- Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany by Noah Benezra Strote
How did postwar Germany create a working political consensus after the political and economic turmoil of the Weimar years, as well as the physical and psychological devastation wrought by the Third Reich? How did the Federal Republic produce a thriving economy, become the bedrock of the European Union, a haven for refugees, and a model of a working liberal democracy? Explanations have varied. One account focuses on tutelage by the United States, interpreting the Hitler years as an anomaly that interrupted a natural historical progression from Weimar to the Federal Republic. According to Noah Benezra Strote, this bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, derives from modernization theory developed by social scientists in the 1950s. In Strote's view, this explanation not only seeks to account for West German success, but also depicts the Federal Republic as a model for economic development worldwide, which in turn justified "policies of intervention around the globe" (5).
Strote challenges these narrow explanations of a German transition from "darkness into light" by arguing that Germans were well on their way to a political consensus prior to defeat and American occupation. He does not diminish the Allied contributions [End Page 644] to Germany's success, but he emphasizes that over time, German leaders found their own solutions to their problems. At the end of World War I the central question facing all German elites was how to reach political consensus in a nation so culturally and politically divided, where such divergent visions of the future coexisted. Strote traces the "various social, religious, and political groupings of German society and their shifting relations with one another" (4) through the 1920s and 1930s as they moved toward political compromise and consensus in the aftermath of World War II. He does so by examining the careers of ten key figures from very different political positions that made the new Germany possible: Gerhard Leibholz, Ernst Fraenkel, Wilhelm Röpke, Oswald von Nell-Breuning, Arnold Bergsträsser, Helmuth Plessner, Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Ernst Benz, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor W. Adorno. Lions and Lambs is a collective biography that puts a face on Germany's struggles and compromises, resulting in an accessible, well-written, and deeply researched intellectual history. To be sure, this leadership cadre, born between 1890 and 1910, also included key members of the Nazi hierarchy, but those in opposition take center stage in the story: these German politicians and intellectuals served as a bridge between Weimar and the Federal Republic.
Strote argues that the Weimar political crisis was the result of an acrimonious disagreement over the "values and institutions" (25) that would support the new liberal democratic Weimar government. Key was the issue of judicial review: the power of unelected judges who were imperial holdovers. Between 1924 and 1926, judicial review was at the heart of a growing battle between labor and capital. The SPD largely opposed judicial review, championing instead the primacy of parliament as the expression of the will of the people. Younger leaders of the SPD saw judicial review as a threat to social justice legislation they supported. After the 1928 parliamentary elections, an SPD-led coalition defeated the second attempt by the liberal parties to secure approval of judicial review. The cracks in the fragile system gave way to a chasm, and a compromise between left and right now seemed improbable, before becoming downright impossible with the onset of the Great Depression and the rise of the Nazi Party.
According to Strote, German conservatives, nationalists, and those he calls the "old judiciary" (15) came to regret their initial support of the Nazis. By 1937 all ten of the figures on whom Strote focuses, "from the most left-wing to the most conservative, found their visions for the future of Germany extinguished and their material existence potentially in danger" (12). Some fled, while others chose inner emigration. Coupled with the failures of...