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FredericChen
ProfessorFisk
POLI120B
9May2015
TheDeclineoftheWeimarRepublic
IntheaftermathoftheFirstWorldWar,Germanywasleftabrokenstate,subjecttothe
whimofthevictoriousAlliedPowers.TheTreatyofVersailleshadcrippledwhathadbeenthe
dominantpowerinCentralEurope,forcingtheconcessionoflandshardwoninthecenturyprior
andtheeconomicruinofbearingthebruntoffinancialreparationsforafouryearlongwarthat
hadstretchedthelimitsoftheindustrialcapabilitiesofthemajorworldpowers.Itisinthis
timeframethattheWeimarRepubliccametobe,andinthiscontextliesthereasonswhyitwas
doomedtofailfromthestart.Thoughanumberoffactorscontributedtothedeclineandeventual
collapseoftheWeimarRepublic,itwasacombinationofeconomicturmoil,institutional
weaknesses,andculturaltensionthatplayedthelargestrolesinunderminingtheWeimar
Republicsfoundationandcausingitseventualfall.Economicturmoilcameintheformof
hyperinflation,causingpriceindexestorisebyabillionfoldrelativeto1914,whilestate
institutionswerecrippledbyboththelawandthestrongpoliticaldivisionsoftheperiod.The
generalinsecurityofthepostwareraheightenedtensionsbetweenGermansofdifferentwalksof
life,astheystruggledtodealwithpoliticalandculturaldifferences,andanoverallfeelingof
discontenttowardshavinglostawartheyfelttheyshouldhavewon.Itwasthispoliticaltension
thatdoomedtheWeimarRepublic,asiteffectivelyfracturedthenationalidentityintomultiple
factionsvyingforinfluenceinapoliticalsystemthatwasunstabletobeginwith.Inasituation
likethis,itisthestrongandheavyhandedthatprevails,andtheWeimarRepublicwasnoneof

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thesethings.Asaresult,theGermanpeoplelookedtowardstheNazisforleadershipand
improvement,leadingtotheeventualcollapseoftheWeimarRepublic.
TheTreatyofVersaillesbroughtwithitmanytermsandconditionsthatwereimposedon
theGermanpeopleintheaftermathofWW1.Chiefamongthemwerewarreparations,which
forcedGermanytoacceptresponsibilityforcausingthewarandpaybacktheAlliedPowersfor
theexpensestheyincurredwhilefightingGermanyandherallies.However,Germanywas
alreadystrugglingeconomicallyfromthedebtsithadincurredinitsownfight,andtheadditional
debtofreparationseffectivelycrippledtheWeimarRepublic.Asaresultofprintingmoney
gratuitouslyduringwartime,inflationhadgrowntothepointwhereinDecember1918ittook
nearlytwiceasmanymarkstobuyaUSdollar[asitdidin1914](Evans,pg.102).Withthe
onsetofforcedreparationspostTreatyofVersailles,inflationskyrocketedtothepointwhereit
took233billionmarkstobuyaloafofbreadinNovember1923,andpriceschangedtwoorthree
foldoverthecourseofasingleday.HyperinflationdictatedlifeintheearlydaysoftheWeimar
Republic,asmoneyceasedtobemeaningfulduetoitsvalueconstantlydropping.Itcontributed
totheinstabilityoftheeraasthepeoplestruggledtofeedthemselveswiththeirever
depreciatingpaychecks.Thoughthehyperinflationwascurbedbytheintroductionofthe
Rentenmark,whichwaspeggedtothepriceofgold,itseffectswerestillfeltinthefactthatany
preinflationarypersonalsavingshadallbeenlost,andthepeoplecontinuedtohaveadistrust
towardsthevalueofpapercurrency.Sinceconsumergoodsweretheonlythingthatstillheld
valuefortheaverageGerman,ahugecrimewavesweptthecountry(Evans,pg.110)as
peopletriedtostealandbartertomakeendsmeet.Desperationandhardshipledmanypeopleto
becomedisenchantedwiththesystemasawhole,leadingtothemtryingtofindscapegoatsto

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blamesocietysproblemson,andmakingtheWeimarRepublicevenmorevulnerableasitlost
thesupportofabroadspectrumofsociety.
InstitutionalfactorsalsoplayedaroleinthecollapseoftheWeimarRepublic.Growing
tensionsbetweentheworkingandmiddleclasshadcreatedadividedpoliticalatmosphere,split
betweentheSocialDemocratsandthecentristandrightwingparties.Asthereweresomany
factionsvyingforexistence,nonecouldeffectivelygainmajorityinthecabinet,leadingto
deadlockandthelackofeffectivegovernance.Eachpartysawtheotherpartiesasrivals,evenif
theyoccupiedthesamebandofthepoliticalspectrum,andtheirrefusaltoworktogetherand
formalastingcoalitionseverelyunderminedthestrengthoftheWeimarRepublic.Forexample,
thoughboththeSocialDemocratsandtheCommunistPartyespousedtheidealsofMarxism,
theyviewedeachotherasthreatstothemselves,duetopreviouspoliticalviolencebetweenthe
SPDbackedFreeCorpsandtheRedArmy(Evans,pg.74).WhentheGreatDepressionhitin
1930,themiddleclassgrewmoreagitatedinfaceofunemploymentanduncertainty,andledto
evenmorewidespreaddivisionwhenitcametimetovote.Therewasnogovernmentmajorityin
the1930election,astheSPDfoundthemselvesweakenedbytheemergenceofanewradical
rightwingpartyintheNSDAP(Fisk,TheWeimarRepublic,Slide11).TheNaziswereableto
useunderhandedmethodsofintimidationandnationalistrhetorictotakeadvantageofthe
instabilityandgraduallybuildtheirsupportbase;allwhiletheSocialDemocratsunderminedthe
republicbyfocusingonfightingoffthecentristsandCommunists.BythetimetheSocial
DemocratsrecognizedthethreattheNazisposed,itwastoolateastheyhadalreadybuiltupthe
momentumnecessarytoupsettheelectionsin1932.ThoughtheSPDmanagedtogettheir
candidateinthepresidentialoffice,thefactthattheyhadtofieldaconservativecandidateproved

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thattimewasrunningoutforboththeirpartyandtheWeimarRepublicwhichtheyinessence
represented.
InthecontextofthetimeperiodoftheWeimarRepublic,Germanywascountrysplit
primarilybysocioeconomicandpoliticaldivides.Yet,therewasanotherdeepseatedissueinthe
culturaldifferencesbetweenethnicGermansandthevariousSlavicminoritiesandJewsthat
livedwithinthecountry.ThoughantiSemitismwasnotanimportantissuepriortoWW1,the
discontentofmanyGermansduetohavinglostthewarledtomanytryingtofindscapegoatsto
explainhowtheycouldhavelost.TheJewishminorityrepresentedaneasytarget,giventhatthey
hadalreadybeenmarginalizedandblamedbynationalistandradicalrightwinggroupsforthe
variousproblemsthatplaguedGermansociety.AsthesegroupsgainedfootinginGerman
politics,sotoodidtheideastheyespousedwiththegeneralpublic.AntiSemiticrhetoricbecame
morecommonplaceineverydaylife,withsomeinstancesofmobviolenceoccurringinJewish
neighborhoods(Evans,pg.152).TheriseofantiSemitismisdirectlytiedtothedeclineofthe
WeimarRepublic,asGermanJewstendedtosupporttheSocialDemocratswhowererapidly
losinggroundpolitically.ThemoretheSPDfaltered,theworseitgotfortheJews,andthe
greaterthereciprocityofthemiddleclasstowardstheideathattheJewsweretoblamefortheir
socioeconomicwoes.Withthemiddleclassstartingtobelievetheargumentspresentedbythe
Nazisandotherradicalrightwinggroups,itsetthefoundationforHitlerscomingtopower,and
sealedthefateoftheWeimarRepublic.
Thougheconomic,institutional,andculturalfactorsallplayedaroleinthecollapseofthe
WeimarRepublic,theprimaryreasonforitsdeclineandfallwasacombinationofthepolarized
politicaldivisionthatmadeitimpossibleforcompromisetooccurandtheculturaltensionsthat

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theNazisplayedupontoincreasetheirsupportbase.Theclassandculturaldifferencesin
Germansocietymanifesteditselfintheformofsupportforpoliticalparties,andtheoverall
instabilityandtensionofthetimeperiodmeantthatnoneoftheprominentpartieswereableto
gainasolemajority,andneithercouldtheyformafunctioningcoalitiongovernment.Asthe
Nazismadeinroadspolitically,theirsupportbasegrewfromtheconservativemiddleclass,who
feltthreatenedbothbytheeconomichardshipsoftheGreatDepressionandbyperceivedsocial
threatscausedbyminoritiesandleftwingparties.ThougheventheNaziswereunabletogaina
majorityevenafterHitlerachievedchancellorship,thefactthattheCommunistsandSocial
DemocratscouldnotworktogethereffectivelycausedthecollapseoftheWeimarRepublic.
TheirinfightinghadsetthestagefortheNazistotakepower,andtheNazisusedtheirnewfound
powertobanthepoliticalpartiesthatopposedthem,therebysignalingtheendoftheWeimar
Republic.
TheWeimarRepublicwasdoomedtofailfromthestart.Bornoutofatimeofdespair
andinstability,itlackedthefoundationnecessarytobealastinginstitution.Asademocratic
republic,itrequireddegreesofcooperationandcompromisesinordertofunctionasa
government,whichnoneofthefactionsinvolvedwerewillingtodo.Compoundedbythe
economicturmoilbroughtaboutbyhyperinflationandwarreparations,theWeimarRepublic
waseffectivelycrippledinitsinfancy,asitsconstituentswereunabletotrustthesystembecause
ofitsineffectivenessindealingwithproblemsthatweretrulyoutsideitsrealmofcontrol.Asthe
peoplegrewmoredisenchantedbythehardshipsofdaytodaylife,theybegantolongforthe
totalitariangovernmentsofthepastthathadbroughtGermanypowerandprideinthelast
century.Byplayinguponthisnostalgia,theNaziswereabletogainenoughsupporterstoforce

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itswayintopower,andultimatelycausethecollapseoftheWeimarRepublicandthedemocratic
idealsitespoused.
Fromitsstart,theWeimarRepublicwasacrippledinstitution,strugglingtofindbalance
inthepolarizedpoliticalatmosphereoftheday.Fromitsearliestdays,itsreignwasmarkedby
unprecedentedeconomichardshipsintheformofextremehyperinflationandtheGreat
Depression,whilelastingculturaltensionsfromtheignominyofhavinglosttheFirstWorldWar
createdasituationinwhichastablegovernmentcouldnotbeformed.TheWeimarRepublicwas
marredbypoliticaldeadlockthroughoutitsexistence,anditwasultimatelythisinabilityforthe
variouspartiestocompromiseandformacoalitionthatbroughtaboutthepowervacuumthatthe
Naziswereabletoexploit.AstheSPDandKPDfoughtamongstthemselves,eachbelievingthe
othertobethegreaterthreat,theyoverlookedthecapabilityoftheNazistogainsupportand
overthrowtherepublic.Bythetimetheyrecognizedthethreat,itwasalreadytoolateforthe
SPDandtheWeimarRepublictogainbackthegroundlost,andtherepublicwaslost.TheSocial
DemocratsalsofailedtocombatthegrowingprevalenceofantiSemiticbeliefswithin
contemporaryculture,andwereincapableofmaintainingtheallegianceofthemiddleclassas
theeconomicsituationworsenedandsocialunrestgrew.Unabletoadequatelyaddressneither
thediscontentofthepeoplenorreconcilethedeeppoliticaldividesoftheestablishedparties,the
WeimarRepublicwasdoomedtocollapse.TheonsetoftheGreatDepressionandtheeconomic
uncertaintyitcreatedwithinthemiddleclassonlyservedtohastenitsdemise,asthepeople
lookedtowardsHitlerandtheNazisforstrengthandstability.Byfailingtoaddressthis
sentiment,thedemocraticWeimarRepubliccollapsedandwasreplacedbythetotalitarian
dictatorshipofNaziGermany.

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WorksCited
Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. New York: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Fisk, David L. The Weimar Republic Lecture Slides