What happens when a nation that was once an economic powerhouse turns its back on democracy and on its middle class, as wealthy right-wingers wage austerity campaigns and enable extremist politics?
It may sound like America in 2012. But it was also Germany in 1932.
Most Americans have never heard of the Weimar Republic, Germany's democratic interlude between World War I and World War II. Those who have usually see it as a prologue to the horrors of Nazi Germany, an unstable transition between imperialism and fascism. In this view, Hitler's rise to power is treated as an inevitable outcome of the Great Depression, rather than the result of a decision by right-wing politicians to make him chancellor in early 1933.
Historians reject teleological approaches to studying the past. No outcome is inevitable, even if some are more likely than others. Rather than looking for predictable outcomes, we ought to be looking to the past to understand how systems operate, especially liberal capitalist democracies. In that sense, Weimar Germany holds many useful lessons for contemporary Americans. In particular, there are four major points of similarity between Weimar Germany and Weimar America worth examining.
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