Hugo Preuß and Weimar as a ‘wehrhafte Demokratie’

Michael Dreyer (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)

For a long time Hugo Preuß was, if at all, famous as the ‘Father of the Weimar Constitution’ – but not for much else. And even this fatherhood was ambiguous at best. Who wanted to closely research the father of a ‘failed’ constitution? Things have changed, partly due to the efforts of the Hugo Preuß Society (since 2000), partly due to a general re-assessment of Weimar history.

Still, it is virtually unknown that Preuß was a shrewd politician in Weimar, whose devices might have healed the dysfunctional party system, who successfully maneuvered to keep the Weimar coalition intact in Prussia at least, and who was a strong advocate for the concept of ‘wehrhafte Demokratie’. At the same time, Preuß was a political theorist of renown. While his academic teacher Gierke is well known in England as a pioneer of fellowship theory and thus of pluralism, it is really Preuß who followed his teacher’s ideas to its logical, i.e. democratic, conclusion. His original ideas for the Weimar constitution as well as his subsequent work on behalf of strengthening the flailing new democracy should be seen as an extension of his democratic theory of pluralistic fellowship. The paper proposes to interpret the Weimar constitution and the early Weimar years in this light, and thus focus on the chances of the Weimar beginning.

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