Re-thinking the Emotional Narratives of the Weimar Republic through Displays of Fearlessness

Russell Spinney (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

This paper proposes to explore the fearless moments of everyday life and politics as one way to challenge simplistic narratives of the Weimar Republic caught between glitter and doom.  Most historical narratives focus on the rise of fear – the red threat of Bolshevism, the shock of antisemitism or rightwing extremism in the Weimar Republic – without questioning the figures of fear and the effects that they have invoked, or even recognized the wider spectrum of ordinary Germans’ emotional responses to the fears that local activists employed in the politics of their communities.

Drawing from public and private archival studies of central German towns and cities, this paper seeks to demonstrate that ordinary Germans responded to the fears and anxieties they faced in a wide variety of ways that proved just as capable of projecting alternative, even competing emotional displays of courage, pride and joy, hope or anger, which helped different groups and individuals resist the politics of fear that simultaneously pervaded everyday life, often isolating opponents and politically, racially transforming communities in the process. Feeling fears and anxieties thus affected the everyday life and politics of ordinary people in different ways that could steel the local defense of the republic and moderate civic values, just as well as radicalize rightwing assaults on republican government and ordinary people who opposed them. The Weimar Republic was therefore not doomed, but competing displays of fearlessness may have helped shape rightwing strategies aimed to control local police and intensify the local practices of terror before the Nazi seizure of power.


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