One can easily understand why this work was given the International History Honor Society’s manuscript award in 1975. It is a key study of a major figure in modern German history who helped pave the way for the National Socialist victory of 1933.
Along with Papen and Schleicher, Alfred Hugenberg (1861-1951) was one of the principal gravediggers of the Weimar Republic. But he was much more than even that: he was a political, economic, and ideological link between the older, conservative Wilhelmian period and World War I, and the new radical Weimar Republic and the Nazis. Hugenberg’s intermediate position between traditional and radical German conservatism was a source of both his early strength and his ultimate failure.
John Leopold’s excellent political biography illuminates and traces the crucial aspects of Hugenberg’s role in modern German history. The book rests on a foundation of exhaustive, meticulous research. Leopold had complete access to the Hugenberg papers at the Rohbracken Estate in addition to the Federal Archives, the files of the Pan-German League in Potsdam, and the Westarp Papers. Though availability of Industrial Archives was limited and only a portion of the correspondence between Hugenberg and Hitler has been preserved, every possible avenue of documentation has been pursued in this study.
Part of the success of the book is also due to the lucid, skillful style and organization by which Leopold guides us through the complex labyrinth of German right-wing politics of the first third of the twentieth century. Subsidiary factual material is reserved for the footnotes that occupy one-third of the length of the book. This system works well for primarily political biography. We appreciate the detailed documentation, but do not lose our train of thought or necessary perspective.
As a radical nationalist, Alfred Hugenberg linked the old and the new German conservative traditions of the first third of the twentieth century. From the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Wilhelmian era he took his beliefs in the supremacy of a governing and managerial elite of industrialists, landlords, and bureaucrats—a “cartel of the producing classes.” He believed that the dynamism of the upper middle classes and the rootedness of the peasantry should constitute the basis for the Volk. The masses were to be manipulated and guided toward nationalism and imperialism, and away from Marxism and democracy. By 1914 Hugenberg had developed into a ponderous combination of manager and ideologue. His administrative and managerial talents led to his directorship of Krupp enterprises, wartime propaganda efforts, and later to the chairmanship of newspaper syndicates and film companies. As an ideologue, he was one of the founders of the Pan-German Society of the early twentieth century. His views featured beliefs in crude social Darwinism, imperialist expansion, militarism, economic autocracy, and anti-Marxism. He clearly belonged to the group of radical annexationists and reactionaries during World War I.
The elements of Hugenberg’s even more radical conservatism appeared in the Weimar Republic. Like the Nazis, he wanted to have his political cake and eat it too. He foreswore all compromise with the hated “unGerman” democracy and parliamentary system of Weimar, yet helped to found the DNVP (Deutschnationale Volkspartei), the German National People’s Party. The founding of this group precipitated a crucial division in German conservatism, for it sought to sabotage moderate conservative groups (such as Stresemann’s German People’s Party) that were willing to support the Weimar Republic.
Hugenberg was not an effective political leader, and Leopold does well to point out his subject’s numerous personality defects. Though he was a self-made middle-class man, Hugenberg was insignificant in appearance, a poor orator devoid of any charisma, and ineffective in developing strong interpersonal relationships. These qualities probably led to overcompensation that took the form of stubbornness and self-righteousness. There was also the problem of his age. When Hitler became chancellor at the young age of forty-three, Hugenberg was already sixty-five. Moreover, his managerial training in economics and propaganda, as well as his personality, led him to aspire to control things behind the scenes, to become the indispensable man of the conservative opposition to the Weimar Republic.
Hugenberg was by no means disposed to a totalitarian solution in the manner of a Mussolini or to a terroristic putschist regime to solve the problems of Germany. His anti-Marxism was probably stronger than his racism. But like members of other conservative circles he began to collaborate with the Nazis as early as 1923. Leopold asserts that the immediate origins and mechanisms of this cooperation are not clear. Given the importance of this problem, Leopold should have pointed out the source of the difficulty of pinpointing the...
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