Saturday, November 8, 2008

Was Fascism Just a Fad?

Following the end of World War I, many new ideas emerged about how best to manage a society without a monarchy, such as socialism, communism, and fascism. The communist experiment was unfolding in Russia, and socialism was all the rage among the intellectuals in Europe, but Germany tried democracy on for size. They tailored their democracy in ways they thought it would fit them best, but it soon became clear that there were problems. Germany’s authoritarian history, strong anti-democratic influences, and weak political institutions were factors that contributed to the rise of fascism.

Germany had a political culture that leaned fundamentally toward authoritarian regimes that saw the military as a means to improve their position among the nations of the world, yet they pioneered progressive practices like formalized bureaucracy, federalism and elected offices during the first and second empires. Germany’s democratic constitution under the Weimar Republic allowed for adult male and female voting, a parliament, and proportional representation, which demonstrates their attempt to break free of their compulsion toward authoritarianism. But just like the Israelites after they were liberated from their masters in Egypt, there were powerful groups that resisted change and desired a return to the familiar. This tendency toward authoritarianism was necessary for the emergence of fascism, but it alone was not sufficient cause.

Within the Weimar Republic powerful groups retained their influence because reactionary army and police officers from the previous Reich had not been purged. The new regime needed the police force and army in order to suppress demonstrations, to quiet the threat of a communist revolution, to prevent a revolution like they had seen unfold in Russia, and to restore order. Judges and civil servants were trained in and firmly entrenched in anti-democratic practices. Two powerful groups, the Junkers (anti-democratic elite landowners) and Army Officers, were represented in the Republic’s second president Otto von Hindenburg. Hindenburg was the person responsible for appointing Hitler as chancellor in 1933. He received the authority to appoint the chancellor through the constitution, but Hitler became his choice because the weaknesses of Germany’s political institutions made Hitler’s emergence possible.

Durverger’s Law states: the more proportional the system, the greater number of political parties. Germany’s proportional representation yielded three larger parties - the Social Democratic Party (usually received @25% of the vote), the Center Party (usually received @15%), and the Communist Party (usually received 15%) - and many smaller parties leaning toward the center-right of the political spectrum (45% of the vote). The extreme left and right wing parties were committed to the destruction of the republic either by communism or a return to a familiar authoritarian regime. At the same time, the smaller parties failed to form a strong urban-rural coalition, which collapsed the center-right and right-wing parties. These small party voters began to support the Nazi party, who were seen as a tool in the struggle against communism. The Nazis began attracting a substantial portion of the vote in 1930, and with this influx of small party voters their ranks swelled, resulting in a plurality of 33% the vote in the 1933 election. Hitler, being the leader of the strongest parliamentary party, was appointed chancellor, asked to form a cabinet, and asked to lead the government. The number of parties coupled with the weakness of their coalitions made the emergence of a small party possible.
Since the end of World War II, the countries of the world have been pondering about the factors that led to the rise of fascism in Germany. One factor alone is not responsible, but the alignment of many factors. Germany tried democracy, but the combination of democratic ideas they chose, together with the fear of communist revolution and a compulsion to revert to their authoritarian tendencies paved the way for fascism. Seventeen years into their second attempt at democracy, contemporary unified Germany is thriving with a strong economy and running on democratic principles. Many in the world hope that Germany has learned from its mistakes and has found democracy to be a fad which has become their favorite style.

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