Examine the obstacles to the success of democracy in Weimar Germany (1919–1933).

 Sample student essay from the May 2014 Paper 2 exam

Examine the obstacles to the success of democracy in Weimar Germany (1919–1933).

This essay scored 13/20 from the IBO

Examine the obstacles to the success of democracy in Weimar Germany (1919–1933).

In-class timed essay from former student:

Typed example:

In the aftermath of the First World War, the Weimar Republic emerged as a democratic beacon in a Europe devastated by conflict. Despite this promising inception, the Weimar Republic, which was Germany's first democratic regime, faced numerous challenges from 1919 to 1933 that eventually resulted in its downfall. These obstacles to the success of democracy in Weimar Germany can be broadly categorised into three aspects - political, economic, and social. This essay will critically analyse these elements, exploring the fundamental weaknesses embedded within the Weimar political structure, the devastating economic problems that plagued the nation, and the lack of a strong democratic culture amongst the populace.

One of the principal barriers to the success of democracy in the Weimar Republic was the instability inherent within its political structure. The Weimar Constitution of 1919 was well-intended, aiming to prevent dictatorial rule by dispersing power. However, this also made it highly susceptible to fragmentation. Under the Proportional Representation system, numerous political parties obtained representation in the Reichstag, making it difficult to achieve majority governments and form stable coalitions. Historian Richard Bessel argued that the 'stab in the back' myth, promulgated by right-wing politicians, further exacerbated this political fragility. This myth, attributing Germany's defeat in World War I to internal betrayal rather than military defeat, delegitimised the democratic regime from its inception, painting it as the progeny of traitors. The use of Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which allowed the President to rule by decree in times of emergency, further undermined the democratic principles. It was employed excessively, especially during economic crises, undermining parliamentary authority and paving the way for authoritarian rule.

The Weimar Republic faced profound economic obstacles that impeded the success of democracy. The Treaty of Versailles imposed crippling reparations on Germany, which ignited hyperinflation in the early 1920s, impoverishing the middle class, who traditionally supported democracy. Historian Sally Marks, in her seminal work 'The Illusion of Peace', describes how the Dawes Plan of 1924, which rescheduled reparations and infused American loans, brought temporary economic stability. However, this stability was undermined by the Wall Street Crash in 1929, which marked the onset of the Great Depression. As Marks elucidated, the withdrawal of American loans led to economic catastrophe, with unemployment reaching six million by 1932.

The lack of a democratic tradition in Germany posed significant social obstacles to the success of the Weimar Republic. The authoritarian culture of the Kaiserreich cast a long shadow, with many Germans accustomed to, and even yearning for, strong, decisive leadership. This sentiment was evident in the support for the Freikorps and later the Nazi Party, both promising to restore Germany's dignity and power. Historian Detlev Peukert in his work 'The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity' underscores the cultural polarisation in Weimar Germany, with liberal and conservative factions viewing each other with deep suspicion. Peukert argues that this divide limited the potential for democratic consensus, undermining the success of the Weimar Republic.

The failure of the Weimar Republic demonstrates that the survival of democracy relies on more than constitutional provision alone. It requires political stability, economic security, and societal consensus. The inability to fulfil these criteria, coupled with the fragility of the democratic structure itself, allowed for the rise of extremist factions, ultimately culminating in the ascension of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. This period of German history serves as a sobering reminder that democracy, though resilient, is not invulnerable and must be vigorously defended against internal and external challenges.