The Death of Democracy

I recently read The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic by Benjamin Carter Hett. Hett is a professor of history at Hunter College.

Hett’s book gave me some new insights into the rise of Nazism. One thing that surprised me was the role that Lutheranism played. Hett notes that in the 1930 election, in which over a hundred Nazis were elected to the Reichstag, most of the Nazis came from Protestant areas in the north and east of the country. (And they mostly came from rural areas.) Lutherans tended to believe that only an authoritarian state would guarantee public morality. (Hett notes that even anti-Nazi Lutherans such as Moltke and Niemoeller tended to believe this.) What this tells us is that the “decadent Weimar” explanation of the rise of Nazism – as depicted, for example, in the film, Cabaret – actually gets things backwards.

Another thing that struck me is how deeply reactionary the German ruling class was at that time. They hated democracy, and they hated even the appearance of democracy. This was at a time when the ruling classes of Britain and France had come to accept democracy, however grudgingly. They knew what kind of person Hitler was, but they preferred to work with him rather than with the Social Democrats.

Hett clearly intends us to see parallels between that period and our own, particularly the dangers that can occur when a republic is controlled by people who don’t believe in democracy.

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