Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin

Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin
Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic," Berlin

Saturday, March 28, 2015

3/28 Max Weber: Politics as a Vocation

In the film M, the liberal lawyer assigned to defend the killer is homeless. This represents the sense that liberal political values and attitudes were somehow homeless in Germany. In this class we look at the failure of liberals like Weber to win out over more authoritarian movements, as well as the history of the German state. Weber famously argued that the state is an organization that holds a monopoly over violence in a given territory. All states must develop ideas to legitimatize ruling over people. Finally, Weber is also known for arguing for the importance of charisma as a force in politics and seems to anticipate the rise of fascist leaders who relied on the "cult of personality" to maintain their rule. At the same time, Weber seemed to argue that charisma offers the slimmest chance of avoiding the crushing effects of modern rational political and economic authority.

Max Weber (1864-1920) perhaps more than any other figure of this time represents the–ultimately–failed attempt to bring about a democratic order in Weimar Germany. Despite these failings in political life, Weber is still generally considered to be the most important sociological thinker ever. http://www.isa-sociology.org/books/vt/bkv_000.htm. Weber helped found the German Democratic Party (DDP) which along with the Social Democratic Party and the Catholic Center Party tried to establish the left-liberal leaning Weimar Coalition in 1919. However this coalition failed to maintain power after 1920, from that point on any majority in parliament would have to include at least one of the more right-wing nationalistic and anti-democratic parties. The weakest link in the coalition was the DDP, although all parties lost support, which failed to attract voters as did many other newly created parties, instead voters withdrew from politics or joined private associations many of which had an authoritarian element to them.

“Politics as a Vocation” (Politik als Beruf) was a speech delivered by Weber  to the students at the University of Munich in the Southern German state of Bavaria during the revolution in December 1918, published the following month, the same month as the failed Spartacus uprising. Apart from the revolution in Berlin, the capital of the German Empire, where Rosa Luxemburg was based, revolutionary movements spread out throughout all the major cities of Germany, one of which was Munich the capital of the state of Bavaria.

Before the Kaiser had formally vacated power, revolutionaries had overthrown the 700-year old Wittelsbach dynasty that ruled Bavaria on November 7th 1918. Germany had such a dense feudal structure that they had overlapping layers of monarchies, along with nobles, and all of the bishops and other officials who attended to the kings and nobles. I had mentioned previously that Germany had a federal system like the United States. That means that there was a division of power between the national government and smaller states that make up the nation. Unlike the U.S. which was a federal system made up of smaller republics, the German state was made up of smaller monarchies (and a few “free cities”) that were unified together in 1871.  Perhaps since Germany became a unified state in 1871 it could help explain why states like Bavaria would separate itself from the rest of Germany. However this begs the question why did Germany become a unified state so late, especially in comparison to other states like England, France, Spain, and Russia? 

Before there was a German Empire (or Second Reich) there was the Holy Roman Empire (First Reich). The French philosopher Voltaire once said, the Holy Roman Empire is neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire, it definitely was not Roman, although it claimed to be the successor to the Roman Empire, and it was not really an Empire either, nonetheless, it remained in existence for almost 900 years from the coronation of Otto the Great in 962 until it was dissolved during the Napoleonic wars in 1806.
At its peak the territories covered by the Empire besides Germany: Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and even parts of France and Italy

Following an ancient German tribal practice of electing kings, the emperor was elected by several of the most influential German princes. As this practice became institutionalized it gave the nobles much more power over the monarch, and thus prevented the consolidation of the state under one monarch, the opposite of what happened in England, France, and Spain. Besides the power of the nobility, there were also powerful independent city-states that were able to preserve some autonomy from either the monarch or the nobility. Germany today is made up of 16 states, however, three of those states are still "city-states," Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen. 

In addition to power of the "electors" to choose the emperor there was an Imperial Legislature or Diet, that also checked the power of the emperor. The Imperial Diet was composed of three levels: at the highest level were the electors, the second level was made up of the other princes, and the third level, representatives from the city-states. In other words the very political institutions of the empire itself seemed to work against its consolidation into a unified state under an absolute monarch. However it did allow for a common German culture to develop in its territories, that created a sense of "German identity" that existed for centuries before there was a German state, some have argued that this can even partly explain why Germany has such a developed culture and a relatively underdeveloped tradition of democracy. In the Eastern areas where there was less industry the nobles had even more power and even more independent from the monarch. Bavaria was one of the eastern states, Prussia was another. After Napoleon dissolved the Holy Roman Empire, he organized some of the German states including Bavaria into the Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund), after the Rhine River which runs through Germany–Prussia remained nominally independent but had to cede territory to this new Confederation. 
Flag of Confederation of Rhine 1806-1813

The philosopher Hegel, who was completing the Phenomenology of Spirit at the same Napoleon was invading Prussia in 1806, regarded Napoleon as the world spirit, speaking to the sense of "cultural lag" that many Germanys saw in the old form of the empire. After the fall of Napoleon the boundaries of Europe were redrawn at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. As a result of this conference the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund) with the addition of Austria.
German Confederation 1815-1866

This confederation lasted until 1866 when still independent Prussia went to war against Austria leading to the North German Confederation (Norddeutscher Bund) which lasted until German unification in 1871.
North German Confederation 1867-1871

 In the 18th century Prussia began to become dominant over the other German states. Berlin, unlike some of the other German cities that went back to the time of the Romans, was founded in the 12th century. Over time the local Prussian elector-ruler allied itself with the Prussian nobles to reassert power over the growing independence of the peasant, farmer class, and with little resistance from the towns, the landowners became dominant and became institutionalized within the Prussian state. Scholars argued that it was this top-down modernization initiated by the landowning class with a subordinate bourgeoisie led the Prussian state into becoming a fascist state. Again this argument only reinforces the point that liberalism, as seen through its "carrier" the bourgeoisie was marginalized and relatively powerless throughout German history.

Munich is the capital of Bavaria which is the largest state by territory and the second largest in population in Germany. It has a larger population than both the Czech Republic and Austria which border it. The Bavarian state enjoys a higher degree of autonomy than most of the other German states, even being allowed to maintain its own army, and even today the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has a separate Bavarian party the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU), in parliament the parties are grouped together as CDU/CSU.  BMW is headquartered in Bavaria which stands for Bayerische Motern Werke or "Bavarian Motor Works," among the many other corporations also there.
Bavarian Socialist Republic 1918-1919
Bavarian Soviet Republic 1919

It may seem surprising that a state would declare itself autonomous from the larger state it is part of, however it is important to remember, that for over 40 years after World War II, Germany was divided into two separate nations, West Germany and East Germany, only this time the Northeastern part of Germany becomes the communist East German state and Bavaria remains in the capitalist West German state while. Most of the major industrial cities in Germany are in the West: Hamburg, Bonn (the capital of West Germany), Cologne, Bremen, Frankfurt am Main, where the Frankfurt School is and the financial capital of Germany; further South is Stuttgart where the automobile was invented, and Munich, the capital of Bavaria which was also where the tragic killing of the Israeli Olympic team took place in 1972. 

The capital, Berlin, is in the East, however, and the stories of the standoff between American and Soviet forces in Berlin are well known, most famously the Berlin Wall built in 1961. In contemporary German politics there is intense debate over government spending over the more impoverished, less developed East. Many people in the West resent having to pay taxes to provide government services and welfare to the East. The former East German communist party, The Socialist Unity Party of Germany, also continues to exist, first renamed Party of Democratic Socialism, now just "The Left" (Die Linke) and is the fourth largest out of the five party groups represented in the German parliament, the Bundestag (Federal Diet).
Note that Germany is almost completely surrounded by other states.
Weber was addressing a revolutionary audience. Kurt Eisner, leader of the Bavaria USPD party, seized power in November 1918 and proclaimed the Bavarian Socialist Republic. The USPD became the centrist party in the post-revolutionary political structure; both the SPD and the Spartacus group competed for their alliance. In this case the USPD under Eisner was more to the left (closer to the Spartacus group), the socialist republic proclaimed its independence from the rest of Germany. In February 1919 a right-wing extremist assassinated Eisner. In April the state is renamed the Bavarian Soviet Republic and becomes a satellite of the Soviet Union. In May the Bavarian Soviet Republic is crushed by force after the Bavarian army and Freikorps (squads of decommissioned soldiers returning from the front lines) invade Munich killing almost 2,000 and injuring thousands more. By August the Weimar Constitution takes effect and Bavaria is reintegrated into the Weimar Republic.

Weber himself was a liberal and not a socialist, and was mostly critical of the social democratic parties throughout his life. He was a well-connected individual who had access to the highest officials in power, and he commanded significant authority for his singular scholarly achievements–a true insider. He was also a defender of German nationalism and imperialism. He also defended the controversial Article 48 in the Constitution that later gave Adolf Hitler the legal pretext to seize dictatorial power. The context of the speech suggests it is an instructional manual on politics delivered to a revolutionary student’s organization while the revolution is going on. This would be similar if a well-connected political insider came down to Occupy Wall Street and taught them about politics and organization, this never happened though. Weber himself did not live much longer than the soviet republic and died a year later in 1920, at 56, a victim of the “Spanish flu” the 1918 influenza pandemic triggered by World War I.

The failure of the revolution sets the stage for a counter-revolution. Munich becomes one of the earliest breeding grounds of Nazism. Hitler staged an attempt at seizing power in Munich with former Supreme Commander Erich Luddendorf in 1923. He failed and was put in jail for four years. Ten years later, Hitler would legally be appointed Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler), before renaming himself the Fürher in 1934.

The “state” (staat), is the dominant political organization and the object of the study of politics. Weber famously defines the ideal type of the state: as the organization that maintains a monopoly on the use of force (macht) over a given territory. All political orders are maintained through the use of force. This is a sobering lesson for people undergoing a revolution and something which those who have been leading the movement are already discovering, both from themselves and from their opponents. Power is wielded over a certain territorial area, the geography of the territory partially determines the character of the state. Otherwise the concentration of power over a certain area gives rise to distinctive nationalities who identify with the state and its particular form of domination. Weber is careful to define the state only in terms of means, not ends. The means the state uses, is force, the end, the goals it pursues is relative to the unique history of each state. The ends of the state today are termed the “national interests” of the state.

 "The Calling of St. Matthew," Caravaggio, 1599-1600, Rome
The connections between Weber and nihilism deal with the central conflict of trying to find meaning and purpose in a nihilistic world. If true knowledge is impossible then logically it leads to the question of how reliable or the meanings or interpretations we give to the world? For Weber the solution is politics, which he regards as a vocation and a way of creating something meaningful. Vocation itself refers to a “calling” in the German Lutheran tradition, a specific calling to serve God. 

Weber draws upon this meaning while redefining it in a secular way, to refer to devotion to one’s work and through that finding a sense of fulfillment and purpose in life. “Vocational training” also refers to the teaching of “procedural knowledge” and is used to refer to the teaching of trades like carpentry or plumbing that require specific technical knowledge. He develops this concept for professional politicians to what he refers to as status honor a sense of achievement deriving from the ability to perform the work processes that are necessary to carry out political decisions. 

At the same time everyone who lives ‘for’ politics (vocation), also lives ‘off’ politics (avocation) in that they are financially dependent upon politics for a livelihood. However, the typical way in which politics, status honor, and meaning intersect and mediate each other is through nationalism. The nation then becomes the substitute for the loss of meaning in traditional authorities caused by the rise of nihilistic thought in the late 19th century. The nation becomes a substitute for God. The concept of civic religion is related to this idea and is closely related to the development of republican states in the ancient world.

At the close of the speech, Weber implores his audience to balance what he calls an “ethic of ultimate ends” with an “ethic of responsibility”, meaning that the goals which politicians strive for, like creating a socialist society, need to be balanced by a concern for the immediate actions one takes in order to pursue ultimate ends. In other words, in a variation of the “ends justify the means” rationale, Weber says, the means do count and cannot justify any goal no matter how good it sounds, bad means are destructive of good ends. This is a strong statement to make when people are questioning the most basic moral values they had been brought up on. At the same time he realizes that in politics, good politics often comes from using bad means as he says recounting a conversation he has with a friend who thought he could get around the “ends justify the means” argument:
My colleague, Mr. F. W. Förster, whom personally I highly esteem for his undoubted sincerity, but whom I reject unreservedly as a politician, believes it is possible to get around this difficulty by the simple thesis: ‘from good comes only good; but from evil only evil follows.’ In that case this whole complex of questions would not exist. But it is rather astonishing that such a thesis could come to light two thousand five hundred years after the Upanishads. Not only the whole course of world history, but every frank examination of everyday experience points to the very opposite. The development of religions all over the world is determined by the fact that the opposite is true. The age-old problem of theodicy consists of the very question of how it is that a power which is said to be at once omnipotent and kind could have created such an irrational world of undeserved suffering, unpunished injustice, and hopeless stupidity. Either this power is not omnipotent or not kind, or, entirely different principles of compensation and reward govern our life—principles we may interpret metaphysically, or even principles that forever escape our comprehension (p. 122)

The constant exercise of power requires some form of continuous organization which requires an administrative staff to carry out the needs and demands of the organization in order to maintain itself and to carry out its objectives. Officials who work within the state can be separated by those who play 1) an internal function maintaining the organization itself: paying its bills, securing supplies and resources, etc; and 2) external those who carry out the objectives of the organization and realize the goals for which the organization is created. Often times these require separate skills and that is why these types of officials can be separated. This division is more or less common throughout every political system at all times.

Weber then goes on to explain the historical development of modern states from feudal monarchies to large nation-states. Weber explains this development through a process of rationalization of political domination. Rationalization, again, is the process of refining work tasks into repetitive, efficient procedures that maximize the use of resources. Rationalization in the economic sphere shows the development of small family owned business firms employing often crude methods of production into large centralized corporations that are able to employ vast amounts of capital into constructing advanced technological means of production and distribution. Workers are inserted into the process of production by performing a singular task that is repeated endlessly and systematically produces a product through the combining of these tasks, otherwise known as the assembly line. Other more skilled workers, are drilled incessantly from an early age to acquire the necessary technical and administrative skill in order to run the machines and run the corporation. While other workers are employed that specialize in distribution.

Rationalization in the political sphere shows a similar development. Feudal governments divided power between kings who exercised direct control over their own land and indirect control over the rest of the kingdom through feudal nobles. Nobles up until the 16th century often owned the “means of administration” meaning that they themselves owned and managed the courts, the jails, bridges and toll roads, parks and hunting grounds, and other “public” property and usually exercised final authority over local matters. In exchange for this autonomy the nobles would grant the king military service of himself and of the people he rules over. After the 16th century there is a noticeable tendency towards centralization of political power in the capital owing to developments in technology: military, communication, and transportation technology (all undergoing their own process of rationalization) that allow for greater concentration of power. 

The major difference between traditional and modern states, Weber says, is one authority that controls the use of power and the officials who operate the machinery of government do not themselves own the machinery. Weber compares this to the way in which workers are separated from owning the production equipment they use to work. The growth in political power of the central government is made possible by the development of expert officials who attend to the needs of government. There had always been part time politicians, or people who influenced politics for their own affairs. But after the 16th century there is an increasing development in professional politicians developing first in the areas of war, finance, and law, these being the areas most important for the rulers power and too important to be turned over to part time politicians.

The most important attribute for a professional politician is time, the time necessary to devote oneself to learning the intricacies of the political art. Also if the politician is not to derive a living entirely ‘off’ of politics and live ‘for’ politics, he must also be “economically dispensable” meaning he does not depend upon politics at all for an income. In modern times former President Franklin Roosevelt, also former Governor of New York came from one of the wealthiest and oldest families in New York going back to the original Dutch settlers. Even more recently, former governor Eliot Spitzer’s father was Bernard Spitzer, a New York real estate tycoon who owned many large apartment and office buildings in New York City.  Gov. Spitzer first as attorney general and later as governor built his reputation as the “Sheriff of Wall St” despite his wealthy background. Weber says, “under normal conditions, the politician must be economically independent of the income politics can bring him. However according to this meaning Mitt Romney would also be Weber's ideal politician. This means quite simply, that the politician must be wealthy or must have a personal position in life which yields a sufficient income” (p. 85). He also says:
The leadership of a state or of a party by men who (in the economic sense of the word) live exclusively for politics and not off politics means necessarily a ‘plutocratic’ [rule of the wealthy, after the Roman god of wealth and the underworld, Pluto—Prof.] recruitment of the leading political strata. To be sure, this does not mean that such plutocratic leadership signifies at the same time that the politically dominant strata will not also seek to live ‘off’ politics, and hence that the dominant stratum will not usually exploit their political domination in their own economic interest (pp. 85-6)

In modern day states, politics is carried out through political parties, which he defines as “management through interest groups” (p. 94) and tends to be recruited from the legal profession. Weber separates professional politicians into two categories: 1) political leadership who lead and represent the organization or department to the public and to the rest of the government and who are distinct because they are transient, they are the ones who come and go when different parties or rulers are in power; 2) administration officials, the permanent officials who stay on despite who is in power and make up the middle managers of government agencies.

The growth of professional officials who perform specialized work processes organized into a ruling hierarchy under one central authority is bureaucracy. It is a form of organization that occurs at a certain level of complexity of an organization, when technical full time skill is necessary to maintain the organization. The Germans had a developed tradition of bureaucratic organization that is missing in America. Almost all political offices in America changed according to elections up until the 1880s (the notable exception is the judicial branch of government). In the Weimar Constitution the special class of German civil servants that have been developing since the 1700s (Beamte) have their own rights and responsibilities outlined in the Constitution.

Rationalization of politics does not mean that freedom, justice, or equality is increased. It refers only to the ability for political decisions to be carried out with increased effectiveness.

Weber describes some of the major social groups that have been recruited into the ranks of officialdom or “politically exploitable strata” in Weber’s words. He gives special emphasis to the “university trained jurist”. A jurist is one who is trained in manipulating the rules and procedures of the legal system, jurisprudence. Modern jurisprudence developed out of Roman law, used to administer the empire and was very procedural, and Christian natural law theories which were later secularized into modern legal systems. Lawyers, the most common jurist, play a special role in modern politics because they possess the required technical skill to manipulate the machinery of government. They are also more dispensable in terms of time, unlike the entrepreneur, who in most cases Weber says makes a bad politician precisely because so much time is needed to watch over the business enterprise. Weber also tends to separate out the more charismatic trial lawyers who are more suited for playing the political roles of leadership, while the more scholarly jurist who plays a more behind the scenes role, writing and interpreting complicated legal texts, makes a perfect administration official. He again emphasizes the different skills both of these groups possess and how they tend to be exclusive. He says the division head often knows more than the minister, but complains about administration officials being unfit for leadership (Beamtenherrschaft).

Weber contends that civil servants and political leaders have two different conceptions of honor which means they have different concepts of success and prestige in carrying out their duties:
The honor of the civil servant is vested in his ability to execute conscientiously the order of the superior authorities, exactly as if the order agreed with his own conviction. This holds even if the order appears wrong to him and if, despite the civil servant’s remonstrances, the authority insists on the order. Without this moral discipline and self-denial, in the highest sense, the whole apparatus would fall to pieces. The honor of the political leader, of the leading statesman, however, lies precisely in an exclusive personal responsibility for what he does, a responsibility he cannot and must not reject or transfer. It is in the nature of officials of high moral standing to be poor politicians, and above all, in the political sense of the word, to be irresponsible politicians (p. 95).

Within the ranks of political leadership, Weber sees a division between the technical leader and the emotional leader. The emotional leader is the king or the president, the one who commands the emotional loyalty of the following. The technical leader is the one deals with the day to day affairs of government, and is the one who has to deal with different government agencies and parties, the one who gets his or her “hands dirty”. The prestige of the emotional leader is preserved because they are insulated from having to boss people around in order to get results, the technical leader takes on this task. The Grand Vizier played this role for the sultan, as did the German chancellor in the empire and the republic, or the prime minister in England and the queen (emotional leader). Today’s modern American president has two officials that play this role, the chief of staff, and the vice-president.

Furthermore he says that the leader must possess distinct skills that cannot be taught, the ability to combine passion with cold discipline:
This is the decisive psychological quality of the politician: his ability to let realities work upon him with inner concentration and calmness. Hence his distance to things and men. ‘Lack of distance’ per se is one of the deadly sins of every politician. It is one of those qualities the breeding of which will condemn the progeny of our intellectuals to political incapacity. For the problem is simply how can warm passion and a cool sense of proportion be forged together in one and the same soul? Politics is made with the head, not with other parts of the body or soul. And yet devotion to politics, if it is not to be frivolous intellectual play but rather genuinely human conduct, can be born and nourished from passion alone. (p. 115)

Marxist theory had stressed that all social conflicts originated in the struggle between competing economic classes (more broadly defined as rich v. poor). Capitalism was a specific form or mode of production that not only enriched the few at the expense of the many but unleashed vast productive forces that had been dormant for centuries leading to a tremendous material improvement in the quality of life (for some) but also created unprecedented means of control over the workers who were a dependent but necessary part of the whole social process of production. Government, was itself the tool of the ruling economic classes which used the power of the state to protect its property through the courts and the legal system and through the use of soldiers to put down strikes and labor disputes. Weber does not object to these assertions as false but adds that the political realm has its own unique existence that is not dependent on the economic, but that in fact the relation between the politics and economics is more of a mutual feedback process, the political exerts influence over the economic and vice versa. In later disputes over the origins of the Nazi regime the dispute over the primacy of the economic over the political will be stressed again.

Although Weber shows ambivalence over the direction of the modern world: industrialization; monopoly capitalism; political bureaucratization and recognizes the negative aspects of these developments, he still defends bureaucratic organization (and by extension capitalism) as a superior form of political organization to that which only tries to live ‘off’ politics through patronage, political job placement:
The development of modern officialdom into a highly qualified, professional labor force, specialized in expertness through long years of preparatory training, stands opposed to all these arrangements. Modern bureaucracy in the interest of integrity has developed a high sense of status honor; without this sense the danger of an awful corruption and a vulgar Philistinism threatens fatally. And without such integrity, even the purely technical functions of the state apparatus would be endangered (p.88).

The opposite tendency towards patronage and job-seeking grows more as politics becomes more bureaucratized, “this tendency becomes stronger for all parties when the number of offices increase as a result of general bureaucratization and when the demand for offices increases because they represent specifically secure livelihoods. For their followings, the parties become more and more a means to the end of being provided for in this manner” (p. 87) In other words political parties which organize groups for political competition (interelectoral compromises, unified programs endorsed by broad segments of the population, unified agitation for these programs p. 101) become essentially job placement machines. These activities are funded and interrelated to the party’s other primary function—fundraising.

Although he praises the achievements and efficiency of bureaucratic rationality, ultimately all politics takes one into the realm of violence:
Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation, has to realize these ethical paradoxes. He must know that he is responsible for what he may become of himself under the impact of these paradoxes. I repeat, he lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence. The great virtuosi of acosmic love of humanity and goodness whether stemming from Nazareth or Assisi or from Indian royal castles, have not operated with the political means of violence. Their kingdom was ‘not of this world’ and yet they worked and still work in this world. The figures of Platon Karatajev and the saints of Dostoievski still remain their most adequate reconstructions. He who seeks the salvation of the soul of his own and of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence [italics added]. The genius or demon of politics lives in an inner tension with the god of love, as well as with the Christian God as expressed by the church. This tension can at any time lead to an irreconcilable conflict. (pp. 125-26)

He closes with a rather nihilistic (and prophetic) message:
It would be nice if matters turned out in such a way that Shakespeare’s Sonnet 102 should hold true:
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,When I was wont to greet it with my lays;As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,And stops her pipe in growth of riper days.
But such is not the case. Not summer’s bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness, no matter which group may triumph externally now. Where there is nothing, not only the Kaiser but also the proletarian has lost his rights. When this night shall have slowly receded, who of those for whom spring apparently has bloomed so luxuriously will be alive? And what will have become of all of you by then? Will you be bitter or banausic? Will you simply and dully accept world and occupation? Or will the third and by no means the least frequent possibility be your lot: mystic flight from reality for those who are gifted for it, or—as is both frequent and unpleasant—for those who belabor themselves to follow this fashion? In every one of such cases, I shall draw the conclusion that they have not measured up to their own doings. They have not measured up to the world as it really is in its everyday routine. Objectively and actually, they have not experienced the vocation for politics in its deepest meaning, which they thought they had. They would have done better in simply cultivating plain brotherliness in personal relations. And for the rest—they should have gone soberly about their daily work (p. 128)

Next class we will look at the rise of Nazism and its consequences for Germany and the world.

Assignment Due 4/18 Choose a passage from Weber, write out the passage. Then explain the meaning of it, and then explain why you chose this passage.

    • Barrington Moore Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1966

    • Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Evelyne Huber Stephens, and John Stephens, Capitalist Development and Democracy, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992

    • Gregory Luebbert, Liberalism, Fascism, or Social Democracy: Social Classes and the Political Origins of Regimes in Interwar Europe, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991

    • Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006

    • Reinhard Bendix, Nation-Building and Citizenship, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, [1964] 1977

    • Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills, New York: Oxford University Press, 1944

    • Max Weber, Economy and Society, trans. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, [1922] 1978

    • G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, trans. H.B. Nisbet, New York: Cambridge University Press [1820] 1991

    • Charles Tilly, "War Making and State Making as Organized Crime," in Peter Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer and Theda Skocpol, Bringing the State Back In, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 169-91

    • Charles Tilly (ed.), The Formation of National States in Western Europe, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975

    • Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State, New York: Verso, 1974

    • Michael Mann, "The Autonomous Power of the State," Archives de Européenes de Sociologie, Vol. 25, No. 19, (1984), pp. 185-213

    • Thomas Ertman, Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997

    • Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective: A Book of Essays, Westport, CT: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962

Saturday, March 21, 2015

3/21 The Weimar Republic

"Metropolis," Otto Dix, 1928
The reading for today's class is the Constitution of the German Reich. http://www.zum.de/psm/weimar/weimar_vve.php. Every modern state has a constitution or a document that outlines the structure of the government and the rights of the citizens. Before explaining more the constitution I would like to explain briefly why the breakdown of democracy in Germany is significant, as well as give a brief history of the republic, before finishing up with an analysis of the constitution itself.

The short life of the Weimar Republic has been studied as a key example in the breakdown of democratic government. Political science strives to find the causes of stability in government, and this includes studying examples of governments that have turned into dictatorships. However, there is probably no example of another government whose self-destruction has had such far-reaching and devastating consequences for the rest of the world.

Although it is agreed that the immediate cause of the later Nazi-takeover was set into motion by the Great Depression which began in late 1929, and hit Europe hard the following year, it is hard to imagine such a drastic and radical change happening to a major country without several factors that contributed to this. Most political scientists and sociologists focus on the weakness of the political institutions of the republic. Specifically, the political party system which featured several parties but failed to attract many supporters including the Nazi party early on. The only political party that continued to have significant mass support was the Social Democratic Party, SPD party. However, as discussed, the SPD had seriously comprised itself by supporting the war effort in 1914 and then brutally suppressing communists in 1918 and the following winter. When the depression came, the SPD once again failed to act decisively in the interests of its people and largely looked on helplessly as the depression reduced workers to poverty, mostly engaged in the ritualistic behaviors of parliamentary parties with the equally ineffective liberal and conservative parties. The weakness of the establishment made it easier for an "outside" group like the Nazi party to establish itself with disaffected voters who were frustrated with the political system.

These voters were mostly from the middle and upper classes in both the cities and rural areas, and across religious lines. Political thinkers since Plato and even the American founders like Madison had conventionally assumed that popular uprising of the poor were most likely to bring about dictatorships. Yet, research into the voting habits of people in the last days of the republic clearly shows that it was the bourgeois, the middle and upper classes, and the petit bourgeois, the lower middle classes that provided the most electoral support to the Nazis. The working classes on the other hand remained loyal to the SPD which were the only credible opposition to the Nazis.

The lack of support for establishment parties are one reason why the Nazis appealed to the middle and upper classes, but certain cultural factors are also important. For one, the Nazis appealed to a sense of "community" which was traditional and appealed to a sentimental image of German history, and which was also highly nationalistic and pro-German. This imagery was in sharp contrast to the radical rhetoric of the SPD, even though in reality it had abandoned its radical stance and become part of the establishment. Many have argued that bourgeois classes had a kind of "paranoia" about the socialists, perhaps stemming from the relative strength of the SPD compared to other parties. The Nazis from the beginning also employed a version of "syndicalist tactics" stressing direct action, and often utilizing violence and terror. These brutal tactics were applauded by many paranoid bourgeois who were happy to see people brutalized by the Nazis, even if many times it was their own supporters instead of socialists and communists.

Finally, the Nazis were more than capable organizers and many were drawn to their blood drenched efficiency. It was not simply a question of violence, Nazis were able to organize themselves and this took effect most dramatically at the local level. The idea of civil society has become an important part in explaining how democracies maintain themselves. This belief goes back at least to the French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville who observed this in the U.S. in the early 19th century. Tocqueville remarked that it was the loose network of voluntary groups and organizations that gave Americans the skills and habits necessary to maintain democratic government. This idea became influential again during the last days of the Cold War in 1989 and after when it was believed that civil society groups played the biggest role in bringing down the communist dictatorships. It has become something of conventional wisdom in political science that civil society is necessary for a well-functioning democratic government. Yet, a puzzle is raised when you look at Germany during this period of time because the Weimar republic had a very active and developed civil society, although separated by class divisions. In fact, just the opposite seems to happen, civil society here becomes the training ground for the later Nazi takeover, many of whom are very active in civil society before joining the party, and were very active at the local level before the takeover of the state. It is important to point out that after the Nazi takeover, they made sure to suppress almost all private organizations, or to "fuse" civil society with the party, so that everything from athletic clubs to chess clubs and music clubs had to become "Nazified" and all competing organizations like trade unions were destroyed in favor of Nazi sponsored organizations. In most cases the tendency was to fuse several different organizations into one centralized organization, for to example to combine all athletic clubs of differing classes and religion into one Nazified athletic club. This created what William Sheridan Allen refers to as the "atomization of society" meaning that deprived of the support network of civil society the individual in Nazi Germany was rendered helpless against the state by first being isolated.

These are some of the leading causes to explain the breakdown of democracy in Germany, and in a more general sense can be seen as factors that would weaken any democratic government: lack of political legitimacy, aggressive nationalism, a culture of paranoia and violence, a civil society that tolerates and encourages authoritarian behavior, class divisions, and an economic environment that creates resentment and desperation. For the rest of the lecture I will try to explain briefly the history of the Weimar republic and the structure of its government under the constitution.

This is the period of time in which the artistic and cultural texts we have looked at were produced like Hesse's Siddhartha. If Expressionism was pre-war Germany, and Dadaism was during the war itself and lasting till about 1919-1920, then New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) was characteristic of the 1920s till the rise of the Nazis. The 1920s was also the beginning of expressionist cinema as well with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. 

The history of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) is usually divided into three periods. A period of crisis (1919-1923); a short “golden age,” a period of stabilization (1924-1929); and a second crisis with the onset of the Great Depression and the rise of Nazism (1929-1933). 

Weimar is the name of a small town in Germany famous for  German culture and civilization and the symbolic capital of the new republic. It was a cultural center and the home of some of Germany’s most respected writers such as Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), and Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). After his mental breakdown in 1889, Nietzsche lived out rest of his life in Weimar under the care of his sister who began to consciously build a cult of personality around her brother. Later the Nazis would build one of the largest concentration camps, Buchenwald, outside Weimar, thus forever perverting the cultural lineage of the town.

I. The first period of time deals with the immediate aftermath of the revolution in Germany; the aftermath of the war to which Germany is held responsible; and to the severe economic stress placed upon the country following the war. The major problem during this time was dealing with inflation which is when prices increase usually because the value of the money declines or the demand for goods increases. Hyperinflation is a particularly extreme example of this process. The value of paper money in 1923 was worth roughly 1 trillion (!) for every one goldmark in Germany (the value of the currency in gold).

      The inscription reads: 
"On 1st November 1923 1 pound of bread cost 3  billion
1 pound of meat 36 billion
1 glass of beer 4 million."


Governments in debt often times are forced to print more money to spend their way out of immediate problems or to pay off debts which only increases inflation. In Germany’s case this began in 1914 when the decision was made (unopposed) to pay for the costs of the war by borrowing money, not by raising taxes or other means of increasing government revenue. Also important to consider are the exchange rates between states, or the value of your currency relative to another states' currency. Prior to the war the only institution regulating this was the "gold standard," which each state agreed to value their money in relation to gold thus setting a standard by which to compare the value of currency in each state. For example if $1000 was equal to an ounce of gold and 500 German marks were equal to an ounce of gold then, one German mark would be equal to two dollars, this would then allow you to determine the value of goods in America that you could purchase from Germany. In other words, trade between countries is almost impossible without exchange rates, and unstable exchange rates will hurt trade. During the war and after the gold standard was severely disrupted as states took their country off the gold standard thus creating uncertainty and unpredictability in each nation's money supply.

The already high levels of debt from the beginning of the war only magnified the problems faced after the war. Many believe this period of inflation (or hyper-inflation in this case) was a direct cause of the rise of Nazism. Hitler was known to blame the high levels of debt as signs of the incompetence of the democratic government, as well as channeling resentment against bankers which was seen as a “Jewish” profession, some referred to the worthless German money as “Jewish confetti.”

Violent political demonstrations are common during this period of time, including several failed attempts at taking over the institutions of the state, known by the French term "coup d'etat," including one led by Adolph Hitler in 1923, which fails and ends in his arrest.

II. The so-called golden period began after Germany began to get some control over its inflation problems. During this time the economy improves and cultural life begins to come to life again. This period of time is really the height of the post-Dada period and "New Objectivity," Bauhaus, Expressionist cinema, as well as German nightclubs or cabarets such as the fictional one like the Blue Angel (a real Blue Angel eventually opened in Paris) or the real ones with Josephine Baker. 

The stability of this period can partly be explained because after trying several forms of money, the Germans were able to make one that was relatively stable, the Rentemark and afterwards the Reichsmark (understanding why is fairly technical but it has to due with valuing the currency against certain kinds of stable bonds and creating "confidence" in the currency, money only has value to the extent people "believe" that it does).

U.S. policy in the early 20s contributed to inflation in Germany. After the war Germany had to make reparations payments to Britain and France. At the same time, Britain and France had to pay back loans to the U.S. during the war. In other words Germany had to pay Britain and France (increasing the money supply) so they in turn could pay the U.S. It was because the U.S. insisted on this policy even when its damaging consequences were known that contributed to the high inflation in Germany, and to a global economic recession in the 1920s.

Eventually, the U.S. backed Dawes Plan was also put into effect in 1924. This helped ease the burden of war reparations, especially after French troops occupied parts of Germany in 1923 to enforce reparations payments. The plan provided for the withdrawal of foreign troops; gave Germany money from the U.S.; and also tied the German economy to the world economy especially the U.S. (for example the film industry and also banking). This provided relief for a few years, but because of its connections to the U.S. economy, when the Great Depression hit, Germany was effected especially harshly. This more or less set into motion the chain of events that led to Hitler’s rise to power. 

However, even during the relatively stable period between 1924-1929, there were deeper problems under the surface. For one, the government had trouble finding support, there were extremists on both the right and left neither of whom regarded the government as legitimate. Throughout the 1920s (although declining between 1924-1929) street battles become increasingly common between Communists and Nazis, both of whom are becoming increasingly militarized in their organizations.

The Frankfurt School claims authoritarianism was developing just below the surface of society, as revealed in films we have looked at: the choice between chaos and tyranny, the choice always resolved in favor of tyranny. The Weimar state was founded through violence. The undeniable reality of this fact of violence undermined democratic government, and showed the willingness to turn towards tyranny. Despite all this, under better economic conditions, the appearance of stability and order was put forward, if never a real consensus, but even this fragile appearance was demolished by the Great Depression.

III. In 1929 the Great Depression began triggered by the collapse of the U.S. stock market. The full effects of the Depression did not hit Germany until 1930-31, this set into motion the chain of events that led to rise of the Nazi party–we will come back to this in a couple of weeks.

On face value, the Weimar Republic was supposed to be one of the most progressive and most democratic forms of government ever created. Its Constitution was considered the best Constitution written at that time. It's chief architect was Hugo Preuß a progressive German-Jewish lawyer and politician. The obvious point of comparison is the U.S. Constitution and the comparisons are revealing. First, both Constitutions display a similar basic structure although in a different order they outline the powers and responsibilities of: the Legislative, the Executive, and Judicial branches of government; the relationship between the individual states and the federal government (Germany was and is a federal government like the U.S.). The German constitution contains additional sections outlining the details of Legislation and Administration which are lacking in the U.S. Constitution and is much longer overall than the U.S. Constitution 

There is also an additional branch of government, the Reichsrat, which represents the individual states.  In the U.S. members of Congress are selected from the states and represent those states. In Germany legislators elected to the German parliament, the Reichstag, do NOT represent the states they come from, they represent all of Germany, and are thus less responsive to regional areas. This is because of the methods of voting used. 

At this time, the Germans used Proportional Representation (PR) which means that seats are given in the legislature based on the total percentage of votes won by the party, for example, 40% of the vote equals 40% of the seats in the Reichstag. This makes the representatives less responsive and less dependent on local voters, but it also reduces “wasted votes.” Votes are wasted when they are unnecessary for the candidate to win.

In a proportional system those votes would be counted towards the overall percentage of votes for that party, distributed nation-wide. Unlike the electoral system in the U.S. votes are not really cast for individual candidates, instead political parties usually publish a list of candidates, more votes for the party equals more people selected from the list which follows a set order. The downside is voters have less control over choosing individuals for office. Proportional voting systems tend to have multiple political parties competing instead of two. This increases the tendency for minority groups to have a voice in politics, but this is a double-edged sword because it also allowed the Nazis to come to power despite never gaining more than about 30% of the vote. 

The Reichsrat was created to allow each state in Germany to elect their own representatives, thus balancing out the Reichstag who are not tied to any specific state or province in Germany. As we will see in next week's lecture, before there was a state called "Germany" there was a network of city-states and small kingdoms that shared a common German culture. This history of independence translates into a political system where there is a large degree of regional autonomy, and this autonomy is registered in the Reichsrat.

The President under the Constitution is granted extensive powers. He serves a seven year term instead of four as in the U.S. system and can still run for re-election. The Reichpresident is granted control over the armed forces and over foreign affairs and has the power to appoint Ministers of government and the Chancellor who oversees the various ministries (Finance, War, Foreign Affairs, Education, etc). The U.S. presidential system has no equivalent to a Chancellor, and so the German system can be called "semi-presidential." In the U.S. Constitution, the Senate has to approve of all presidential nominations. This is a power not given to the Reichstag, although they can force ministers to resign on a vote. Article 48 of the constitution gives the president the power to suspend civil liberties in times of crisis. This was the legal pretext the Nazis used to turn Germany into a dictatorship, however it was originally invoked by the government before the Nazis took power, they simply continued the "state of emergency." 

There were only two Reichpresidents: Fredrich Ebert, leader of the SPD during the revolution of 1918, who authorized the violent suppression of protestors using returning soldiers and militias and Paul von Hindenburg (one of the leading members of the Supreme Command during the war). Adolph Hitler eventually became the Chancellor, appointed by the President in 1933, and charged with overseeing the day to day operations of government. After Hindenburg's death in 1934 Hitler fused both offices together creating his new title as the Fürher (Leader in German).

The second section of the Constitution like the U.S. Bill of Rights but also longer lays out the rights of German citizens. Unlike the Bill of Rights which were added as constitutional amendments, the more extensive rights outlined here are part of the original document. Voting is a right given to everyone over the age of 20. Minority rights and other protections not in the U.S. Constitution are given here such as Article 113: 
Reich communities speaking a foreign language may not be deprived by legislation of their national identity, especially in the use of their mother language in education, in local administration and jurisdiction.

Some social rights seem strange in an American context because of the American idea of “limited government” like Article 119 which provides Constitutional protection for marriage and motherhood: 

Marriage, as the foundation of the family and the preservation and expansion of the nation enjoys the special protection of the constitution. It is based on the equality of both genders. It is the task of both the state and the communities to strengthen and socially promote the family. Large families may claim social welfare. Motherhood is placed under state protection and welfare. 

Or regarding education. The U.S. Constitution does not provide for a right to education. In contrast to this, the Weimar Constitution not only provides a right to education but specifies in detail what this right entails like Article 146:

Public schooling has to be organized organically. Middle and high schools are based on an elementary school common for everybody. For the organization of the school system the variety of occupations, for the acceptance of a child into a school his talent and inclination, but not the economic and social position nor the religious confession of his parents are authoritative.Within the communities, at the request of Erziehungsberechtigten (legal guardian), Volksschulen (primary school) of their confession or world outlook have to be established, if this does not obstruct the regular operation of the school. The wish of those Erziehungsberechtigter has, when possible, to be considered. Further details are specified by state legislation, according to principles laid down in a Reich law.Reich, states and communities have to provide funds to allow poor children access to middle and high schools, to grant financial aid to parents, whose children are regarded qualified for the education on middle and high schools, until their education is ended.

However, the increased intervention of the state in matters like education does lead to a nationalist tendency in education, such as Article 148:

All schools have to work towards ethical education, patriotic spirit, personal and occupational fitness in the spirit of German nationality and international understanding. In the instruction at public schools it has to be taken into consideration not to hurt the feelings of dissenters. Civics and teaching by doing are school subjects. Every pupil, upon graduation, will be given a copy of the constitution. Secondary education, including Volkshochschulen (general education schools open to everyone) have to be promoted by Reich, states, and communities

The Weimar Constitution is also distinctive in that it creates economic rights for the citizens also not stated in the U.S. Constitution such as Article 151 (economic justice) 

Article 159 (the right to form labor unions)  

Article 161: “In order to maintain health and the ability to work, in order to protect motherhood and to prevent economic consequences of age, weakness and to protect against the vicissitudes of life the Reich establishes a comprehensive system of insurances, based on the critical contribution of the insured.”

After the Nazis took power in 1933, the Constitution, although never formally abolished, was suspended and all political and civil rights were taken removed.

Next class we look in more detail how German liberalism and their ideas of politics changed after the war and revolution, and which still influence political science in the present today.

Assignment (Due 3/28): Please choose TWO sections from the Weimar Constitution  one from the first part on the structure of government, (Art. 1-108) and a second from the section on rights (Art 109-181). Write out the passages, interpret the meaning of them, then explain why you chose these passages.

Juan Linz, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Crisis, Breakdown, and Reequilibration, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978
Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Europe, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978
Rudolf Heberle, From Democracy to Nazism: A Regional Case Study on Political Parties in Germany, Louisiana State University Press, 1945
William Sheridan Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945, Franklin Watts, 1984 [1965]
Sheri Berman, "Civil Society and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic," World Politics, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Apr. 1997) pp. 401-29
Thomas Ertman, "Democracy and Dictatorship in Interwar Western Europe Revisited," World Politics, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Apr. 1998) pp. 475-505