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Keith Tse


  • Writer's pictureKeith Tse


1933 is a pivotal year in German history, since it was the year in which the Nazi party in Germany came to power (and the rest is history). I am of the opinion that 1933 is a pivotal year in world history, since it was the year in which democracy in a modern country came to an end. This is a unique historical event (the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of Julius Caesar are comparable events, though that happened in a profoundly different culture and time- perhaps a discussion on that some other time), since it shows that democracy is not an infallible system.

Let’s take a closer look at the events of 1933. In January, Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. The Enabling Act allowed Hitler to pass laws without the involvement (let alone consent) of the Weimar parliament (Reichstag). It therefore gave Hitler legal dictatorial power, since he could now exercise legal power to his own liking without any parliamentary intervention or opposition. The German Reichstag was effectively dead in face of Hitler’s new and unlimited legal power. In the following months, Hitler declared the Nazi party the only lawful party in Germany, which made Germany a one-party state and practically spelt the end of political pluralism (hence democracy) in Germany. Furthermore, when President von Hindenburg died, Hitler declared himself Fuhrer of Germany, a combined post of the previous Reich-chancellor and Reich-president, which meant that there was no longer any curbing of his power, since in addition to getting rid of the German parliament, he now also managed to eliminate any possible opposition from the President. Hitler hence became the most powerful man in Germany. When the German officers and army swore allegiance to Hitler himself rather than to Germany, Hitler was symbolically (much) bigger than the country itself, which entailed that he was no longer the democratically elected ruler of Germany. He was the ultimate ruler of Germany.

Why, then, did Weimar democracy perish so suddenly? All the events mentioned above happened in the space of one year (though the causes which led to them had taken root many years before). Why, also, did the Germans put so much trust in Hitler that they were willing to sacrifice their own political rights in favour of a dictator? There are many reasons for this, which may be divided into the broad and related categories of economy and politics. As a result of the Great Depression, the economic conditions of Germany (and the rest of the world, especially the USA) were desperately poor in the early 1930s, which led to the Germans longing for new leadership. These economic woes of Germany were inherently connected to the USA, since much of the money circulated in Germany came from the USA (cf Dawes/Young Plans in the 1920s), and so when the stock market collapsed in the USA, Germany was brought down with it. This may have opened up some old wounds, namely the Treaty of Versailles, which accounted for (at least) half of the economic problems in Germany, and the general hostility against the West, the victorious side of WW1. Many Germans, especially the patriotic ones, may have still felt resentful towards the Treaty of Versailles and their defeat in WW1, which made them willing to accept a leader who would oppose their (old) political enemies and resolve their economic plight. Hitler fit the bill perfectly. Throughout his career, he openly opposed the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, heavily criticised the Weimar politicians for accepting the Treaty of Versailles (as well as many others whom he considered to be responsible for Germany’s defeat in WW1), and in the early 1930s, Hitler promised to save Germany from its economic desperation. He emerged as the ultimate saviour to the German people, who had no choice but to abolish their democratic system for the one man whom they hoped would bring them out of their misery. This made his rise to power, and the concomitant death of Weimar democracy, inevitable.

The political and economic circumstances in the final years of the Weimar Republic were exceptionally bad for Germany. Under such circumstances, democracy could not survive in a nation whose people preferred the stability of dictatorship to the fluctuations of democracy. This is perfectly understandable, if not justified. A similar event occurred in the USA, the land of democracy. Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) is considered to be one of the greatest US presidents ever and he was unprecedentedly (re-)elected as President of the USA a record four times from 1933-1945. It would be absurd to label President Roosevelt a ‘dictator’ and put him on a par with Hitler, but his longaevity as US President did spark controversy, so much that subsequent to his death the unwritten rule that US Presidents could only stand a maximum of two terms became a constitutional law (22nd Amendment). One of the main reasons why the American people decided to stick with him rather than to choose another President must have been that they preferred stability to instability, especially during the Second World War when President Roosevelt led the nation heroically and earned rocket popularity with his good performance both as the President and as a military leader. Electing a new President would have disrupted the continuity of USA’s internal and foreign policies, which would have been madness in times of war. Democracy can therefore be suspended during times of crisis, and while we may disagree with some of these decisions in hindsight, I do not think that we can say that these decisions were not justified at the time.

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