From Liberal Democracy to Fascism

Legal and Political Thought in the Weimar Republic


The Weimar Republic – from 1919 until 1933, when Hitler came into power – witnessed crucial debates on law and politics. These debates are reexamined in this book. Were, for example, democratic rules and procedures an adequate basis for democracy, as Hugo Preuss and Hans Kelsen suggested? Or should constitutional law elaborate the deeper, basic principles embedded in the democratic constitution itself, as Hermann Heller argued? Was the president the immediate “guardian of the constitution”, as Carl Schmitt’s concept of “representation” suggested? Or was Schmitt’s concept itself subject to Walter Benjamin’s critique of the aura of authenticity?
These, and other typical Weimar-era debates helped shape West German constitutionalism. The former labor lawyer on the left Ernst Fraenkel, for example, began to develop a general theory of dictatorship mass democracy while in exile, which influenced the new discipline of political science after the war. Similarly, Gerhard Leibholz, an anti-positivist lawyer in Weimar, served on the first Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany, helping to consolidate its new constitutional culture.

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Peter C. Caldwell, Ph.D. (1993) in History, Cornell University, is Associate Professor of History at Rice University. He is the author of Popular Sovereignty and the Crisis of German Constitutional Law (Duke University Press, 1997).

William E. Scheuerman, Ph.D. (1993) in Government, Harvard University, is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Between the Norm and the Exception: The Frankfurt School and the Rule of Law (MIT Press, 1994) and Carl Schmitt: The end of Law (Rowman and Littlefield, 1999).
Anyone interested in intellectual history, the history of political thought, the history of legal thought and law, German history, political science, and comparative social thought, will find this book enthralling.