Monday, August 7, 2017

Noah Benezra Strote's "Lions and Lambs"

Noah Benezra Strote is associate professor of European history at North Carolina State University. He is a former fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
Page 99 throws the reader into a dramatic scene of Lions and Lambs. It is December 1932 in Germany, many are speaking about the possibility of civil war, and the embattled chancellor, Kurt von Schleicher – the last man to serve in that position before Adolf Hitler – is giving an unrealistic speech about unity and mutual respect. Here, as in the entire first half of the book, I present a new interpretation of the historic failure of Germany’s first experiment with liberal democracy known as the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). Unlike previous scholars, who have often claimed that the republic collapsed due to political immaturity and economic crisis, I show that democratic institutions in Germany became unworkable because national elites held incompatible visions for the country’s future. With their elected leaders opposed to one another like “lions and lambs,” many opted for the decisiveness of a dictator.

The page is part of a section in which I explain a troubling phenomenon related to the democratic collapse: as German politics became more polarized, why did so many conservative Christians ally with Hitler’s hate-filled Nazi Party, and why did so few speak out against its antisemitic ideology? An unexpected reason, I found, was that in the preceding decades, Christian leaders desperately feared that their religion was losing its age-old influence on key public institutions such as the judiciary and the school system. They chose to cooperate with the Nazis largely because Hitler promised to establish Germany as a “Christian state” and to defeat the left, whom they had come to perceive as enemies.

Page 99 therefore reveals an essential aspect of the history I reconstruct in Lions and Lambs. In the second half of the narrative, which begins on Page 147, the action shifts from the intractability of political conflict to the creation of political consensus after the fall of Nazism. The remainder of the book demonstrates how the very same men and women who had once perceived each other as “enemies” ended up collaborating in the reconstruction of liberal democracy after 1945 in what became the Federal Republic of Germany, otherwise known as West Germany. Both sides of the earlier conflict – in this case conservative Christians and the more secular left – made painful compromises on previously held values as a price for consensus and stability. In this way, the book presents a pre-history of present-day Germany, where, in no small part due to the memory of Nazism, a majority still values compromise and stability above all kinds of political experimentation.
Learn more about Lions and Lambs at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue