacknowledgedthe powerof the other,andthe SocialDemocratsprovidedthe
NationalSocialistswith the basic modelof politicalorganization.Moreover,both
partiesleft considerablenumbersof votersdisappointed.The Nazi partynot only
suffereda revolving-doormembershipbut also, in November1932, lost two mil19Falter,pp. 114-17. See also SeymourMartinLipset, "Fascism-Left, Right, and Center,"in
his Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics (GardenCity, N.J., 1960), pp. 127-79; Reinhard
Bendix, "Social Stratificationand Social-Power,"American Political Science Review 46 (1952):
357-75; and WalterDean Burnham,"PoliticalImmunizationand Political Confessionalism:The
United StatesandWeimarGermany,"Journalof InterdisciplinaryHistory 3 (1972): 1-30. See also
the excellentessay by BerntHagtvet,"TheTheoryof Mass Society and the Collapseof the Weimar
Republic:A Reexamination,"in Larsenet al., eds. (n. 2 above), pp. 66-117.
20 ThomasChilders,TheNazi Voter:TheSocial Foundationsof Fascism in Germany,1919-1933
(ChapelHill, N.C., 1983), pp. 264-65.

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out of their
lion voters.At the sametime,SocialDemocratshaddifficultybreakiing
traditionalworking-classmilieu and failed to respondto the growingnumberof
Germansdisillusionedwith parliamentary
politics.AlthoughDonnaHarschdoes
not explicitlysay so, her first-classanalysisof the engagementbetweenthese two
politicalmachines,GennanSocial Democracyand the Rise of Nazism,indicates
thatbothpartiesmobilizedunfulfilledreformistexpectations.(Accordingto Falpoliticalexchangebetweenthe soter'scorrelations[p. 111], the much-reported
called extremes,the Nazis and the Communists,did not take place.) The Nazis
were more successfulthanthe Social Democratsbecausethey effectivelyrepresenteda nationalidentitythatwas appealingpreciselybecauseit promisedto break
witholdercollectiveassociationsidentifiedwiththepoliticsof failure.In a strange
twist thatHarschmighthavediscussedat greaterlength,nationalismcame to denote a radicalismdeemed necessaryto achieve a thoroughrenovationof catastrophicsocial andeconomicconditions.21
Thetroublewiththe SocialDemocrats,Harschargues,is thattheydidnoteffectively embracetheir radicaldemocraticnature.Althoughthe party'selectorate
looked forwardto an ambitiouspolitical agendathat would addressGermany's
pressingproblems,Social Democraticleadersdithered.Harschis perfectlyaware
of the difficultpoliticaland economicclimatein the early 1930s.And the movementitself was constitutedby heterogeneouselements:party,tradeunion,andthe
Reichsbanner.Nonetheless,"Prussianreformers"and orthodoxMarxistsin the
partyleadershipkept the Social Democratsfrom deliveringa moreattractiveand
moreradical(butnon-Marxist)messageto the Germanelectoratein the depthsof
the Depression.
period of
Harschis not alwaysclear aboutwhat a "republican-parliamentary
(p. 62) mighthavelooked
reform"(p. 45) or a "boldprogramof democratization"
like, but she is certainlymakingthe right inquiries.She calls on a minorityof
radicalssuch as JuliusLeber,Theo Haubach,and CarloMierendorffto testify to
the party'sinabilityto develop a coherentsocial programor a critiqueof "real
Whilethepublic"cravedaction"(p. 62) to overcome
existing"parliamentarianism.
the SPD foughtto protectunemployment
benefitsor else declined
unemployment,
to doctora sick capitalismaltogether.A militantclass-against-classrhetoricwas
feeble compensationfor reformistpractices,withthe resultthatthe Social Democratsneithersatisfiedloyal supportersnor won new adherents.The party'sfailure
to adoptthe Woytinsky-Tarnow-Baade
publicworksplanproposedby tradeunion
leadersin spring1932 was indeedwhatHarschrightlycalls a "momentousblunder"(p. 190).The Nazis adoptedit instead.
Unableto assesstheradicaldisillusionmentof voters,the SocialDemocratsmisreadtherise of theNazis,whomtheydismissedas reactionariesandcapitalistsand
whose supportersthey regardedcondescendinglyas deludedand irrational.Only
a few observersacknowledgedthe popularresonanceof the NSDAP'sreformism.
Yet when Social Democratsin Hesse and Hamburgexperimentedin 1932 with a
more confidentstyle of agitation,replacedproletarianwith nationalmotifs, and
appealedto the Volkin the nameof freedomratherthanof theRepublic,theresults
21

See also Fischer.

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were encouraging. These partial successes in the face of broader Social Democratic
failures indicate just where the Nazis outmaneuvered their foes. What the National
Socialists offered the public was the simple, constantly reiterated promise that
present circumstances would be radically altered for the benefit of the entire nation.
This proved effective against both the traditional Right and the traditional Left.
The Social Democrats, by contrast, were tied to a discursive, rational language that
resonated deeply among working-class supportersbut withheld an immediate and
indignant response to the crisis. For all the differences, however, the impression
remains that many voters judged the National Socialists in terms of longer-term
disappointments with, rather than outright opposition to, Social Democracy, and
regarded the two parties not as polar opposites but as more and less able reformers.
By focusing on the confrontation between Social Democracy and National Socialism, Harsch highlights the conceptual differences between the two movements,
reexamines the broad appeal of radical reform, and thereby makes a provocative
and timely contributionto the study of German politics. But where Harsch suggests
that the Republic was not a terribly important issue for voters and faults the SPD
for compromising its otherwise appealing democratic radicalism by its attempt to
steady parliamentaryinstitutions, Wolfram Pyta commends the party for its consistent and energetic efforts on behalf of the Republic. It is not clear why Pyta undertakes this exhaustive study, since the SPD's basically good intentions have not been
in doubt. But along the way, the author makes some importantpoints. Like Harsch,
he is struck by the clumsiness of SPD thinkers who generally could not comprehend the charisma of Hitler or the racism of the Nazi message. The Social Democrats saw what they wanted to see: the anticapitalist sentiment of Nazi voters who
would eventually come around to the real thing. As a result, Pyta argues, the rise
of the Nazis confirmed rather than challenged the SPD's proletarian socialism.
Given this scenario, there was no need for the party to formulate a more populist
Gemeinschaftsgedanke, to repair the economy with public works plans, or to contest at the grass roots the Nazis' ferocious opposition to the conservative Catholic
chancellor, Heinrich Brining.
Pyta describes the SPD's official policy of tolerating Briining in 1930-32 as
a strategy of postponement, during which time the masses would continue their
anticapitalistjoumey, moving from the Nazi to the Marxist camp. In the meantime,
Social Democratic civil servants tried valiantly to dispel the notion that National
Socialism was inevitable. Unfortunately, efforts at republican enlightenment were
sporadic and always compromised by uncooperative bourgeois functionaries. This
is importantterritoryfor Pyta to cover, for he is interested in whether Social Democrats passed the test in defending the Republic. It becomes clear that they did, but
it is not so clear why this is such a crucial standard for evaluation. Did Social
Democratic supporters expect such vigilance? Probably not, since the constitutional legalism the SPD defended so vigorously during the Brining chancellorship
left the party without a strategy to confront directly the Nazis or to press for radical
improvements in the lives of ordinary voters. To be sure, Pyta carefully outlines
the ways in which the SPD's legalism was counterproductive,but he fails to factor
these into a concluding analysis. Astonishing as well is his assumption that the
Social Democrats could have made a more energetic pitch to the middle classes,

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Fritzsche

who Pyta sketches in as ratheropportunistic,ignoring their basic disposition


againstthe left-wingparty.By takingthe survivalof theRepublicas the mainissue
andreviewingthe policy optionsof the Social Democratsin thatlight,Pytashows
little feel for Weimarvotersthemselves.It is unlikelythatthe Social Democrats
couldhavejumpedout of theirpoliticalskinsto adoptthe brashstyle of the Nazis,
reanimateradicalworkers,win over shopkeepers,and,at the same time, continue
to defendthe constitutionalorder.
Radicalandnationalmotifsfigureprominentlyin GerhardPaul'sintriguingand
powerfullyarguedanalysisof the NationalSocialists'publicface. InAufstandder
Bilder:Die NS-Propagandavor 1933 (infelicitouslytranslatedas Insurrectionof
whichwas aimedat creatImages),Pauldoes not simplyanalyzeNazi propaganda,
ing an emotionallypowerfulworldof illusions designedto (re)conquerworkers
for nationalistends;he demonstratesthe vital role of imageryin politics as well.
of the verytermsof WeiHis well-writtenstudyis a pathbreaking
reconsideration
marpolitics,whichfavoredthosecontenderswho workedin the subjunctivemood
of the imagination.Paulhas little patiencewith contemporarycriticslike Bertolt
Brechtwho dismissedNazi propagandaas pure illusion. "Awhitewashsatisfied
importantneeds,"Paulcounters;imagesreferredto "mythicandutopiansymbols"
andmobilizedemotionsagainst"thearidlanguageof democracyandrationaldiscourse"(p. 13).AlthoughPauloccasionallydescribesthis mobilizationof pictures
as "counterrevolutionary,"
he is moreintenton uncoveringthe full registerof politics. As CarlSchorskearguedlong ago, masspoliticshadincreasinglybecomean
aestheticform,a modernistgenre.22
A few characteristic
figuresconstitutedthe mainelementsof visualpropaganda.
Large-formatcurbsidepostersdepictingable-bodiedworkers,frontlinesoldiers,
overfedbureaucrats,
and subhumanBolsheviks,as well as the visualandacoustic
spectacleof uniformedranksof NationalSocialistmarchers,createdan "illusionaryworldof existentialthreatsandeminentapocalypse,of a radicaltransformation
and a brownfuture"(p. 213). More thananythingelse, such visuals conveyeda
AlthoughHarschpointsto
sense of the movement'smilitanceand determination.
in SocialDemocraticpostersbeforeCarloMierthepathetic,groaningproletarians
endorffandSergeiChakotindevelopeda moreconfidentstyle, Paulsees little differencebetweenthe musculargiantsin standardleft-wingand right-wingpropaganda.23With their unshakableconvictionsand vigilant poses, these oversized
fantasyfiguresenteredthe publicsphereto protectanddestroy,not to debateand
discuss. In them,the Nazis foundan appealingrevolutionarysubject,confirming
the streetwiseabilitiesof Hitler'scampaignersand signalingthe social-reformist
intentionsof his regime.In the end, whatthe Nazis did was to steal fromthe Left,
takingthe "redof theirflags and posters"as well as their "slogans,catchwords,
and allegories"(p. 257)-inserting them into new contexts,to be sure,but also
projectinga diffusesocialistfuturebeyondWeimarwhichmanyworkersevidently
foundappealing.
22
Carl E. Schorske, "Politics in a New Key: An AustrianTriptych,"in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna:
Politics and Culture(New York, 1980).
23 Harsch,pp. 177-78.

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Paulis keenly awareof the limits of aestheticmobilization.Particularlybefore


1933, the carefullychoreographedcompositionshe describeswere marredby
streetbattles,andunrulyor drunkenpartymembers.And
counterdemonstrations,
by autumn1932, even Nazi sympathizershadbecome dulledto the party'svisual
effects. Moreover,therewere as manyconstituentswho did not need Goebbels's
flim-flamto persuadethemto vote for the Nazis as therewere organizedworkers
andruralCatholicswho dismissedthe hooplaaltogether.And yet Paulhas accomplisheda greatdeal. He outlinesNazi assessmentsof the crucialrole thatpropagandaplayedin mobilizinghomefrontpublicsin WorldWarI andclass allegiances
considersthese assumptionsquiteplausible:he demonin 1918 and,furthermore,
images spokeeffectivelyto utopianyearningsfor a
strateshow twentieth-century
more prosperousfutureand a greatersense of nationalbelonging.At the same
time, Paulhotes the entirelysubordinaterole of politicaldiscourseandpublished
tracts. In urban areas, electoral battles were fought primarilyby posters and
which the Left
speeches.Goebbelsreferredagainand againto the "Plakatkrieg"
had won in the early 1920s but from which the Nazis would eventuallyemerge
victorious.By contrast,the writtenword,whichone leadingNazi namedthe "stepchild of the movement"(p. 180), was associatedwith interest-groupentitlements
andparliamentary
politics.GerhardPaulpresentsan extremelyrichargumentindicatingthatthe "sociallanguageof politics"mightnot havebeen as importantas
the emotionalvocabularyof collectivedesire.24
Pauldoes notattempta receptionanalysisof Nazi visuals,butthegrittyproletarian politics thatAlf Luidtkeexploresconfirmhow effectively symbolic gestures
and nationaltableauxenrolledworkersin NationalSocialism.In a series of importantessaysthathaveappearedoverthelastten years,Ludtkeundertakesnothing
of the politicaluniverseof the Germanworking
less than a reconceptualization
class. He wantsnot only to expandthe emotionalregisterof politics in ways entirely compatiblewith the work of Donna Harschand GerhardPaul but also to
enlargethe terrainof politics so thatthe GrossePolitikof nationalaffairsmay be
understoodalso in termsof the Kleinpolitikof shop-floorrelations,tenancyfights,
subsistencestruggles,and,Liidtkemightwantto add,genderroles.Peopledo not
entergrandpolitics as autonomousindividualsmakingrationalchoices, nor are
they simplymanipulatedobjects;rather,theyparticipatein a varietyof contestsin
whichtheirengagementwith authoritymighttakethe formof withdrawal,stealthy
subversion,direct engagement,or even loud agreement.He introducesthe term
"Eigensinn,"a kind of freedom stakedout in these cautious and occasionally
pricklyrelationsto power,to understandthe readinessof workersto supportthe
wareffortin 1914,theirbroadacceptanceof NationalSocialismsometwentyyears
later,and also their revolts, boycotts,and all-aroundstubbornnessin the years
1918-20.
The public sphereis not necessarilya place Ludtke'sworkersenterwillingly.
The desireto be amongone'sown kind,withworkmates,family,andfriends,often
supersededallegiancesto formalorganizationsandfrequentlyreflecteddifficulties
or in findinga stableliveliin dealingwith stateofficialsandwelfarebureaucrats
24

Childers,"The Social Languageof Politics" (n. 8 above).

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hood or even in procuring bread. The fact is that the "attention and energy of male
and female workers and housewives was still very much absorbed by the daily
strain of survival" (p. 296). As Ludtke works it back into the stream of day-to-day
life, politics remains central to workers, but the "partyline," the regime, and other
civic virtues are often peripheral. At the same time, reserve toward the powerful
could easily give way to trust. Ludtke wonders what effect the Nazi slogan "Bread
and Work" had on those adults who in winter 1932 once again tasted the bitter
rations of 1916 and 1923 and surely hoped for a social order that would finally
banish such misery (pp. 232-33). To consider workers' acceptance of the Nazi
regime in light of the trauma of the wartime "Steckriibenwinter"(pp. 263, 296) is
the bold move of Ludtke'sAlltagsgeschichte in which the clear lines between interest, ideology, and politics give way to unstable, tenuous, and mediated actions that
are much more faithful to the complexity of people's lives.25
Harsh economics are not everything, however. Drawing on the work of Barrington Moore, Ludtke insists that workers operate in public with a robust sense
of honor.26This can express itself in rebellious actions in the name of social justice,
as in the November Revolution, but also in an entirely personal sense of achievement grounded in supporting a family, spending a little extra on weekends, and
advancing from one skill grade to another. Although Luidtke'sarguments would
have been enhanced had he disentangled male honor from working-class honor, he
persuasively shows how easily Grosse Politik could draw legitimacy from Eigensinn. Iconic representations of muscle and sweat honored the labor of the worker
and recognized his mastery of material and machine. In both World War I and
World War II, such a "Bilder-Sprache" (p. 334) composed powerful images of
"German Quality Work" from countless discerning and proficient hands on the
shop floor. These images at once esteemed labor and enrolled laborers into the
"(whole"-into the nation and the Volk.And "Nationale Arbeit" was not idle propaganda; already circulated by Social Democrats in the 1910s, patriotic images of
labor allowed workers to reconcile vocational with collective identities and to connect quality on the workbench to prosperity around the corner, and they facilitated
working-class acceptance of the National Socialists.27
For all the book's rich insight, its usefulness is somewhat limited by its tentative
nature. Although the subtitle promises "Ergebnisse"-research results-the volume is a collection of essays, most of which are argumentative ratherthan empirical, intriguing rather than persuasive. Yet the great promise of Luldtke'sforcefully
argued agenda is to take seriously previously "scare-quoted" concepts such as
"Ehre,""Gemeinschaft,""Volk,"and "Nation." Conceptions of what it meant to
labor on the shop floor, to support a family in hard times, and to be a German,
fears of winter rationing and hopes for a better life-all were politically complicit

25 See also Geoff Eley, "Labor


History,Social History,Alltagsgeschichte:Experience,Culture,
and the Politics of the Everyday-A New Direction in GermanSocial History?"Journalof Modem History 61 (1989): 297-343.
26
BarringtonMoore, Injustice:The Social Bases of Obedienceand Revolt (New York, 1978).
27
See Luidtke,pp. 307-9, 328-29, 334-35.

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dramatizationsthat could be mobilized in the public sphere. The thoughtprovokingconclusionthatLudtkereachesis thatNationalSocialismwas extensively "coproduced"
(p. 332) by the culturalpracticesof everydaylife.
Whatrecentstudiesof Weimarworkersand NationalSocialistsrevealare degrees of affinitythat have not been taken seriouslyuntil now. To be sure, the
working-classappealof the Nazis shouldnot be overstated;afterall, a majorityof
Social Democraticvotersremainedloyal to the party.Nonetheless,the historians
underreviewherehaveprovidedcompellingevidencethatworkersrespondedpositivelyto nationalistappeals.Germanworkersrepeatedlyidentifiedtheirown fate
with thatof the nationandin some cases used nationalismto reenchantradicalism.
At issue is notthe dutifulpatriotismof "yellow"unionsor small-townapprentices,
but an imaginativerenderingof the commonwealththatcontaineda compellingif
unsystematiccritiqueof Germansociety and politics. In otherwords,thereis no
betweensocial reformandrepublicanpolitics.Weimaris not simcorrespondence
ply thestoryof theRepublic,andthedemiseof themoderateandrepublicanparties
shouldnot be regardedas symptomaticof electoralpanic and dislocation.In the
minds of millions of voters,the Nazis figuredas a movementthat promisedto
introduceradicalreformsbenefitingall non-JewishGermans.As a result,National
Socialismwas not a politicalchoicethatnecessarilyrevokedtheprogressivesocial
and economicaspirationsthatworkershad long cherished.Moreover,the Nazis'
successdemonstratesthe extentto whichmodempoliticsis not simplya matterof
interestbut also one of imagination.The studyof the Weimaryearscontinuesto
developthe post-Marxistpropositionthatinterestsneed mythsto speakfor themselves. Whathistoriansare left with is not one single Weimarstory,but multiple
versionsin whichtheconstitutiveroleof thenationandthecommunityencouraged
politicalmobilizationalongvariousfronts.
If preoccupationwith the fate of the Republicfails to catchthe broadmobilization of interestand sentimentin the postwaryears,it also neglectsthe exuberant
confidencein designthat"middlingmodernists"in the stateadministration
shared
with high-mindedintellectualsin the avant-garde.In light of the ambitiousattemptsto renovatethe social body,to improvenationalhealth,and to modernize
the Germaneconomy,Weimaris less a cumulativefailurethan a series of bold
experimentsthatdo notcome to an endwiththeyear1933.Theceaselessimprovementof nationalcapacitieswas all the moreessential,since twentieth-century
circumstancesof totalwar,imperialrivalry,andcommercialcompetitionappearedto
underscorehow endangeredGermanyhad become.A shelf of recentbooks has
attemptedto take the measureof this imaginationof design. Heretoo the stress
is on the open-endednatureof mobilization,on the supererogatory,
ideologically
complicitassumptionsthatworkedandreworkedthe Volkskorper.
DESIGNING THE NATION

termVolksAlreadyin use duringthe Weimaryears,the ominouslyauthoritarian


korperhasbeenrecirculatedby present-dayhistoriansto drawattentionto theways
in which the ambitiouspracticesof newly professionalizedgroupssuch as engi-

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neersanddoctorsmeshedwiththe growingresponsibilitiesof the stateto renovate


usefulbecauseit keepsin focus two
the nationfor collectiveends.It is particularly
developments:an open-endedone in the form of
fundamentaltwentieth-century
innovationmadepossibleby the applicationof science andtechnology,and a delimitingone in the formof increasingabsorptionwith the fate of the nation.The
crucialquestionin Germanhistoryis to accountfor the enclosureof the modernist
by the nationalcollectiveat the expenseof the individual
spiritof experimentation
Twocentraltextsby Detlev Peukerthavebecomeindispensable
andthe particular.
to this inquiry:The WeimarRepublic:The Crisisof ClassicalModernity,andthe
It is worthrecollectionof essaysentitledMax WebersDiagnoseder Moderne.28
viewing Peukert'scontributionbefore assessingthe most recentliteratureon the
designof the nation.
Peukert'suntimelydeathin 1990 left us with an exceptionallyrichbutbasically
incompleteanalysisof modernity.His most coherentstatementscan be found in
his synthetichistoryof the WeimarRepublic,and yet these were supersededby
essayson Weber.Peukertrefersto
darkersuspicionsexpressedin his untranslated
potential,
The emancipatory
theWeimaryearsas "acrisisof the classicalmodern'"
democraticpractice,social reformism,and economicand technologicalrationalizationthatPeukertidentifieswith modernizationcame all at once, in compressed
and intense form, in the first three decades of the twentiethcentury.Moreover,
thesewere accompanied,after1929, by a severeeconomicdownturn.This fateful
coincidencePeukertcomparesto a "worst-case"scenarioof the failureof a complex system(he makesan explicitreferenceto Chernobyl).Economicstagnation
exclusive,and
andculturalandpoliticalcrisis led to an increasinglyauthoritarian,
statefully realizedin NationalSocialism.In this line of argument,
discriminatory
Germanyis differentnot because it is burdenedby a specific
twentieth-century
nationalpast-the Sonderweginterpretation-butbecause it is simply an extremecase.
Whatwas innovativeaboutPeukert'sapproachwas his attentionto the serious
In his view,the supposedlyproproblemsof andmisgivingsaboutmodernization.
gressivesocial-welfarecomplex,for example,restedon normativehierarchiesof
humanworththatwould be fully articulatedby more repressiveregimes.At the
sametime,Peukertacknowledgedwaysin whichan allegedlyantimodern"politics
of culturaldespair"constitutedinsightfulresponsesto the incompletenessof modern rationalism.29
Because the pressuresof modernistexperimentationwere inits variationswere politicallydiverseandincludedthe comtenselycontradictory,
Moreover,Peukert's
fortsof nostalgiaas well as the temptationsof totalitarianism.
workdeliberatelyplacedGermanyin a Westerncontextanddistinguishedthe most
ominouscatastrophesof the modernerafrommodernityitself.
But Peukertpermitsothersreadings.In his brilliantessays on Max Weber,for
example,he repeatedlyinvokesthe "Janusface"of modernityanddrawsattention
anddisorientationthathaveinvariablyaccompaniedindusto the disenchantment
28
Detlev Peukert,Max WebersDiagnose der Moderne(Gottingen, 1989), and The WeimarRepublic (n. 6 above).
29Peukert,The WeimarRepublic,p. 188.

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HerePeukertdoes somethinghe generallyavoidsin his history


trialdevelopment.30
of the WeimarRepublic:he plays with the equationof modernityand crisis, a
plotline in which Germanybecomes the archetypicalexpressionof the very essenceof modernityratherthana moreisolatedexampleof its mostserioustroubles.
In this case, upheavalis the prevailingexperienceof the modem. And it is not
only individualswho feel themselvesfreed from conventionor marginalizedby
industrialdevelopment;professionalelites, politicalinstitutions,andthe stateitself
respondto the moderncondition.These actorsacknowledgethe precariousnature
of social structurebut also recognizethe far-reachingabilityto reformand renoaredistinctivemodernistpractices,butbevate.31Renovationandexperimentation
cause they presumeboth the extrememalleabilityand the impermanenceof the
materialworldand are also often undertakenin conditionsof apprehension,they
can servedangerouslyadventurousends.This darkervision of modernismis compelling but not wholly persuasive.It is questionable,for example,whetherthe
"spiritof science"introducesquite so automaticallya "discourseof segregation"
withoutthe applicationof racistpolitics.32Doesn'tpoliticschoose its own science
at least as muchas scienceprefigurespoliticalregimes?And while the dangerous
embraceof crisis andrenovationmakesintuitivesense, it cannot,by itself, explain
the dynamicof modernistmovements,which do not simplyemergeout of a "diabutaredeeplyimplicatedin the particularexperiencesof
lectic of Enlightenment"
totalwarandeconomicexhaustion.
Shiftingbetweena close examinationof the crisis of Weimarandbroadermeditationson catastrophe,Peukert'sworkraises questionsaboutthe very natureof
modernity:to whatextentarereformistpracticesinvariablycollusionsin disciplinary regimes,and to what extentdo they turnominousonly in the extremeconditions that war,militarydefeat, and economic devastationproduce?Peukertalso
suggestsan alternateapproachto the historyof the WeimarRepublic,which he
views as a well-developedregime that articulatedvariousstrategiesto organize
sociallife. Thisfunctionalistreadingof the modernstateputsthe accenton adminthe volumeof esistrativeinnovationratherthanpoliticalcollapse.Unfortunately,
says preparedas a memorialto Peukert,Zivilisationund Barbarei:Die widerspruchlichePotentiale der Moderne,is disappointing.There is little sustained
engagementwithPeukert'sworkandinsufficientreflectionby the authorson what
modernitymightbe. Therefore,the allegedcontradictionsof the modernareoften
confusedwith unpleasantevents.One exceptionis Geoff Eley'sopeningchapter,
30 See, in particular,"Die 'letzten Menschen':Beobachtungenzur Kulturkritik
im Geschichtsbild Max Webers,"originally published in Geschichte und Gesellschaft 12 (1986): 425-42, and
"DerJanusgesichtder Moderne,"both now in Max WebersDiagnose.
31 See Modris Eksteins, The Rites of Spring: The Great Warand the Birth of the Modem Age
(Boston, 1989); PeterFritzsche,"Landscapeof Danger,Landscapeof Design: Crisis andModernism in WeimarGermany,"in Dancing on the Volcano:Essays on the Cultureof the WeimarRepublic, ed. ThomasW. Kniescheand StephenBrockmann(Columbia,S.C., 1994), pp. 29-46; and Paul
Rabinow,FrenchModem: Normsand Formsof the Social Environment(Cambridge,Mass., 1989).
32 Detlev J. K. Peukert, "The Genesis of the 'Final Solution' from the Spirit of Science," in
Reevaluatingthe ThirdReich, ed. Thomas Childersand Jane Caplan(New York, 1993), pp. 23452, here p. 249.

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whichlocatesthe developmentof the disciplinarypracticesthatfashionthe Volksrise of administrative


sciences such as psykorperin the late nineteenth-century
chology and psychiatryand in "thepriorityof the social"in popularnationalism
(p. 29). Not a deficitof modernitybutthe verymodem"scientificandtechnocratic
ambitions"of social policy preparedthe groundfor NationalSocialism (p. 54).
RichardBessel, in contrast,seems ratheruninspiredby Peukertand sanguinely
identifiesbenignmodernismon one side of WorldWarI and deleteriousdisorder
on theother.Yetit is disorderthatlegitimizedall themorecompletelytheintroduction of disciplinaryrenovation,althoughscholarsdebatewhetherrepressivenormas the excellentessay
ativeregimesare the functionof long-termrationalization,
by Adelheidvon Saldernimplies,or of economicemergency,as the morenarrowly
focusedchapteron the economicemergencyby Uwe Lohalmindicates.33
Recentworkon Weimarsocial policy has tendedto takea middleroad,unwilling to reducesocial policy to social disciplinewithouttakingthe politicalmotivations of practitionersinto accountbut mindfulas well of the normativestandards
thatinvariablyaccompanythe organizationof social life. Historiansdo agreethat
the focus of almostall social reformwas on the nation-state.Fromthe national
efficiencycampaignsof the 1890s to the elaborationof social welfareand maternity policies in the 1920s to the alarmingcivil defense exercises of the 1940s,
citizens were assessed,categorized,mobilized,treated,and improvedinsofaras
theywerepotentiallyproductivemembersof the nation.Giventhe intenseinternationalcompetitionfor imperialspoils andcommercialadvantage,andthe increasingly technicalchallengesof daily life, the period 1870-1945 standsout; at no
practicestargetedEuropeansin termsof
time beforeor since have administrative
theirrespectivenationalitiesso relentlessly,with so much foreboding,and with
suchabandon.
is at the centerof CornelieUsbome'sengagingandwelcome
The Volkskorper
analysis,ThePolitics of the Body in WeimarGermany.Usborneis well awareof
the fact thatwomen'sbodies have playedkey roles in effortsto protectthe body
politic from social diseases since the nineteenthcentury.In the last yearsbefore
WorldWarI, especially,discussionsaboutthe conditionof the nationwere medicalizedas doctorsidentifieddemographiccrisesandeugenicdebilitiesand,in turn,
recommendedappropriate
therapies.But it was the waritself thatled to the draneo-Malthusian
stimulationof the birthratein
maticshiftfroman undifferentiated
WilhelmineGermanyto obsessiveeugenicconcernwiththe qualityof the population in the WeimarRepublic.Evermoretotalmobilizationrevealedthe stakesnot
Usborne
merelyin creatingmorebutin fashioningbetterGermans.Unfortunately,
does not examinebiomedicaldiscourseduringthe war,whichwouldhaverevealed
the rapidexpansionof interventionisttechniquesto constructthe nationalbody.
33 Geoff Eley, "Die deutsche Geschichte und die Widerspricheder Modeme: Das Beispiel des
Kaiserreiches,"pp. 17-65; Richard Bessel, "Die Krise der WeimarerRepublik als Erblast des
verlorenenKrieges,"pp. 98-114; Adelheid von Saldem, "'Statt Kathedralendie Wohnmaschine':
Paradoxiender Rationalisierungim Kontext der Moderne,"pp. 168-92; and Uwe Lohalm, "Die
Wohlfahrtskrise,1930-1933: Vom okonomischenNotprogrammzur rassenhygienischenNeubestimmung, pp. 193-225, all in Bajohret al., eds.

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651

The inattentionto the warand the exclusivefocus on the postwaryearscasts Usborne'stherapistsin a decidedlydefensivelight as they deal with postwarshortthe waysin
ages, veterans,andrefugees.Yetit was the warthatbest demonstrated
could be created,made urgentthe state'sduty to
which a functionalVolkskorper
do so, and generateda consensusfromLeft to Rightthatindividualbodies were
subordinateto the nationalcollective.Totalwardid not simplypose organizational
challengesbut generatedimaginativepossibilitiesto reinventthe nationas well.34
In a clearandpersuasiveexposition,Usborneexaminesthe waysin whichWeimarwomenwerethe targetsof interventionin fourdifferentareas:maternity,sexuality,contraception,andabortion.She findsconsiderableagreementamongsocialists, liberals,andright-wingmoraliststhatthe statehada responsibilityto preserve
nationalhealthby fortifyingan ideology of motherhood,regulatingsexuality,and
otherwiseencouragingeugenic behavior.Even as the lives of women improved
with the extensionof social-welfareservices, maternitybenefits,and the ready
soldtwenty-fourmillion
availabilityof contraception(a singleBerlinmanufacturer
condomsin 1928, mostly for the home market),these measurescontaineda prescriptiveaspect.Theycast womenin a "domesticratherthana publicrole"for the
sakeof the collectivegood (p. 210). Onlya few womendoctorsarguedthatwomen
had the rightto controltheirbodies as individuals.However,Usborneis careful
not to demonizethe politicsof the body andusefullycomparesWeimardebatesto
the muchless informeddiscussionin England.She recognizesthe commitmentof
the republicangovernmentto improvethe lives of mothersand commendsthe
churchesfortheiropenattitudesin sexualmatters.Butin the end,Usborneemphasizes the creationof a biologicalimaginationin which the individualbody was
It
madeto conformmoreandmorecompletelyto the demandsof the Volkskorper.
of the nationalbody thata fundais on the basis of this qualitativereconstruction
mentalcontinuitybetweenWeimarand Nazi Germanycan be identified.While
Nazi practicewas infinitelymorecoercive,segregationof "defectives"and sterilization of the "unfit"received official sanction well before 1933. This wellconceivedand unpretentiousbook is the firstto map out the politics of the body
for this periodandstandsas a majorcontributionto Germanhistory.
The welfarestatehas as muchto do withthe conductof warfareandtherationalization of the workforceas it does with materialgains to benefitdisadvantaged
citizens. Today,its history is no longer writtensimply in terms of the political
balancebetweenleft-wingreformersand the opposingright-wingemployers.As
site for fittingpeople
Usbornedemonstrates,welfarewas a crucialadministrative
into variouspublicand privateroles regardedas crucialfor the healthydevelopmentof the nation.Thepoliticsof thebodydidnotfollow conventionaldifferences
betweenLeft andRight,for even whenpoliticalenemiesdisagreedaboutmorality
or capitalismthey sharedbasic assumptionsaboutthe collective ends of public
policy.No less importantthanthe protectionof healthymarriedmotherswas the
34 See the pathbreakingargumentsin Michael Geyer, "The Stigma of Violence, Nationalism,
and Warin TWentieth-Century
Germany,"GermanStudiesReview (Winter1992), pp. 86-91; and
also PaulWeindling,Health,Race and GermanPolitics betweenNational Unificationand Nazism,
1870-1945 (Cambridge,1989), pp. 9, 281-97.

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creationof a disciplinedlaborforce.Inherfineanalysisof adolescentyouth,Elizabeth Harveyexploresthe borderseparatingthe core of "regular(usuallymale)


workers,"who enjoyedfull-timeemploymentand benefits,and the peripheryof
"thoseworkers,often youngand/orfemale, who were employedcasually"(p. 6).
Both Social Democratsandtheirbourgeoisopponentsdeployedtechniquesof supervisionandeven coercionto imposehealthyandproductiveformsof behavior.
Thesenormativepracticeswerenot alwaysobjectionableandincludedindividualized counseling,vocationalschooling,andjob trainingas well as the usualadmonishmentsagainsthedonismandconsumption,buttheyall restedon the assumption
thatwhattheyconsideredto be disorderlylives shouldbe ordered.Withthecoming
of the GreatDepression,welfareauthoritieshit "thelimits of social discipline,"
drasticallydelimitedthe pedagogicalsphere,and reclassifiedmore and more inrates soared;efforts at reformand
tractableyouthsas uneducable.Incarceration
However,economicstringencydidnot createhierarchies
dwindled.35
rehabilitation
of humanworth;it simply gave themincreasinglydangerousimplicationsas the
stateturnedfromdisciplineto triage.
Both UsborneandHarveyfollow Peukertto emphasizethe role of the Depression in giving momentumto eugenicpropositionsaboutwho was worthinvesting
in and who was not. Budgetcuts reducedor eliminatedwelfareprogramsafter
1930;andthreeyearslaterthe Nazi seizureof powerresultedin the purgeof thousandsof socialist and Jewishwelfareofficials.Politicalrevolutionthus enforced
the tendencyof financialconstraints:the raucousdebatesthathad shapedWeimar
socialpolicy cameto a quickend.The sadresultwas legislationbasedexclusively
on the principlesof negativeeugenics.The period1930-33 is thusa crucialwatershed. Nonetheless,the longer-termcontinuitiesbetweenWeimarand Nazi Germanycannotbe ignored.Beginningin WorldWarI, the social body was widely
interventionas the
recognizedas a nationalconcernthatjustifiedadministrative
stateattemptedto standardizethe role of women,disciplineyoungadults,andconsiderthe segregationof allegedly"worthless"humanmaterial.(Euthanasiain the
late 1930s was oftenjustifiedby pointingto the high deathratesin Germanasylums and old-age homes that were the resultof food shortagesand professional
neglect duringWorldWarI.) Whetherto amelioratethe lives of the underprivileged,to meetthe challengesof anincreasinglyrationalizedcapitalistmarketplace,
or to preparefor war,Menschenokonomie
regulatedthe way stateauthoritiesapproachedcitizens,who were regardedin increasinglyproductivistand functional
terms.In these analyses,social policy hadthe effect of creatinga nationalsubject
of production.
The most basic continuitybetweenWeimarandNazi policy lies in the assumption thathumanmaterialcouldandshouldbe remolded.It is the idea of mobilization ratherthanthe particularaims of mobilizationthat constitutesthe common
groundbetweenthe two regimes.WeimarreformersandNazi eugenicistsshareda
genuineoptimismaboutthe possibilityof renovatingsociety,althoughthis optimismwas temperedby the acknowledgmentof the pervasiveinstabilityof human
35 See also Detlev J. K. Peukert, Grenzen der Sozialdisziplinierung:Aufstieg und Krise der
deutschenJugendflrsorge, 1878 bis 1932 (Cologne, 1986).

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653

relations.Therefore,bothwereobsessedwith "shiftless,unskilledboy laborersand


sexualizedgirls"as well as asocialadults36-the frailmarginsof a socialbodythat
requiredvigilantsocialpolicing.Indeed,the moreseriousthe emergency,the more
Weimarimagesof the
legitimatesocialreformwas consideredto be. Characteristic
crippledveteran,the unemploymentline, the destitutemiddle-classcreditor,the
facadeall providedstarktestimonyto theimpermanence
tumbledownmetropolitan
Historyhad
of the materialworldbut also to the tractabilityof its reconstruction.
neverappearedso dangerousor so open-endedas when it was viewed from the
midstof the ruinsof the postwaryears.
as anongoingexperJusthow muchWeimarwas appreciatedby contemporaries
imentin socialrenovationbecomesevidentin the restlessself-criticismimplicitin
theirappraisalsof the UnitedStates,which is the subjectof MaryNolan'silluminatingnew study,Visionsof Modernity:AmericanBusinessand theModernization
of Germany.Before WorldWarI, Americawas not particularlyrelevantto Germans, who had few majordoubtsabouttheirown itineraryof nationaldevelopment.Once the Wilhelminefuturewas challengedby the upheavalof warandthe
humiliationof defeat, however,the very newness of Americaoffered Germans
ways out of the binds of failed history.Americaindicatedthe magnitudeof the
possibilityof renovationand the open-endednessof futuredevelopment.For this
reasonthe "imaginativevision of Germany'sfuturewas shaped... by the perception of America'spresent"(p. 5) in waysthatwerenot as pertinentto thevictorious
powers, GreatBritainand France.AmericafascinatedGermanynot simply becauseit offeredpotentialversionsof modernitybutalso becauseAmerica'sexuberantliberationfromtraditioncorrespondedmost closely to Germany'scalamitiesin
the 1920s.Afterthewarit appearedthatGermanyhadlittlechoicebutto reimagine
itself in the futuretense.
The taskof reinventingthe nationwas undertakenwithenthusiasm.By the mid1920s, tradeunionists,liberaleconomists,engineers,andbusinessleadersall had
a greatdeal to say aboutthe Germanfuturethey saw prefiguredin America.Of
course,therewas no consensusaboutthe Americathat shapedthese Germanvisions, and Nolan expertlydistinguishesthe views of laborleaders,who saw an
efficienteconomy gearedtowardmass consumption,from the antiunionoutlook
of business,which stressedthe free handof factoryownersand the diligenceof
factoryhands,fromthe visions of engineers,who admiredthe scale andefficiency
of production.Germanideology consistentlyreshuffledthe Americanexperience
to emphasize,in turn,consumption,discipline,andtechnology.And yet the itineraries of Germanvisitors to the United States were very much the same. The
Americathey saw was urban,industrial,and midwestern.Indigenousburdensof
historyand povertythatwere plain to see in the Southwouldhave obscuredthe
triumphover historythatthe massivehumanworkof Chicagoand Detroit-and,
most of all, HenryFord'sfactories-seemed to reveal.Technologyratherthannature,monumentalmovementratherthanpristineinactivity,attractedthe German
eye. Rightor Left, the emphasiswas on the techniquesof mobility.
Nolanconcludesthatthe GermanobsessionwithFordismandthe greatpromise
36

Harvey,p. 297.

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did
of rationalization
endedwith the GreatDepression.Thereafter,"Americanism
she writes,"andutopianaspirations
notprovidean appealingmodelof modernity,"
(p. 232). Politics,
couldno longerbe expressedin the languageof rationalization"
Nolan adds,ratherthaneconomicsor technology,seemedto providesolutionsto
Germany's
pressingproblems.ThattheNationalSocialistsrejectedmerelytechnocraticandmanagerialapproachesand emphasizedthe priorityof explicitlyideological and racial strategiesis beyond dispute.And yet the primacyof politics
Forthe
restedon the assumptionthatsocietycouldbe mobilizedandtransformed.
Nazis as muchas for Weimarreformers,the globalcrisessince the outbreakof the
Weiwarhad invalidatedpast historyandrevealeda vast arenafor improvisation.
mar'spoliticalsciences-geopolitics, the mythof thefriendandthefoe-its social
sciences-welfare legislation,maternityprograms,eugenics-and its intellectual
cultures-radical nationalism,Bauhaus,Neue Sachlichkeit-rewrotethe material
worldin increasinglyplasticterms.The fiscal frustrationsof the late 1920s only
heightenedthe urgencyof improvisation,as hadthe emergencyof waranddefeat
a
in the 1910s.ThisBaulehre-or whatPeukerthas termed"Machbarkeitswahn,"
of Weimarreformerson the Right
headysense of the possible-was characteristic
rationalists,
andon the Left.37Forcity planners,welfareexperts,business-minded
andextremenationalists,engineeringof one sortor anotherservedas the basis for
of the Volkskorper
The commonnote in the
the mobilizationand transformation
explorationsundertaken
by Usborne,Harvey,andNolanis the centralityof design
in the politicalimaginationof the WeimarRepublic.
is also the keynoteof the beautifullycompiledsourcebookedited
Improvisation
by AntonKaes,MartinJay,andEdwardDimendberg.Thirtychaptersarrange327
documentson Weimarthemesas diverseas sexuality,consumption,radio,Jewish
life, right-wingnationalism,inflation,and prisons.And while certainomissions
mightbe noted,such as the absenceof thematiccomplexesthattreatquestionsof
or of tradition,shock,or novelty,the editorshaverightlyplacedthe
representation,
As a "laboratory
for modernity"(p. xvii), the Weiemphasison experimentation.
marexperienceappearsas a "frantickaleidoscopicshufflingof the fragmentsof a
nascentmodernityandthe remnantsof a persistentpast"(p. xviii). The generally
punchystyle of the manifestos,vignettes,and declarationsreflectsthe impressof
formidableforces that have acted thoroughly(defeatsare utter,strikesgeneral,
strugglesgreat),with greatpower(industryis concentrated,culturemonotone,the
masses overwhelming),and with tremendousspeed and surprise(people are left
alone andpanicked,thingsare tornand tattered).In the face of so muchnovelty,
witnesses feel variouslydisorientedand abandoned,endangeredand delighted.
Only a few commentatorssuch as KurtTucholskydebunkthese postwarpretensionsto theendof historyandcynicallyexposetheimmobilityof so muchGerman
culture.Thereis also little writingthatseeks to safeguardor restoreor commemorate,andthesedocumentscome mostlyfromthe politicalcenter.The textsassembled hereare not lachrymoseor nostalgic.Forthe most part,a sense of exuberant
possibilityenchantsthe landscapethey describe.Artists,technicians,politicians,
37 Peukert,Max WebersDiagnose, pp. 69, 110-11. See also Fritzsche, "Landscapeof Danger,
Landscapeof Design,"pp. 29-46.

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Did WeimarFail?

655

scientists,and athletes,among many,manyothersin this collection, cast themandpioneers.Of course,thejuxtapomuckrakers,


selves as searchers,adventurers,
sitions and collages thatthe discontinuityof postwarexperiencecreatedare precisely the things thatmakeWeimarso aestheticallyinteresting,and postmodern
intellectualfashionsof the presentday have shapedthe selectionof texts, as the
editorsfreely admit.In this regard,the texts are a little too canonical:Weimar
perennialslike WalterBenjaminandKurtTucholskyappearfive timeseach;Ernst
for a "sourcebook"
is
JungerandCarlvon Ossietskythreetimes.Also unfortunate
the relianceon so manyessays ratherthanon blueprints,courtcases, directives,
and manuals.The sources are mostly opinionsthat imaginebut do not enforce
power,and fully 12 percentof the texts come fromtwo left-wingjournals,Weltbuhneand Das Tagebuch.Nonetheless,this volumeis a splendidarchaeologyof
modernism.It revealsa greatdeal abouthow historywas viewed duringthe Weimaryearsandhow thosepromiscuousviewingsarmedthe politicalimaginationin
dangerousways.
remainsan intellectualpreoccupation
at the endof thetwenExaminingWeiimar
tiethcenturybecauseWeimarprovidessuch a compellingversionof history.As is
evidentfromthe mostrecenthistoricalstudies,modernGermanyis a placewhere
the imaginativefoundationsof politicsappearparticularlymanifest.Onedramatic
illustrationof the assumptionthatsocial life could be designedis the arrayof adThe fascinaministrativepracticespresupposedby the notionof the Volkskorper
tion with experimentation
pervadedintellectualand culturallife as well, as The
WeimarRepublicSourcebookmakesclear.Thatthe historicalprocesswas widely
Germanyis not surprising.By
regardedas inherentlyunstablein twentieth-century
the end of the nineteenthcentury,Germanyseemedthe quintessentialproductof
manufacture:railroads,factories,retail goods, and sprawlingcities had literally
createda secondnaturemoreextensiveandmorecompletethanelsewherein Europe. War,revolution,and economiccollapse appearedto confirmthe impermanence of the materialworld. Of course, Britainand Franceenduredsubstantial
socialandeconomicupheavalsas well. ButWeimar'spoliticalandintellectualculture was distinctivefor the exclusivenessof its identificationwith the circumstancesof contingency.And it is this identificationthatmakesthe 1920s so recognizablymodem.
Ontheone hand,postwarGermanshadthe senseof livingamongruins,a nostalgic stateof mindthatnourishedreactionarypoliticsof the sortthatBessel explores,
thoughone that also exhibitedan aestheticfascinationwith fragments,margins,
andthetemporariness
of life which,in the handsof WalterBenjamin,for example,
puncturedthe claims of masternarrativesand commonsenserealism.38On the
otherhand,Germansfrom all politicalcampsrecognizedthe possibilitythatcollapsing structuresmight be steadied,at least for a time. Emergencyconditions
offeredopportunitiesfor amelioration.As mobilizationduringWorldWarI suggested,healthiercitizenscouldbe fashioned,moreproductiveworkerstrained,and
unworthydelinquentssortedout. Laterin the 1920s, CarlSchmittelaboratednew
38 David Frisby,Fragmentsof Modernity:Theories of Modernityin the Workof Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin(Cambridge,Mass., 1986).

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656

Fritzsche

collectivemythsto forgenationalconsensus,a thoroughlymodernistgesturesince


he acknowledgedthe exhaustionof traditionalbelief structureseven as he triedto
banishthe moralrelativismthathad replacedthem with the purelyarbitrarydistinctionbetweenfriendandfoe.39Schmitt'sconstructivemythbuildingwas a conscious disavowalof nostalgia'sessential passivity.From this perspective,it appearedthat contingencycould be managedto the nationaladvantage;the very
maraudingmovementsof historypromisedto reanimateits multiplepossibilities.
Whatstill needsto be explained,however,is why the managementof contingency
so oftentook the formof fiercenationalistrevivals.Few intellectualsechoedHelitinerancy,
muthPlessner,the Weimarsociologistwho embracedthe "anonymity,
[and]dispersion"of modemlife becauseit openedup a new "horizonof possibility."40Strikinga remarkablypostmodernpose, Plessnercelebratedthe multiple
provedunwillingto embarkon
self-stylizationsof the self. But his contemporaries
this stimulatingvoyage.Again and again, in the face of the collapse of history,
criticsas diverseas Schmitt,ErnstBloch, andGeorgLukaicsattemptedto retrieve
communityin totalistcollectivitiessuch as class, nation,andVolk.Thesedramatiof empowerment"
thatenrolledindividuals
zations,in turn,generated"narratives
in compellingways.41Weimarwas the postwarworkshopin whichthese moreor
less fierceversionsof the futurewere constructed.Thatdemocracyfailed or that
Plessnerremainedalonein his searchdid not diminishthe operationsof thisplace.
The comingof the ThirdReichin 1933 was not so muchverificationof Weimar's
singularfailureas the validationof its dangerouspotential.

39Wolfgang Essbach, "Radikalismusund Modernitzet bei Jiinger und Bloch, Lukacs und
Schmitt,"pp. 145-59; and ManfredGangl, "Mythosder Gewaltund Gewalt des Mythos:Georges
Sorels Einfluss auf rechte und linke Intellektuelleder WeimarerRepublik,"pp. 171-95, both in
in der
the excellent collection edited by ManfredGangl and GerardRaulet,Intellektuellendiskurse
Zurpolitischen Kultureiner Gemengelage(Frankfurt,1994). See also Norbert
WeimarerRepublik:
Bolz, Auszugaus der entzaubertenWelt:PhilosophischerExtremismuszwischenden Weltkriegen
(Munich, 1989).
40 See Helmuth Plessner, Grenzen der Gemeinschaft:Eine Kritik des sozialen Radikalismus
der Kdlte:Lebensversuchezwischenden Kriegen
(Bonn, 1924); HelmuthLethen, Verhaltenslehren
(Frankfurt,1994), pp. 8-9; and Michael Makropoulos,"HaltloseSouveranitat:Benjamin,Schmitt
und die Klassische Modernein Deutschland,"in Gangl and Raulet, eds., pp. 197-211, who also
discusses the managementof contingency.
41 Geyer,"The Stigma of Violence,"p. 76.

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