Weimar America: Four Major Ways We’re Following In Germany’s Fascist Footsteps
What happens when a mature industrial nation turns its back on democracy and lets its right-wing elite destroy the middle class? We’ve seen this movie before.
July 5, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Bill Barber
Most Americans have never heard of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic interlude between World War I and World War II. Those who have usually see it as a prologue to the horrors of Nazi Germany, an unstable transition between imperialism and fascism. In this view, Hitler’s rise to power is treated as an inevitable outcome of the Great Depression, rather than the result of a decision by right-wing politicians to make him chancellor in early 1933.
Historians reject teleological approaches to studying the past. No outcome is inevitable, even if some are more likely than others. Rather than looking for predictable outcomes, we ought to be looking to the past to understand how systems operate, especially liberal capitalist democracies. In that sense, Weimar Germany holds many useful lessons for contemporary Americans. In particular, there are four major points of similarity between Weimar Germany and Weimar America worth examining.
1. Austerity. Today’s German leaders preach the virtues of austerity. They justify their opposition to the inflationary, growth-creating policies that Europe desperately needs by pointing to the hyperinflation that occurred in 1923, and became one of the most enduring memories of the Weimar Republic. Yet the austerity policies enacted after the onset of the Depression produced the worst of Germany’s economic crisis, while also destabilizing the country’s politics. Cuts to wages, benefits and public programs dramatically worsened unemployment, hunger and suffering.
So far, austerity in America has largely taken place at the state and local levels. However, the federal government is now working on undemocratic national austerity plans, in the form of so-called “trigger cuts” slated to take effect at the end of 2012. In addition, there’s the Bowles-Simpson austerity plan to slash Medicare and SocialSecurity benefits along with a host of other public programs; and the Ryan Budget, a blueprint for widespread federal austerity should the Republicans win control of the Congress and the White House in November.
But it was also Germany in 1932.