When Thomas Mann turned his back on Nazism

October 13, 1922 is usually set as the date of the writer’s adherence to democracy after having applauded the Weimar Republic

After publicly expressing his support for the Weimar Republic and adopting reactionary political positions, Thomas Mann saw the ugly turn events were taking in Germany, in the face of the rise of Nazism. On October 13, 1922, that is, one hundred years ago today, Mann delivered a conference in Berlin entitled “On the German Republic” in which he addressed the academic youth whom he invited to join democracy and with which the author of “The Magic Mountain” ended his dalliances with nationalism.

The conference had a great impact on part of German society, shocked by other events: the recent assassination of Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau at the hands of a far-right organization, the Consul Organization, which wanted to generate a civil war that would put an end to the republic , informs EFE. Rathenau’s assassination led then-Chancellor Josef Wirt to declare that “the enemy is on the right,” a phrase that has recently been cited amid the rise of far-right extremists such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and others with political tendencies. clearly violent as the so-called “Reichbürger” (Citizens of the kingdom) who deny the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Thomas Mann Society has dedicated its congress this year -held a few weeks ago in Lübeck- to Thomas Mann’s conference under the theme “Democracy, an internal affair” with analysis of the original text from various perspectives and, also, with attempts to extrapolate Thomas Mann’s defense of democracy to the current situation. From the last point of view, Frido Mann, the writer’s grandson, highlighted Thomas Mann’s key idea that “the state is everyone’s business” to recall that one of the lessons of Weimar is that democracy needs convinced democrats to defend it.

Thomas Mann gave the lecture on the occasion, or perhaps it is better to say on the pretext, of the 60th birthday of the writer and playwright Gerhard Hauptmann. However, more than Hauptmann, the real interlocutor of Thomas Mann is the German academic youth, part of which had assumed a reactionary and revengeful attitude after the defeat in the war – the murderers of Rathenau were young – and whom he wanted to win. for the republican and democratic cause.

Mann says that this youth is not evil but “only stubborn and proud” and is confident that it will be receptive to the ideals of humanism since, otherwise, “it would cease to be German youth.” The center of the argument is the attempt to dismantle the idea that the republic and democracy are only an imposition of the victors. Given this, Mann denies that the republic has been “a creature of defeat and shame” and assures that instead it is “of uprising and honor.”

This part of the argument is complex because it maintains that precisely with the warmongering joy at the beginning of World War I, the German masses had begun to assume the state as their own thing and what happened after the war was precisely that the state had become in everyone’s thing. ”The old powers are gone, I am not going to say joyfully that they have been swept away by fate but they have been eliminated. And to give democracy a letter of German citizenship, he puts the German romantic poet Novalis in dialogue with Walt Whitmann, the poet par excellence of democracy, and shows similarities between them.

He also recalls that the German national tradition before the Wilhelminian empire had not always been monarchical and that his own hometown, Lübeck, had been a republic as a city-state. Behind the nostalgia for the empire Mann sees “obscurantism” which, he says, “leads to waves of senseless murder” in a likely allusion to the Rathenau assassination. From 1922 Mann maintains a republican and democratic posture. The arrival of the Nazis to power surprises him outside of Germany and he does not return to his country. Later, from his American exile, he would call on the Germans in radio addresses to rebel against Hitler.

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