Magazine article The Spectator

Daring to Defy the Myth

Magazine article The Spectator

Daring to Defy the Myth

Article excerpt

WEIMAR GERMANY : PROMISE AND TRAGEDY by Eric D. Weitz Princeton, £17.95, pp. 425, ISBN 9780691016955 £14.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Weimar lasted 14 years, the Third Reich only 12. Yet Weimar is always seen as a prelude to the Third Reich, which appears to have been created by Weimar's failures.

Actually, as Eric Weitz argues, the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was not responsible for the Reich; it was a democratic, socially aware and progressive government, way ahead of many other European governments in its introduction of workers' rights, public housing, unemployment benefit and suffrage for women. However, Weimar was, from the beginning, the target of the anti-democratic forces of the established Right -- as Weitz describes the disparate forces which could be found in the nobility, the army, business, the churches and in the civil service. They, long before Hitler, were responsible for propagating the myth of the Dolschstoss, the stab in the back, and they were the people who would never accept that the first world war was the product of German militarism. In fact it suited all parties, even those who had signed the Treaty of Versailles, to pretend that Germany had fought a just and successful war before being betrayed.

Hitler and his party made little or no impression on the German electorate for many years: even at their best they only achieved 33 per cent of the vote. It was the Right that cleared the way for their eventual takeover. Weitz also makes a very strong case for the established Right's complicity in widespread anti-Semitism, which came in many guises, but essentially rested on the belief that Deutschtum -- Germanness -- was being diluted and weakened. All sections of the Right joined in, so that Hitler -- as Weitz shows all too clearly -- said absolutely nothing that the Right had not already said.

From Prussian nobles to intellectuals, from civil servants to poets, there was a widespread attack, more or less direct, on the Jews. Jews were seen as purveyors of modernity, corrupters of morals and secret manipulators.

There were too many Jews in the law, in the arts, in commerce; Jews were rootless, quite unable to understand the deep attachment to the land and to the imagined Germanic past. The poet Stefan George, Claus von Stauffenberg's mentor, said the Jews took over every enterprise they came into contact with, turning it into something un-German, clever though they were individually. And Stauffenberg's last testament was highly antidemocratic, advocating a return to medieval values.

Weimar's intoxicating modernity, its interest in sexual fulfilment, its satirical leanings, its love of design and theatre and architecture, and especially its new women, were seen not as an advertisement for a Germany leading the world into the modern era, but as a subversive cosmopolitanism which would result in the extinction of true German values. This hatred of modernity was made respectable by the pseudo-philosophy of Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, and by other intellectuals -- the conservative revolutionaries as they were already called -- who wallowed in the myth of a Teutonic greatness which had been betrayed. Never a day went by in Weimar without some attack from these anti-democratic forces. …

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