With the rise of fascism in the United States, a lot of people have been comparing the current era to the Weimar Republic, in the years prior to Nazi rule. I think it’s a reasonable comparison to make, and I’ve made it myself. I think there are things we can learn from studying that history, but it’s also worth remembering that 21st century US is not, in fact Weimar Germany. The Three Arrows video I posted last August goes into both similarities and differences, and it’s definitely worth a watch, but I like the Lonerbox video below, as an explicit discussion of the differences.
I’m used to thinking of the United States as a young country, and in some ways it is, but it’s worth remembering that as states claiming to be democracies go, it’s quite old. The band Rammstein put out a song called Deutschland a little while back which made the point (among other things) that for all Germany can trace its history back for centuries, it seems like it’s always a very young country. Germany as we know it today is younger than I am, and it was preceded by the era of a divided East and West Germany, which was preceded by the Nazis, which was preceded by Weimar, which was preceded by the empire, each being not just a different regime, but in many ways a different country. To quote Deutschland, Germany is “so young, and yet so old.”
This video digs into what went on during the short years of the Republic, and how, in many ways, it’s nothing at all like what’s happening in the US today.
I remember as a naive 18 year old with no access to Google (it being 1987) I asked someone where the Weimar Republic was, and couldn’t quite get my head round the idea that it was in Germany. Why not, my reasoning went, simply call it “Germany” then?
This sounded suspect, so I googled it. One of the top hits was the World Economic Forum. Entertainingly, they’ve got a VERY specific definition of “democracy” that seems almost as though it’s been written carefully to produce a result that would make people go “Wait. What?” It has the USA as the world’s oldest democracy, by over 50 YEARS.
Even more entertainingly, the country they have down as second only to the USA is Switzerland… a country which gave full voting rights to women in 1990. Not a typo – NINETEEN NINETY. (Black women got the vote in the USA in 1965…)
So as you might imagine I’m giving that chart some severe side-eye. It’s got France as only being a democracy since 1946, for example. I mean, fair enough, the Nazis weren’t holding elections, but resetting the clock because a country was invaded and occupied seems harsh.
The Isle of Man, while a dependency of the UK, has had a continuously functioning parliament since no later than the 13th century, and possibly considerably longer.
Abe Drayton says
Yeah, like much of mainstream history, the reality is much more complicated, and written to flatter European empires (in this case, I’m counting the US as one such).
Thanks for the extra context!