George Grosz, Twilight

The Weimar Republic: Politics, Culture, and Catastrophe

Instructor: Audrey Nicolaides
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

The Weimar Republic, Germany’s culturally dazzling yet politically fragile interwar experiment in parliamentary democracy, lasted just twelve brief years. But the searing tensions and overlapping crises that marked it continue to resonate and provoke. How does an era of astounding cultural efflorescence—from jazz to Bauhaus to avant-garde cinema and Frankfurt School critical theory—end so catastrophically in violent authoritarianism? How did liberatory impulses, economic volatility, and competing political visions come, ultimately, to blows? And what lessons does the Weimar Republic hold for a 21st-century world equally beset by polarizing conflicts between tradition and modernity, national culture and global civilization, elite institutions and mass political power, capitalism and any other alternative organization of the global political economy? Was this dynamic interregnum in Germany’s political history merely a prelude to catastrophe—or can we understand it instead as a site of daring political experimentation in which radically different visions of democracy, authority, mass politics, and public welfare were all up for grabs?

In this course, we will explore the complex history, contested legacy, and contemporary resonance of Weimar Germany, from the murder of Rosa Luxemburg in 1919 to Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Reading widely across primary sources—essays, speeches, news articles, and cultural artifacts from the period—as well as later reflections and analyses, we will ask: How exceptional was the fate of Weimar Germany? At what, if any, inflection points could its fate have turned out otherwise? How did international politics, from the Treaty of Versailles to the League of Nations, influence domestic politics in Germany? What connections can we draw between German imperialism and National Socialism? What role did the Communist Party play in shaping the Weimar political field? And how did the global economic situation, including hyperinflation and the Great Depression, affect the course of Weimar’s collapse? Readings will be drawn from the works of Rosa Luxemburg, Thomas Mann and Heinrich Mann, Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, Paul Levi, and Gustav Stresemann, among others.

“The Weimar Republic: Radical Political Experiment” is being held in partnership with Carnegie Hall as part of Carnegie’s The Fall of the Weimar Republic: Dancing on the Precipice festival, taking place January-May 2024. For more information and a list of festival programming, please visit Carnegie’s event page.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
April 10 — May 01, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Closed

Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.

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