Since its inglorious demise, the Weimar Republic has been burdened with the reputation of a »hapless« social and political order that was doomed to failure. That perception may have to do with the
total absence of a single biography that can stand up to critical scholarly scrutiny for any of the Republic’s chancellors. Ulrich von Hehl’s new book should fill that lacuna, at least where
Reich Chancellor Wilhelm Marx (1863–1946) is concerned.
The Center Party politician Marx served as chancellor in the middle period – that is to say the »better« years – of the Weimar Republic. Between 1923 and 1928, he
headed the Reich government no fewer than four times. During Marx’s tenure, the general crisis of state in 1923 was overcome, the currency stabilized, and rapprochement with the victorious
powers achieved. Despite these unquestioned successes, Marx was defeated in the 1925 election for Reich President. As the candidate for the entire republican and democratic camp, he lost to the
representative of the rightist parties, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, a result whose most lasting effects were only to be felt in 1933. From 1926 to 1928, Marx headed the Reich
government once again, trying vainly to bridge the deep chasm that separated the parties and secure solid pro-republican majorities in parliament.
No less enlightening is Marx’s tenure from 1922–1928 as chairman of the German Center Party, whose unfailing readiness to assume political resposibility and serve as mediator he embodied as no
one else. Just as the Center Party assumed a critical role as one of the Reichstag’s centrist parties, so it was largely a credit to Marx’s personal efforts that the ship of state succeeded
time and again in negotiating the rocks of permanent government crisis, until the parties finally demonstrated once and for all in 1930 that they were incapable of compromise. That development was
foreshadowed by Marx’s resignation in 1928, which occurred under extremely unpleasant auspices.
Marx was not only a career politician but also one of the leading figures in associational Catholicism, with its many thousands of members. As founder of the Catholic Schools
Organization in 1911, he helped shaped the Center Party’s schools policies. As chairman of the People’s Association (Volksverein) for Catholic Germany, he suffered through that
organization’s destruction at the hands of the Nazis in 1933, when he was denounced as a »(Weimar) establishment fat cat« (Systembonze). In fact, Marx’s life reflects a major part of the
German Catholic minority’s experience in the Wilhelmine Empire, Weimar Republic, and Third Reich. As a result, this biography also functions as a portrait of three epochs in recent