Sunday, October 21, 2007

Reviewed: Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy

WEIMAR GERMANY: Promise and Tragedy (Princeton University Press), by Eric D. Weitz is reviewed by Brian Ladd in today's New York Times. Ladd writes:

Democracy is a fragile flower, as we learn again and again. Among the many failed democracies of the past century, few held more promise than Germany’s Weimar Republic, and none collapsed into greater horror. Its story can be told in two ways: as a drama of decadent excess and tragic flaws, or as an elegy recalling noble promises betrayed by treacherous enemies. Eric D. Weitz’s “Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy” falls squarely into the second category.

Weitz, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, praises the republic’s achievements and condemns its murderers: the right-wing businessmen, army officers and civil servants who handed the country over to the Nazis. Together, the respectable and the radical right nourished the toxic lie that Germany lost World War I because it was “stabbed in the back” by leftist democrats. Still, the Weimar of this book is not a prelude to Hitler, who barely puts in an appearance....

The republic’s mistake, Weitz argues, was its failure to dispatch its conservative enemies at the beginning. This is a disquieting view because it can lead to the conclusion that the moderation of the German socialists was a mistake, whereas the brutality of the Russian Bolsheviks demonstrated what successful leftists had to do to prevail over their opponents. Weitz, it should be said, does not make this claim. Indeed, he dismisses conservative attempts to blame German Communists for Weimar’s demise....

Better than most histories, the book connects culture, politics and city life. Modern architecture, for example, is presented as a response to the poor housing conditions of workers, while innovative artistic uses of light and sound are described as expressions of the new urban cacophony. This gives the book a greater breadth than its model, Peter Gay’s more elegantly written “Weimar Culture” (1968).
The rest is here. Weitz's first chapter is here.