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But does belief in backlash hamper us here?

What the Nazis did, however, was new, even if drew on what had transpired before What if we in addition assume that this complex system results in transformation, not a settling into coherence? A complex system generates multiple potentials, multiple directions toward which the whole thing could shift, while maintaining conflict.

A shift need not be gradual or logical. One could, perhaps, apply complex systems theory to the sexual politics of the last five years in the United States, where a middle-of-the-road gay activist movement suddenly won big gains, such as same-sex marriage, only to see the extreme Right win the presidency and control both houses of the legislature.

Christian conservatives were energized when gay marriage passed. Yet, though Trump is in bed with the radical right-wing Christians who want to roll back gay marriage, he is not just riding a backlash. He campaigned for gay votes. Marhoefer and I disagree in our assessments of the role Weimar-era sexual reforms, like the decriminalization of female prostitution in and the projected decriminalization of non-commercial male homosexuality, played in the demise of the republic.

Marhoefer deserves credit for advancing ambitious arguments. The fact that the parties of the Left, Center, and Right were able to hammer out a temporary compromise on prostitution reform and initial steps toward repealing anti-sodomy laws may indeed suggest that Weimar-era parliamentary deliberation in some ways was more viable than often assumed.

The liberalization of prostitution law in had significant limitations for instance, prostitution remained illegal in towns smaller than 15, Previous postwar attempts to repeal state-regulated prostitution had failed due to concerted obstruction by the police and Catholic and Protestant Churches. In , socialists and liberal feminists grudgingly agreed to restrictions on the consistent legalization of female prostitution to avoid yet another legislative defeat.

Such demands gained vocal grassroots support from Catholic and Protestant morality associations. In July , the Prussian State Council, the representation of the Prussian provinces, supported a Center Party motion to recriminalize public prostitution. In their efforts to rescind the more liberal aspects of the law, religious conservatives frequently aligned themselves with the police, among whom resistance to the abolition of state-regulated prostitution was extremely widespread.

The evidence of a conservative backlash against the decriminalization of female prostitution is rich and compelling. This backlash did not play out merely at the parliamentary level.

Jochen Hung

Crucially, it received important support from within the state e. In fact, it is only in light of these battles that we can fully appreciate some of the positive achievements of Weimar-era gender reforms. The notion of a harmonious Weimar consensus on sexual reform fails to explain crucial aspects of the trajectory of Nazi prostitution policies.

It took half a century to repeal police-controlled prostitution in Germany, and only six years to reinstall it. It is difficult to imagine how the Nazis could have accomplished this reversal so quickly without substantial support from within the state and from traditional conservatives disenchanted with the liberalizing implications of the reform. It is a privilege to participate in a discussion with such accomplished scholars in the field of the history of sexuality.

My comment here is an expanded version of that earlier contribution. As an historian with a long-standing interest in the history of sexuality and gender relations, I find it particularly gratifying that both books move the history of sexuality toward the center of recently-revived debates about the Weimar Republic. But how important was it? In fact I have written elsewhere myself that in the crisis of the early s the politics of sexuality probably was not decisive.

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Other matters — the economic crisis, national chauvinism and resentment, social policy — played a bigger role; and in fact one of the things that conservative religious leaders were concerned about was their own declining cultural and political influence including particularly in matters of sexual morality. And finally, Marhoefer is absolutely right to point out that the idea that the Weimar Republic was paralyzed by internal conflict is outlandish.

The Weimar period was one of extraordinary legislative and governmental creativity, in the field of sexuality and reproduction as in many other areas. In that sense, the Weimar Republic was politically very successful. But it is something that bears repeating. How do we reconcile these two very plausible but apparently contradictory perspectives? For now, I do not have a definite answer.

Culture and Inflation in Weimar Germany / Edition 1

But I can offer some ways of thinking about the problem. First, to a limited degree these two perspectives are not completely contradictory. After all, one of the first premises of the backlash model is that the parties of the Weimar coalition were quite successful in pursuing significant legislative reforms in the s. What was driving the various factions of the Right to hysteria regarding sexual politics by the late s and early s was not just the ongoing broad change in sexual mores but also the success of the Left in passing large parts of an extremely ambitious legislative agenda in this area.

Bernd Widdig

The Left was not able to impose its entire agenda, and even where it did pass legislation it had to accept some compromises. But moral conservatives accepted those compromises only very reluctantly; and particularly in the Depression many of them found that they were turning out to be even less favorable to their interests and concerns than they had thought.


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The key disagreement here seems to be about the s, not the s. Second, I suspect that it might be more fruitful to consider the role of contention over sexuality and sexual morality in Weimar politics in broader terms than either Roos or Marhoefer can do in their very brief exchange. My remarks about the distinction between the Christian conservative backlash and the radical Right backlash are an example; but we could add also the Communist backlash against the compromises the more moderate Left made in the course of the s some of which were actually accommodations to legislative initiatives from the Right.

That makes three backlashes. There was a sexual-political backlash on the Right during the revolutionary and inflationary period in the early s that was no less virulent or hysterical than that of the Depression years; and that earlier backlash had long-term consequences including for sexual politics.


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  4. How can we think productively about this complex picture? First, sexuality was explicitly central to the anthropology of all the contending Weimar groups — to their understanding of what people are like, and how people should live together. That meant that sexual politics was an integral part of the complex conflicts between multiple different and divergent ideological, cultural, and political communities in the s.

    A particularly important example was the debate in the early s over abortion. Both the Left and the Right understood this not to be merely a question of sexual morality, but a question of the fundamental nature of society, culture, and polity in their country.

    Second, it was precisely the complexity of the conflicts and contestations in this area that made the stakes seem so high, and that drove them higher and higher. Those familiar with my recent book on sexual politics in the Empire will recognize this argument, and perhaps I am too eager to extend that same model to the Weimar period.

    Of course, we cannot reduce race-thinking to thinking about sex; but racism and racialism are about sex and reproduction as much as they are about death, even in an ideology as death-centric as National Socialism. It is important to recognize, here, that the Nazis represented not so much a sexual-political backlash as a sexual-political revolution.

    Again, it does not seem to me that we can measure the significance of sexual politics for the fate of the Weimar Republic solely by the importance or impotence of moral conservatives. They played an enabling role; but it was the electoral success and the ruthless machinations of the Nazis — radicals on the Right — that actually killed democracy. And their obsession with sex was neither unique nor coincidental.

    The Nazis, in short, played on and benefited from the conservative Christian backlash against Weimar policies and cultural developments; but they also represented an important example of the very process that backlash sought to combat — of the ramifying diversity and radicalization of positions in the debate over sexuality and sexual morality in the s and s. More broadly still, finally, this kind of dynamic was not unique to Weimar, but is native to all modern societies — not least, but also not exclusively with respect to sexuality.

    Modern societies breed difference, contention, and therefore also an impulse toward or instinct for unity. This means that they are characterized, not by a battle between tradition and innovation, but between competing innovations.

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    BRIA 21 3 b The German Weimar Republic: Why Did Democracy Fail? - Constitutional Rights Foundation

    Again: both things, necessarily, are true. My own view, then, would be that there was a conservative Christian backlash against Weimar policy regarding sexuality, and against cultural liberalization in Weimar. It was not very politically effective, perhaps not even very politically important. The Nazis profited from both these facts.

    The Contingency of the Weimar Republic Munich, Which modernity? Dickinson, E. A backlash against liberalism?

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    What the Weimar Republic can teach us about today's politics. International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity , 5 1 , pp. International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity. International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity , 5 1 , 91— International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity 5 1 : 91— International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity 5, no. International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity , vol. Start Submission Become a Reviewer. Reading: A backlash against liberalism? Stock photo.