ALTHOUGH NOT a politician, Theodor Eschenburg could be regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Federal Republic of Germany's democracy. Generations of students benefited from his political science teaching and a much wider audience gained from his writing in the liberal weekly Die Zeit and other publications.
He was born in 1904, into the Hanseatic commercial aristocracy so well described in Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks. Like Mann, he was brought up in Lubeck in the Kaiser's Germany. He studied history and public law at the universities of Tubingen and Berlin, observing the rise and fall of the Weimar Republic.
In 1928 he was awarded his doctorate from the University of Berlin for a contemporary history study of "Das Kaiserreich am Scheideweg" ("The Kaiser's Reich at the Crossroads").Through initiative and connections he gained access to the circle around Gustav Stresemann, the moderate Conservative Chancellor and Foreign Minister of Germany.
This was a good vantage-point, for Stresemann faced intrigue in his German People's Party, which, despite its name, was never a mass party. His constant negotiating with other parties to form and keep coalitions going was an eye-opener for the student Eschenburg.
When Stresemann, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926, died in October 1929, Eschenburg saw it as a harbinger of the death of German stability and democracy. In the same month Wall Street crashed and, a few months later, Hitler's Nazis became a mass party. Any hope of finding a job in politics ended for Eschenburg in 1933 with the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor. He found a safe haven, in Berlin, in an organisation representing the interests of small family businesses. This was useful for his later academic interest in pressure groups and their involvement with government and parliament. The result was his classic, Herrschaft der Verbande ("Rule by the Interest Groups"), published in 1955.
Eschenburg emerged from the ruins of Hitler's Reich with an unblemished record and became a sought-after democrat. …