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Weimar Republic 101: The Collapse of a Democracy


Before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Germany experienced its ‘roaring 20s’ through a parliamentary democratic system—the Weimar Republic. Weimar Republic 101 article series aims to introduce some of the key themes and debates in the historiography of the Weimar Republic, from its inception in 1918 to its death in 1933. The final article of the Weimar Republic 101 series continues the discussion from chapter five on the reasons for the Republic's collapse, this time expanding on the people's loss of faith in the democratic system. This final chapter includes a broader discussion of the consequences of crisis on democracies, an uncomfortable conversation for the world's democracies today, who are in the midst of economic and public health crises.

Weimar Republic 101 is divided into six chapters:

  1. Weimar Republic 101: Germany before and after World War I

  2. Weimar Republic 101: The Great Inflation 1923

  3. Weimar Republic 101: DADA Art and Weimar Culture

  4. Weimar Republic 101: The ‘New Woman’ in Post-War Germany

  5. Weimar Republic 101: The Great Depression 1929-1933

  6. Weimar Republic 101: The collapse of a democracy

Sennecke, R. (1933). Adolf Hitler waves from the chancellery to the jubilant crowd. They celebrate his appointment as Chancellor of Germany.

Understandings of Weimar Germany are framed by its well-known collapse in 1933 when Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor and executes his brutal totalitarian dictatorship. It is not useful to view Weimar as having a fixed path towards destruction, but it is important to consider the reasons for its collapse. In this final article, we look at how Germany's transitional society after World War I bred feelings of insecurity among the population that eventually corroded the democratic system. We also explore how the image of Weimar is a spectre to today's democracies amid increasing polarisation, economic crises and the unprecedented events of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The Weimar Republic was a fifteen-year democratic system that existed in Germany after World War I and before World War II. The forces that contributed to the collapse of Weimar democracy extended beyond the economic pressures of the Great Depression that gripped Germany during the Republic’s final years. Indeed, Storer (2013, p. 199) comments that Weimar studies have taken a ‘cultural turn’ in recent years, blurring the lines between the political, social, and cultural histories of Germany after World War I. Preceding articles in this 101 series have aimed to participate in this ‘cultural turn’. For example, when looking at the avant-garde art that was born out of the Republic or when looking at the role of women in Weimar society, this series has been attentive to how we can free ourselves from dichotomies of political and cultural life and integrate our understanding of Weimar history. In this respect, it is useful to consider the ‘moral collapse’ of Weimar focusing on the cultural factors that contributed to the fall of the democratic system.

In line with this ‘cultural turn’, Gerwarth (2005, p. 120) recognises the “psychological consequences” of unemployment and the Great Depression, which led to “feelings of insecurity” among the Germans. On a national scale, this insecurity was realised in the country’s resentment towards the democratic government who had signed the Treaty of Versailles. The German p