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Title:Cultural Liberalism as Mittelstandspolitik: The Deutschen Volkspartei in Baden 1926-1929
Author(s):Fritz, Stephen Glenn
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):History, European
Abstract:A major weakness of liberalism and the liberal parties in the Weimar period was their inability to create or maintain a viable, strong, decisive middle element in the political, to act in a responsible, ordering manner in promoting compromise and conciliation rather than conflict and extremism. Fragmented by special interest groups, social pressures and fears, and political indecisiveness, the German bourgeoisie was buffeted by and fell prey to a number of different attractions, a process which contributed to the instability of the political middle.
In an effort to halt this splintering process and impede middle class drift to bourgeois protest groups, the Deutschen Volkspartei (DVP), under the leadership of Gustav Stresemann and Julius Curtius, sought to promote cultural liberalism as a means by which to stabilize the party by erecting a common program which could encompass its quarreling factions and lessen the industrial domination of the party by business-oriented pressure groups. Essentially, then, cultural liberalism, as envisoned by the DVP left-wing attempted in the years of stabilization (1926-1929) to maintain a vital middle by pursuing a liberal social, educational, and foreign policy stressing the national welfare and the importance of erecting a Volksgemeinschaft, in contrast to the fragmenting tendencies of interest group politics. This cultural strategy sought to appeal to the German "spiritual" need to belong to a national community, substituting the nation for particular interests in an effort to forestall both the growth of extremist parties of the right and the continued emphasis in German political life on the material.
As put into practice in the state of Baden, this cultural-liberal ploy had mixed success, showing some ability to stabilize the bourgeois electorate, yet suffering from the structural and organizational weaknesses of the DVP as a whole. The focus of cultural liberalism was the School Bill Struggle of 1927-1928, which gave the People's Party the opportunity to pursue a cultural line in lieu of their more normal concentration on economics and business interests. This strategy, seeking as it did to garner middle class support through a muting of the customary DVP focus on industrial interests, did have a solid basis from which to operate. Election studies have shown the absence of any middle class flight to the National Socialists before 1930, the frustrated bourgeoisie generally supporting one of the proliferating middle class protest parties rather than the more radical NSDAP. There was, therefore, an opportunity for the DVP to reconstitute their middle class constituency and form a viable party of moderate liberalism. Both the Reichstag and Landtag elections in Baden in this period gave proof of the validity of this cultural concept, yet the DVP ultimately failed to sustain this effort and momentum on the national level. This failure was largely the result of the Volkspartei inability to resolve their serious left-right split within their organization the untimely death of party chairman Gustav Stresemann, the principal proponent of cultural liberalism. Still, cultural liberalism did provide a viable alternative to pure interest group politics in the effort to maintain and sustain a strong and decisive political middle in the Weimar Republic.
Issue Date:1980
Description:344 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8108507
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-13
Date Deposited:1980

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