2020: end of the “modern” world
The collapse of the Weimar Republic was a turning point in European, even world, history. It must serve as a lesson, even almost a century on. We should indeed not forget that Chancellor Brüning – with the Great Depression in full swing – reduced public spending by more than 15 GDP percentage points, lowered the salaries of civil servants, increased taxes mainly on the most disadvantaged classes who were hit the hardest, made deep cuts to social protections and safety nets, and drastically restricted access to unemployment benefits. By 1933, the damage was even more devastating since Germany’s public spending had already dropped to just 30% of GDPin 1928. Economic insecurity and precariousness for the middle class, at a time pivotal time geopolitically, was then the daily bread of a population that suffered a gradual marginalisation and exclusion when it was in desperate need of protection.
The pig-headed refusal of politicians to adopt a policy of expansion and reflation was therefore the trigger for a domestic political reorganisation where the most disadvantaged turned to communism, while those who had the most to lose from the tax increases and reductions to public spending converted to Nazism.With the traditional parties having only austerity as their doctrine and ordoliberalism on the horizon, Germany’s middle class welcomed with open arms the dismantling of the Weimar Republic and the strangling of their democracy by a Nazi party that was committed to getting them back into work without worrying about its spending. This is how Germany’s first democratic regime collapsed, under the weight of indiscriminate stringency that was to have political consequences no one could have predicted or planned for, despite a communal, cultural and political way of life that was bubbling over at the time.The German state abandoned its citizens, remained unmoved in the face of human suffering and turned a blind eye to the shocking inequalities at a time when its – vital – intervention could have lifted millions out of poverty.
Austerity and the financial crises have therefore had undeniably perverse effects on economic activity in an environment – that we still have now in 2020 – where banks, companies, consumption, public spending and social protections are interconnected and where a poor and imbalanced combination of them causes economic crashes and political disasters. The intense crisis that we are currently wading through will therefore have incalculable consequences on the generations to come. In the shorter term, it will reshuffle the structural cards of many Western nations that will see an upending of their political frameworks. We have much to learn from the demise of Weimar, that came about due to the impulsion of the great Max Weber. Let us thus take note, today, that we have indeed left behind his – Weber’s – modern vision where, in this new post-Weberian world we now live in, opportunistic, charismatic, authoritarian and hyper-political figures emerge.
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