Since I have discussed the history of the Weimar Republic in a non-linear structure in this post, here is a brief timeline of the Weimar Republic from 1919 to 1930 including (possibly) all the major events I have previously mentioned.
Timeline of the Weimar Republic, 1919 – 1930
German Revolution (Novemberrevolution), 1918 – 1919
November 9, 1918 – Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated
November 11, 1918 – Germany signed the armistice with the Allies, ending the Great War
January 5, 1919 – German Workers’ Party (DAP), the predecessor to the Nazi Party, founded
February 6, 1919 – National Assembly held in the city of Weimar
February 11-13, 1919 – Friedrich Ebert (SPD) elected President. Philipp Scheidemann (SPD) appointed Chancellor, formed cabinet under Weimar Coalition
June 28, 1919 – Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles
August 11, 1919 – Weimar Constitution adopted
Years of Crisis, 1920 – 1923
June 2, 1920 – The first Reichstag election. Weimar Coalition lost the majority in Reichstag
July 29, 1921 – Adolf Hitler assumed leadership of the Nazi Party
November 8, 1923 – Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler arrested and Nazi Party banned
August 13, 1923 – Gustav Stresemann (DVP) formed the Grand Coalition, progressing toward stabilization
The Golden Age, 1924 – 1929
December 20, 1924 – Hitler released from prison
February 26, 1925 – Nazi Party reformed
April 26, 1925 – Presidential election. Paul Von Hindenburg elected President
May 20, 1928 – Federal election. Hermann Müller (SPD) reunited the Grand Coalition
Crisis, Again, 1929 – 1930
October 1929 – Stock market crash. The start of the Great depression
September 14, 1930 – Federal election. The Nazi Party emerged on the political stage. Heinrich Brüning (Zentrum) formed a minority government and ruled by presidential decrees
After everything we have discussed, we can attempt to address this question: what led to the rise of the Nazi Party? What drove its growth from a comparatively irrelevant party in 1920 to its dominant position in Weimar politics in 1930, and to its eventual seizure of power in 1933? The “how” it seized control in the latter half of this question will be presented in the second post of the series, but I believe we have enough information to discuss what factors made that possible. Note that this is obviously not a comprehensive list of factors, but rather a collection of items that we have already talked about in this post. You can see that this post focused heavily on the political history of the Weimar Republic and largely avoided the social and economical aspects. For instance, the disastrous effects of the Treaty of Versaille on Germany—hyperinflation, social turmoil, distrust of democracy, the strain on international relations—cannot be understated. But if I want to include every aspect, this post will never end.
In the book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, contemporary journalist William L. Shirer called the Weimar Constitution “on paper, the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had seen, mechanically well-nigh perfect, full of ingenious and admirable devices which seemed to guarantee the working of an almost flawless democracy.” But as Shirer later remarked, “on paper, at least,” we have seen that the practical working of the constitution was far from flawless. No constitution is perfect, and claiming that the problems within Weimar’s constitution directly brought the Republic to its own demise is disingenuous. Yet, we cannot deny that the institutional weaknesses of the Weimar Republic, including its proportional representation electoral system and the power granted under Article 48, created the environment and presented the opportunity for Hitler’s Nazi Party to rise in power and take over the German State.
However, without the Great Depression in 1929, it would not be possible for the Nazi Party’s sudden surge to prominence, at least not this immediate. The devastation brought upon the economical, social, and political sphere of Germany led to the radicalization of politics and pushed the Nazi Party to become one of the most popular parties in the Republic. Furthermore, the Great Depression led to the end of Weimar’s democratic coalition. The Weimar Coalition that had defended the Republic through its turbulent years now collapsed, with the SPD and the Centre Party unable to agree on economic policies. The SPD and the KPD’s hostile rivalry also prevented them from forming an alliance that could have potentially stopped the Nazi Party. The failure to form any functional coalitions in the Reichstag gave the key for the Nazi Party to enter into the government.
Finally, Chancellor Brüning’s administration in 1930 that relied exclusively on President Hindenburg’s decrees under Article 48 to promulgate legislation circumventing the legislative body of the Reichstag signaled the abandonment of democratic principles. The abuse of the power granted under Article 48 that continued under subsequent administrations would further fragment politics and incapacitate democracy, winding up with the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor in 1933 who used Article 48 to swiftly kill the Republic.
Returning to the (perhaps forgotten) central theme of this post, Secret Hitler. After examining the political structure of the Weimar Republic, we can see that the game truly encapsulates the political chaos of the Republic—distrust, betrayals, alliances, compromises, struggle for power—through its design and gameplay. I really like this game. If anything, this 7,800 words post is a clear testament to that.
Recently I took a special interest in the study of the fall of republics. We have the case of the Weimar Republic in modern history which we have discussed in this post. There is also the case of the Roman Republic in ancient history. What turns democracy into autocracy? The transformation seems so sudden: Hitler was appointed Chancellor on January 30, 1933, two months later he seized control of the government in March 1933 through the Enabling Act, and in August 1934 he became the dictator uniting the power of both president and chancellor through a referendum and established his regime of the Third Reich; Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and began the Roman Civil War on January 10, 49 BC, emerging victorious he was appointed Dictator in 46 BC and later Dictator for life (Dictator perpetuo) in 44 BC by the Senate and ruled as an autocrat in anything but name, though soon assassinated, his heir Augustus would become the first Emperor of their new Roman Empire. However, we see that the problems of the Weimar Republic began to surface in the latter half of the 1920s, long before its collapse. The underlying problems of the Roman Republic—the egregious wealth disparity between the aristocracy and the common as the result of continuous imperial conquests, rivalries within the social elites between the senatorial class and the equestrian class, the polarization of the political system and the collapse of consensus from the struggle between the conservatives (optimates) and reformists (populares), increasing tendency to resort to violence in politics, an inadequate system to govern the ever-expanding empire, growing dependency of soldiers to their generals and the rise of powerful warlords—existed decades, even centuries, before its fall. But the majority living in these republics at that time failed to notice the problems until it was too late.
How can we learn from these cases of the fall of democracy? In his work Ab Urbe Condita (“from the founding of Rome”), the ancient Roman historian Livy states that “there is this exceptionally beneficial and fruitful advantage to be derived from the study of the past, that you see, set in the clear light of historical truth, examples of every possible type. From these you may select for yourself and your country what to imitate, and also what, as being mischievous in its inception and disastrous in its issues, you are to avoid.” These are not just tales from the past but rather courses of events that can very much happen in our present or future. Are we able to notice the details and pick up the patterns in our own time? Are we able to avoid repeating the tragedies in the past? I will leave off with another quote from English historian John Dalberg-Acton, “the science of politics is the one science that is deposited by the streams of history, like the grains of gold in the sand of a river; and the knowledge of the past, the record of truths revealed by experience, is eminently practical, as an instrument of action and a power that goes to making the future.”
Here concludes the first half of the series. In my previous blog post published on May 9, I mentioned that this post is 85% done and it would likely be released within the next two weeks. It turned out to be a gross misjudgment of the amount of writing remaining (and admittedly, my level of procrastination). Anyway, it is finally here. Now, for the second half of the series, I do not yet have a set schedule. The amount of research and writing of a post like this is laborious, and I wish to take a short (or long?) break from it. You probably will not see the second post of the series at least within the next two months. I do promise that I will finish the series. As the first part is the necessary buildup for the (arguably) more exciting, narrative-focused second part, not delivering the latter half would be a betrayal to you, the audience, and myself, crueler than that of Brutus *stabs*. But, do allow me to have a break from it and have some time to consider how to compose the finale.
I would like to talk to you about the two (somewhat related) issues I faced when writing this post: engagement and historical accuracy. Many popular history-related books, podcasts, and videos (not to name anyone here) have been criticized for their exaggeration and oversimplification in their narratives, use of outdated or questionable sources, and overall flawed or unreliable arguments perhaps for the goal to present a more engaging and entertaining story. It almost seems to me that it’s impossible to write a bestseller while being historically accurate held to a high standard. This is troublesome.
When writing this post, I tried my best to verify that everything I present or claim has at least some supporting evidence. Yet due to my own lack of knowledge in the topic of the Weimar Republic, I cannot be certain that everything I wrote is factual. I am far, far from an expert on this topic. In any case, you really should not put the same level of trust in online content produced by casual enthusiasts (e.g. a blog post written by an amateur historian if I can even call myself that) as in texts written by the experts in the fields.
But I am not writing an academic paper. I am not trying to tell a story that is told by others countless times in the past. Rather, I want to create something that is truly mine. This is why I am presenting it through the perspective of a board game that I enjoy playing (whether successfully at it or not), and why I choose to include elements from my personal interests such as Roman history and social choice theory.
As you can see, this is my first time writing something in this category. Hopefully, the post is not too lengthy and boring to read. I do not know. This is why I would really appreciate feedback from you, the audience, so I can improve upon it in the second post of the series. I have not decided what will be its style, a serious narrative history, or perhaps even closer to historical fiction. Also please let me know what you would like to read about in the second post.
As I mentioned before, I will not start writing the second post in the near future. But like I discussed in the previous post, I will try to keep up with a consistent upload schedule of once per two weeks on various topics.
Finally, if you have any questions or would like to have further discussion, comment below and I would love to talk to you more about it!
Lecturer Joseph Kellner at Cal who ignited my interest in interwar Germany through his amazing lectures
One editor, who shall remain nameless, that did a wonderful job offering suggestions and polishing this post
One reader, who also shall remain nameless, that relentlessly pushed me and encouraged me to finish writing this post