The Weimar Republic Doomed to Fail

As a new era dawned for Germany, the German people had its first attempt at parliamentary democracy with the Weimar Republic.  Born in the ashes of defeat, the Weimar Republic was burdened with the failures of the past.  It dealt with the military defeat and domestic revolution.  Though the Weimar era was a stark difference to the Wilhelmine era, the Weimar Republic was inevitably overshadowed by its ultimate demise.  Some historians argue that due to the numerous difficulties that the Republic faced, that it was in fact foredoomed to fail.  Others argue that the Weimar Republic was a product complex and painful compromises, and may in fact have survived had it not been for the economic conditions that riddled both Germany and the international economy.

From the very start, the Weimar republic faced opposition from both sides of the political spectrum.  It was inevitable that the Weimar Republic would have faced difficulties from the start, but to say doomed is unfair. The republic was beginning to overcome its difficulties during the mid-1920’s as economic, political, and cultural improvements were occurring, and if it hadn’t been for the economic circumstances, the republic may have prospered for many years.

Other historians argue that the Weimar government lacked popular support or enthusiasm, and as a result is a reason why the Weimar government was doomed from conception.  While acknowledging the new system of government did not have widespread support, Kolb argues that the most Germans were simply motivated to the restoration of law and order, and return to peace conditions.  Weitz argues that the opinion of many German people at the end of the Imperial period German people sought a democratic regime.

The dominant political figure of the times was Gustav Stresemann.  Like other Germans, Stresemann detested the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.  His main objective was to restore Germany to its rightful position on the world stage, but unlike previous ministers he differed in tactics.  He realised that challenging the Allied powers would be unproductive.  Instead he decided to adopt the policy of fulfilment; meeting the requirements of the victorious powers as long as it served Germany’s greater interests.

With this new approach, Stresemann was able to save Germany from the brink of collapse.  He was able to reverse the effects of hyperinflation, by implementing numerous policy changes in 1924.  Due to his actions he was able to propel Germany into it’s so called “golden age”.  With the evacuation of the French from the Ruhr, 17% of total industry was back under German control.  This drastically improved the spiraling inflation rate and lowered unemployment greatly.   By restructuring the government, Germany was able to acquire loans from the US under the Dawes Plan.  Through the use of these funds, Germany was able to successfully decrease the level of inflation and unemployment, and launch Germany into social and economic prosperity.

The democratic government of Germany was also able to secure the signatories of Britain and France in the Locarno Treaties.  The treaties main function was to improve the political atmosphere between the western powers and Germany, after the events of the First World War.  This Treaty not only improved Germany’s reputation, as a nation seeking peace, but also improved international relations.  The Locarno Treaties also facilitated Germany joining the League of Nations in 1926.

There were many weaknesses in the political structure of the Weimar Republic.  With the benefit of hindsight, historians are able to observe the many areas in which the unintended consequences of constitutional laws, such as Article 48, came back to haunt the Weimar Republic.  Though it is important to note that had the Weimar economy not suffered, hyperinflation or the depression, many of the constitutional Acts may never have occurred.    There is no single cause for the disintegration of the Weimar Republic, not the disintegration of the constitution, nor the implications of the Treaty of Versailles, the impact of the Depression, nor the actions of prominent individuals, it was the peculiar combination, under specific historical circumstances which produced the ultimate outcome.  Therefore it is reasonable to argue that the Weimar Republic was not foredoomed to fail.

Further Readings

Craig, Gordon. Germany 1866-1945 (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1978)

Evans, Richard. The Coming of the Third Reich, (London: Penguin Books, 2004)

Kershaw, Ian. Weimar. Why did German Democracy Fail? (London: Harvard University Press, 1990)

Kolb, Eberhard. The Weimar Republic, (London: Penguin Books, 1988)

Weitz, Eric. Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 2007)

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5 comments on “The Weimar Republic Doomed to Fail

  1. mm31190 says:

    An interesting read, I haven’t studied Weimar Republic since high school and it interests me as i will have to teach history in secondary school. From my own studies on the Weimar Republic, long ago, i held a similar view to what you are arguing. i believe it is naive to think that something can be doomed from the start, a multitude of factors led to the downfall of the Weimar and any number of factors could have prevented it from failing. Of course it is easy to say that the Weimar republic could have been doomed from the start because of the context in which it is set. I think your essay will be a useful resource if you ever need to teach this subject in high school as it encapsulates many important aspects surrounding the demise of the Weimar Republic.

  2. Hi Christina,

    I was one of the members of the first Making History At Macquarie students last year and thoroughly enjoyed your piece.

    I had just a couple of questions, hypotheticals if you will:

    a) Would Hitler have happened if Weimar succeeded?
    The Third Reich stemmed directly from Hitler’s disillusionment of Verseilles and how Weimar failed. Do you think he would have had to “take over” if Weimar had worked?

    b) How was Stresemann able to secure loans while DE was paying reparations?
    Germany was burdened with reparations, payable to the Allies, which would have seen them in debt until well into the 1980s. Hitler actually put paid to that once he took power, but this aside, how were loans able to be secured with Germany being in this amount of debt?

    Good luck with your post-graduate life
    peterg

  3. Hi Peter
    I personally don’t believe Hitler would have risen to power if the Weimar Republic had succeeded. Here is one of the reasons why. With the economic crisis, Germany was in a state of crisis. People began to lose faith in the Weimar constitution and many people wanted to see a change. It was realised that in such a crisis, the Weimar government needed one man to deal with Germany’s problems. The Great Depression acted like a catalyst- it reignited people’s anger for the Treaty of Versailles. People now started listening to Hitler- he seemed to have all the answers. The Nazi rallies conveyed a sense of, which is what people were looking for. Before the Great Depression, people were happy to go along with Stresemann’s policy of fulfilment. Support for Hitler grew as unemployment grew, and the economic situation worsened.

    Christina

  4. lizziejane91 says:

    A very interesting topic. I remember studying this topic in high school and found this blog post very interesting. I like how you have gone through and listed many weaknesses of the republic. Focusing on a personality (stresseman) I also found very useful. I don’t see the republic as doomed from the start, rather I see it as having many issues that it was unable to contain, leading to its demise.
    -Elizabeth Feeney

  5. nicolajblack says:

    I’ve really enjoyed this post – though I studied the Weimar Republic in high school, I often found it was difficult for me to find interest in it because it seemed overwhelming, complex and frankly a little dull – but this post has really explained a lot of things to me about the historical context and period, and the processes and events that led to the downfall. It’s really concise and clear, and as others have mentioned, you’ve outlined the specific weaknesses of the republic – which has made it more accessible to people like myself who wouldn’t usually be persuaded to understand the event.

    Nicola Black

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