The Biggest Threat to the Weimar Republic Was the Weimar Constitution Itself. Discuss

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The Weimar Constitution posed a significant threat to the Weimar Republic as it contributed to multiple issues that ultimately affected the Republic. These problems included Hitler’s rise to power, the decline of the Reichsrat, the passing of the Enabling Act, proportional representation, political extremism, and the establishment of the Reichsprasident. Ultimately, Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor led to the downfall of the Reichsrat and effectively enabled the enactment of the Enabling Act.

The rise of Hitler showcases the peril that the Constitution brought to the Weimar Republic. In 1919, Hitler started working as an undercover spy under the guise of an ‘education officer’ in the political division of the Bavarian army. Soon after, he attended a DAP meeting and joined their committee, thereby revealing his disloyalty to the Bavarian army.

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In February 1920, the DAP leader Drexler and Hitler collaborated to create the Twenty-five Point Programme, leading to the renaming of the party as NSDAP. Hitler’s speeches played a crucial role in attracting new members. In July 1921, he became chairman and Fuhrer after threatening resignation. In August of that year, he formed the SA or ‘Brown Shirts’. On November 8th, 1923, Hitler and his stormtroopers forcefully entered a meeting at a Munich beer-hall.

He compelled Otto von Lossow and Gustav von Kahr to retreat to a separate room where he pressured them to express their endorsement for a march on Berlin in order to establish a new government, with General Ludendorff assuming the position of the new Commander-in-Chief. On November 9th, President Ebert officially announced a nationwide state of emergency. Ludendorff convinced Hitler to proceed with the march into Munich in order to seize power, marking the first stage towards advancing on Berlin. At midday, a group of 2000 armed Nazis marched toward a military base in Munich. They encountered resistance from both armed police officers and Bavarian soldiers.

Following a potential Nazi-fired shot, the police responded by killing fourteen Nazis. This event led to the apprehension of both Hitler and Ludendorff, which prompted General Seeckt to ban the Nazis. While in prison at Landsberg, Hitler wrote ‘Mein Kampf’ (My Struggle). The incarceration of their leader nearly caused the disintegration of the Nazi party until Hitler’s release on December 24, 1924, after serving nine months behind bars.

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took oath as Chancellor in Hindenburg’s office during a ceremony that some later observers described as brief and uncomplicated.

After Hindenburg’s death in 1934, Hitler assumed several roles including President of Germany, Head of State, and Commander of Germany. He also proclaimed himself as the Fuhrer of Germany. Furthermore, the weakening of the Reichsrat indicated a major issue with the Weimar Constitution. This constitution imposed restrictions on the rights and representation abilities of various states. Despite having no control over the federal government, the Reichsrat possessed veto power over bills from the Reichstag; nevertheless, this veto could be overridden by the Reichstag.

Despite the fragmented Reichstag and frequent dissolutions, the Reichsrat maintained its significant power as it needed a two-thirds majority to override decisions. Consequently, bills rejected by the Reichsrat frequently failed. After Hitler became Chancellor, authority shifted from the states (Lander) to the central government, rendering the Reichsrat obsolete. Germany quickly transformed into a centralized state after the dissolution of the Reichsrat within a month. The passage of the Enabling Act further highlights the Constitution’s alarming threat.

On 23 March 1933, the Reichstag convened and Hitler delivered a speech that appeared calm and conciliatory. He reassured that the Act would not endanger the existence of the Reichstag or the Reichsrat, and that the President’s authority would remain intact. Additionally, he promised that the Lander (states) would not be abolished. However, this pledge was quickly broken. The Act, officially known as the “Act for the Removal of Distress from People and Reich,” was approved with a vote of 441 to 94. The only party opposing it was the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands).

The Enabling Act, which came into effect on March 24th, 1933, was supported by all Reichstag members except one. This act marked the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich. It empowered the cabinet to pass laws without needing approval from the Reichstag or President, even if these laws contradicted the constitution. Furthermore, proportional representation in the Weimar Constitution posed a considerable danger to the Republic.

Proportional representation was implemented in Weimar Germany, allowing parties with limited support to secure seats in the Reichstag. This resulted in the emergence of various small parties, including extremist factions, that became part of the political system. Electoral regions were established in Germany, and multiple candidates were presented by each party. The allocation of representatives in the Reichstag was determined by the total votes received within their specific electoral region. For every 60,000 votes a party obtained, they could elect one member.

The downfall of the republic was not brought about by minor parties. Instead, it can be attributed to the influential presence of communists, conservatives, and national socialists. Political extremism also played a significant role in endangering the Weimar Constitution and stability of Weimar Germany. From 1919 to 1923, continuous attacks were faced by the Weimar Republic from both ends of the political spectrum. The initial threat emerged from the Communists.

After a failed uprising in Berlin in 1919, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, both Communist leaders, were killed. This incident sparked ongoing resistance from the extreme left during the early years of the Republic. It is important to mention that rebels from the political left received harsher punishments than those on the right. Likewise, the extreme right was determined to overthrow Weimar Germany. In 1920, Wolfgang Kapp led a coup d’état known as the Kapp Putsch. This event marked the peak of right-wing attacks as Kapp attempted to seize control of Berlin and ultimately Germany.

The Weimar Government fled Berlin in panic, while the workers were the ones who stopped the attempted putsch by refusing to support Kapp through a general strike. There were several other putsches that took place until November 1923, when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis attempted the failed ‘Beer hall Putsch’ in Munich, the capital of Bavaria. During this time, Germany also experienced over 376 political murders, including those of Matthias Erzberger in 1921 and Walter Rathenau in 1922, which further backed Weimar Germany.

The numerous uprisings and political assassinations weakened the stability of Weimar Germany and diminished its popularity among the German population. They were shocked by the apparent disorder and chaos within Germany, which the Weimar politicians and system appeared incapable of managing. Another indicator that the Constitution posed a significant threat to the Weimar Republic was the establishment of the Reichsprasident.

The institution of the Reichsprasident was often viewed as an Ersatzkaiser, aiming to replace the Kaiser with a similarly powerful institution to reduce party politics. Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution granted the President the authority to take necessary actions in cases of serious disturbance or endangerment to public order and security. While meant for emergencies, this provision was frequently utilized prior to 1933 to issue decrees without parliamentary support and also streamlined the process of Gleichschaltung.

The Nazis used the term Gleichschaltung to describe their strategy of tightly coordinating society and commerce. Their goal was to eliminate individualism by enforcing adherence to a specific doctrine and thought process, while exerting control over various aspects of life through an intrusive police force. This tactic can be compared to ‘brainwashing’ the state, which Hitler employed in his speeches to foster shared beliefs among the public. Furthermore, it is evident that the primary threat to the Weimar Republic was not the Weimar Constitution but rather the Treaty of Versailles.

The Treaty faced significant opposition from the majority of Germans due to its requirements for surrendering territory, such as the Rhineland, and making a substantial compensation payment of either 6.6 billion or 132 billion Gold Marks. While Germany was initially obligated to pay a large sum, they ultimately only paid a fraction of it. Nevertheless, these reparations had a negative impact on the German economy as they discouraged market loans and forced the Weimar government to resort to printing money in order to cover their deficit. Consequently, this led to severe hyperinflation which played a role in triggering the Great Depression during the 1930s.

Despite the idea that the Weimar Constitution was the primary threat to the Republic, it was actually confronted with major economic hardships during the Great Depression in the 1930s. This era brought about significant challenges for the Republic, including uncontrollable hyperinflation, widespread unemployment, and a noticeable decline in living standards. Although Germany briefly experienced an economic improvement from 1923-1929, it was heavily affected by the worldwide recession caused by the Great Depression, mainly due to its dependence on American loans.

From 1926 to 1932, the number of unemployed Germans skyrocketed from approximately 2 million to about 6 million. This problem was attributed to the Weimar Republic and drew criticism from political factions on all sides who aimed to completely dismantle it. As a result, achieving a democratic majority in Parliament became impossible, leading to economic stagnation and heightened pressure on Germany to repay its debts to the United States. Due to its vulnerable condition, the Weimar Republic suffered immensely during the depression and eventually paved the path for the emergence of the Nazi Party.

The Weimar Constitution was not the only factor that indicated its instability. Labour unions and the Social Democrats were also influential in this regard. Industrial leaders associated the Weimar Republic with both labour unions and the Social Democrats, as they were responsible for the Versailles concessions of 1918/1919. Despite some individuals viewing Hitler as a means to eliminate the Democrats, the Republic had already been experiencing instability prior to any industry leaders endorsing Hitler. Furthermore, many of those who supported Hitler’s appointment did not endorse Nazism as a whole and regarded him as a temporary solution in their efforts to dismantle the Republic.

Hitler’s enthusiastic support from large segments of the population, including many workers who had abandoned the left, cannot be solely attributed to industry support. Another factor that disproves the influence of the Weimar Constitution is President von Hindenburg’s death. In 1932, Hitler ran for the presidency of Germany against Hindenburg and was defeated. However, as the Great Depression crisis intensified, Hitler demanded to be appointed Chancellor. Hindenburg, who despised Hitler, refused until he was on his deathbed and in desperate circumstances in 1933.

Hitler quickly acted by setting fire to the Reichstag building and falsely blaming other political groups, like the communists. He also guaranteed the enactment of the Enabling Act, which resulted in the suspension of habeas corpus and all personal liberties, along with the prohibition of labor unions. After Hindenburg’s passing in 1934, Hitler ignored the necessity for fresh elections and instead invalidated the Weimar Republic’s constitution. He proclaimed himself President of Germany, Head of State, and Commander of Germany, effectively assuming lifelong power as the ‘Fuhrer’.

The Weimar Constitution posed the greatest threat to the Weimar Republic, evidenced by Hitler’s ascension to power, the Reichsrat’s downfall, the Enabling Act’s passage, the use of proportional representation, political extremism, and the establishment of the Reichsprasident. These factors marked the commencement of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany, in which elections ceased and the army was required to pledge allegiance to Hitler rather than Germany.

The Weimar Republic faced various challenges that threatened its stability. These included the Treaty of Versailles, the Great Depression in the 1930s, labor unions and the Social Democrats, and President von Hindenburg’s downfall. However, all these factors ultimately originated from one pivotal event: Hitler’s rise to power. Through his actions such as dissolving the Reichsrat and rendering the Lander (states) ineffective, Hitler was able to gain control.

Hitler’s reign saw the destruction of the Constitution through the passing of the Enabling Act. Despite other factors indicating that it was not the Constitution that posed the greatest threat, they ultimately contributed to Hitler’s rise to power. When Hindenburg died, Hitler took over as Fuhrer and disregarded the Constitution completely. The Treaty of Versailles resulted in anger within Germany and triggered rapid hyperinflation as the government printed excessive amounts of money. This period of “political chaos” potentially left a psychological impact on Germans, fostering extreme Nationalism epitomized by Hitler.

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The Biggest Threat to the Weimar Republic Was the Weimar Constitution Itself. Discuss. (2018, Mar 06). Retrieved from

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