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Historical Heartburn–Reflections on the Weimar Republic

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The Weimar Republic had a sad and short life. Its legitimacy was questioned continually by the parties at the extremes, and even the mainstream parties consistently attacked it as weak, decadent, etc. Of course, its proportional representation system encouraged the flourishing of parties at the extreme.

My reflections on it, however, are more along the lines of wondering how applicable its life is to the status quo in the United States. In some ways, the contemporary American far right is acting like an extremist party from the Weimar Republic, as it consistently calls the state into question.

The phenomenon of which I speak is a curious one, for there is no denying the nationalist zeal of the American right. But they distinguish most carefully, as did the anti-Republican voices in Weimar, between the ideal to which they profess allegiance and the current government. There is an America of the past to which they hearken, just as the ferocious pan-Germans of Weimar yearned for the return of the Wilhelmine Reich, but which they distinguish from the current government of the United States, which they describe in wholly negative terms.

The Tea Party’s insistence, for example, that their grievances against political authority in the contemporary United States are identical to or analogous with the  1773 protests against British Colonial rule from which they derive their name is a direct indictment of the current American government as a font of tyranny. And it is alarming, for the 1773 protest was against taxation without representation, while the contemporary protest says that mere representation cannot justify taxation. (It is also an implicit argument that violent opposition to this government is justified.)

In such circumstances, how far will the body politic be pushed towards a breaking point? That is, as such rhetoric becomes increasingly acceptable as a valid description of reality, what is the likelihood that the legitimacy of the current government of the United States being challenged to the point where the state loses its capacity to lead? And where will this process of delegitimating the state lead? Is is possible that the United States may face the same fate as the Weimar Republic?

Alarmist? Yes. Out of the realm of possibility? Well, take a good long look at the Tea Party movement and how much they are willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States and then explain to me–with a straight face–in what way they are rationalists who accept the hard duty of governance.

There are similar voices on the left, of course. Noam Chomsky springs immediately to mind, for example. But there is not a coterie of Chomskyites on Capitol Hill who have taken a vow to refuse to perform an action essential to maintaining the full faith and credit of the United States Government, a vow that could well throw the American and global economies back into negative growth, that would roil the capital markets in a way that could make September and October of 2008 look like a small adjustment.

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Written by jjvedamuthu

July 11, 2011 at 22:54