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two Hugo Preuss introduction Christoph Schoenberger The Weimar Constitution had no more passionate defender than the person who drafted it. No German law professor bound his name so unreservedly to the Weimar Republic as Hugo Preuss. On 15 November 1918, six days after the fall of the monarchy, Friedrich Ebert, the Social Democratic chairman of the Council of People’s Deputies and later president, appointed Preuss to a high post in the government: Staatssekretär des Inneren. His main responsibility was to draft a democratic constitution. Preuss, a bourgeois left-liberal, was at the time the most leftleaning scholar of the law of the state in Germany—Social Democratic professors of the law of the state had been unthinkable under the Kaiser. By appointing him, Ebert sought to bridge the divide between his Social Democrats and the middle class. He hoped to mollify bourgeois fears of a socialrevolutionary dictatorship, the “authoritarian state in reverse” against which Preuss had warned in a famous newspaper article in the days after the November Revolution.1 At the end of 1918, Preuss completed a draft that decisively influenced the Weimar Constitution, although it underwent significant changes in the National Assembly. This “paternity” strengthened his deep inner bond with the Weimar Republic; his death in 1925 at the age of sixty-four spared him the experience of its failure. During the Empire, Preuss had been an outsider among fellow scholars of the law of the state—unlike, for example, Gerhard Anschütz, one of his generation’s few other pro-republican scholars of state law. Preuss was never offered a professorship at a German university; political and scholarly 110 reservations as well as anti-Semitic prejudice kept him from the centers of scholarly life in the Empire. It was not an accident that he taught at the far less respected Berlin College of Commerce [Handelshochschule], a private school founded by the Berlin business community. The College of Commerce was an institution of the urban liberal bourgeoisie, the social class to which Preuss, a financially independent member of the Jewish upper class and an active left-liberal municipal politician, felt the closest ties. Here Preuss’s career coincided with his scholarly and political interest: the selforganization of a free citizenry. Preuss believed that citizens should organize themselves in locally selfgoverned communities, which would ultimately be supplemented by parliamentarization and democratization at the level of the Länder and the Reich. His personal involvement in local Berlin politics, as city councilor and honorary member of the municipal council [Magistrat], served this end at the local level. Historians of the Empire have sometimes viewed such liberal influence in local politics as indicative of the potential for liberalizing imperial Germany as a whole.2 This is certainly what left-liberals like Preuss had in mind. But it should be noted that the strong position of liberals in the cities was largely due to the restricted franchise that applied to local elections. By contrast, the introduction of universal suffrage for Reichstag elections in 1871 seriously reduced liberal influence at the federal level and strengthened the Social Democrats and the Catholic Center Party. Preuss’s political fate at the national level during the Empire mirrored the different conditions there. His efforts to win a Reichstag seat were unsuccessful both in the Empire’s last Reichstag elections of 1912 and in the elections to the National Assembly and the first Reichstag of the Weimar Republic in 1919–20. Preuss, who joined the newly founded left-liberal German Democratic Party [Deutsche Demokratische Partei, DDP] after the end of the monarchy, ultimately proved to be too much the scholar and too little the politician. His scholarly work centered on citizen self-organization as well. In 1889, he successfully defended hisHabilitationsschrift under Otto von Gierke at the University of Berlin. That work,Municipality, State, and Reich as Territorial Corporations [Gemeinde, Staat und Reich als Gebietskörperschaften] and his later historical work on the development of German towns since the late Middle Ages were strongly influenced by Gierke’s Theory of Associations [Genossenschaftslehre ]. Gierke thought that the possibility of creating associations and cooperatives was the basis of human history in general. According to him, associations of all kinds, from the family to the state, were able to combine diversity and uniformity.3 Gierke’s theory owed much to the tradition of the failed German revolution of 1848 and the Paul’s Church Constitution drafted by the National Assembly in Frankfurt. Gierke...


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