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.
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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)