Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Germany's "Democratic Party" in the 1930s
In my various writings I am much indebted to readers who send me interesting links and, occasionally, interesting books. One regular and generous correspondent has just sent me a copy of a recent book: Living with Hitler: Liberal Democrats in the Third Reich.
To understand what the book is about, you need to know that the German electoral system both then and now is/was run on proportional representation lines. There was nothing like the "First past the post" voting system that prevails in most Anglo-Saxon countries. In other words, the number of seats in the legislature that a party gets reflects roughly the proportion of votes cast that the party got in the most recent election. This invariably leads to a parliament in which MANY parties are represented, unlike the two-party system of the USA. It is very rare for any one party to get a majority of the seats available and governments are therefore usually formed by alliances between different parties. Israel and most of Europe has such a system to this day.
And in interwar Germany, politics were dominated by various flavours of Leftism. There was very little support for much in the way of conservatism. And the parties could be ranked in their degree of Leftism -- from Communist, to Nazi, to Social Democrats to Liberal Democrats. The Social Democrats were equivalent to the Labor parties that one finds in the Anglosphere, strongly allied with the Labor unions, and the Liberal Democrats saw themselves as "progressives", quite similar to the Democrats in the USA today. And it is that latter group that the book concerns.
So how did the German "Democrats" go in Hitler's Germany? Did they furiously resist Nazism, as the rhetoric of modern-day Democrats would suggest? No way! Like the FDR Democrats in the America of the 1930s, they got along with Hitler to various degrees. There were a small number of highly principled ones who fled Germany but most did little more than mutter and got by quite well under Hitler. Some even made distinguished careers under Hitler. Most thought that Hitler was too rough and too extreme but they appreciated his basic Leftism and went along with him willingly.
Conventional history since the war has focused on the small number of German "Democrats" who fled Germany but this latest book shows that they were highly atypical. If you want the details, you will have to read the book. It is a large and comprehensive work so you will be left in no doubt at the end of it about how easily "Democrats" can drift into Fascism. With the passage of Obamacare, many American conservatives would say the the drift concerned is now well underway in the USA.