Germany, a Companion to German Studies

By Jethro Bithell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V

GERMAN HISTORY FROM 1931 TO 19371

THE struggle for supremacy between Brüning and Hitler, which in 1931 (pp. 149-51, 156) was taking on definite contours, ended with the crushing victory of the Nazi leader and a transformation of German government and life so vast and complete that at the present time, when the final phase has not been reached, anyone who deals with it can do little more than attempt an explanation of the ideals and aims which made it possible. One thing is certain: no statesman in the whole range of German history has made such sweeping changes as Hitler has done with the ease of a magician; and no German King or Kaiser has ever wielded such power.

We can see now that Brüning represents the transition between the international Socialism which framed and attempted to work the Weimar Constitution and the ruthless tyranny of National Socialism. Brüning's inability to weld Parliamentary parties into a majority forced him in 1930 to twist Article 48 of the Constitution into an interpretation which justified his new device of governing by 'emergency decrees' (Notverordnungen) issued by a 'presidential cabinet' (Präsidialkabinett); that is, in effect, by the personal authority deposed by the President in the Chancellor, who was thus independent of the Reichstag. Brüning was not a dictator; but he had begun to govern dictatorially. He failed mainly, not because he adopted this autocratic method, but because he came into conflict with the autocratic tendencies of the Junker clique behind Hindenburg. Brüning's positive achievements were afterwards ignored; but it is a literal fact that he smoothed the way for Hitler, above all by contriving the reduction of wages.

On 5th May 1932 Hindenburg's period of seven years as President was due to expire, and an attempt was made to persuade Hitler to agree to an

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1
This chapter is left pretty much as it was written in 1937. To have changed present or perfect tense to past would have ruined the mood and tensity of the style and whatever vividness the picture may have of something ever-present in our minds in those anxious days. The exposition of the racial and political theories then in the forefront of interest have now historical and literary interest; one would rather expand than suppress them.

-158-

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