Gustav Stresemann. Weimar's Greatest Statesman

By Scheck, Raffael | German Quarterly, April 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Gustav Stresemann. Weimar's Greatest Statesman


Scheck, Raffael, German Quarterly


Wright, Jonathan. Gustav Stresemann. Weimar's Greatest Statesman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. xvii + 569 pp. $39.95 hardcover.

This biography is detailed, shows measured judgment, and leaves a sympathetic impression of its subject. Wright believes that Stresemann's conversion from the annexationist National Liberal politician of World War I to the Vernunftrepublikaner, even democrat, and European conciliator of his later years was sincere. The book presents much evidence for this thesis. It shows that Stresemann, from humble background, had always believed in the participation of broad groups in politics and regretted the exclusion of Social Democrats from Wilhelmine politics. Wright also stresses Stresemann's more general disillusionment with the old order overthrown in 1918 and traces skillfully his evolving appreciation for the Weimar Republic and a peaceful foreign policy. The first, Stresemann believed, was the only alternative to civil war; the second was guided by his conviction that a new international war would be devastating for Germany and Europe. Wright conveys well how Stresemann saw eye to eye with the depressing political situation of post-World War I Germany and derived from this a passionate commitment to reality rather than the resignation or the flight into illusions chosen by so many of his contemporaries. Wright relativizes some of Stresemann's more chauvinistic statements, explaining them as an adaptation to the expectations of nationalist audiences and perhaps as part of his strategy to bind the right wing to the Weimar state. Wright's work suggests that Stresemann had no hidden agenda. he was sincere when he rejected plans for a forceful change of Germany's borders with Poland, but he also made it clear that neither he nor the German public could ever accept those borders. It is not certain whether Stresemann understood that a Germany having received international parity with France would actually dominate Europe, at least economically, but there is no sign that he wanted to provide the preconditions for German military and political hegemony.

This thorough work invites few criticisms, but there are several aspects I would have liked to see included or better explored. …

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