Liberal Ideas and Weimar Culture as Both Remarkable and Horrendous

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During the fourteen years of relative peace following the crisis of the Great War and preceding Adolf Hitler’s brutal dictatorship, Germany experienced an unprecedented outburst of artistic creativity and scientific innovation. Both as a multi-coalitional and the first democratic government, the Weimar Republic was off to an unstable start in the early 1920’s and had its legitimacy and authority challenged by left and right extremists alike. After the worst effects of the 1923 hyperinflation subsided, however, the Weimar Republic facilitated an atmosphere that was conducive to liberal and intellectual experimentation. Many German people explored new ideas and adopted liberal values, and the cityscape as well as its diverse entertainment venues reflected this change in preference. Not surprisingly, talks of gender equality and sexual freedom appalled religious and political conservatives, and ordinary citizens too were distraught by modern city life and the moral deprivation it seemed to entail. There was also the underlying tone of economic and political uncertainty as the Weimar government struggled to uphold its legitimacy in the midst of hostile external and internal events. In this essay, I will assess the varying claims that Weimar culture was both remarkable and horrendous by describing the liberal changes, technological developments, and the socioeconomic environment of the period, while highlighting the reactions these factors elicited from varying German social groups. Liberal ideas flourished in Weimar culture, as indicated by the vast array of literature and film critical of social injustices and political blunders. Bertolt Bretchet’s sensational 1928 musical The Threepenny Opera blatantly attacked the exp... ... middle of paper ... ...war years. Philosopher Siegfried Kracauer accused the material distractions of city life of spawning excessive consumerism, the loss of individuality, and preoccupation with body image. Joseph Goebbels, the famous Nazi propagandist, held the view that Berlin culture was degenerate, and many provincials who entered the metropolis for the first time also were shocked at what seemed like an omnipresence of debauchery around them. The wealthy bourgeoisie of West-end Berlin expressed pessimism with modern city life and nostalgia for the bygone days, both of which Thomas Mann artfully captured in his celebrated 1924 novel The Magic Mountain. In The Decline of the West, historian Oswald Spengler also presented the notion of Germany’s descent, but offered hope that revival was possible as long as strong leadership could foster solidarity in the German nation.

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