March 24th, 2010

Unhappy historic anniversary yesterday: the Enabling Act of 1933

Commenter Artfldgr, our resident historian, has reminded us that yesterday was the anniversary of the Enabling Act in Germany, 1933. The Act (the full name of which can be translated as the “Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Nation”) helped solidify Hitler’s dictatorial powers.

Read the Wiki entry (or any more lengthy and more official history) and see how it was that, after the Reichstag fire, Hitler was able to use parliamentary means and wheeling and dealing to gain control of Germany’s Parliament, even though he did not have enough support there initially, and get that body to vote for its own abolition and to place legislative powers in the hands of the executive branch. Here’s an excerpt:

The Enabling Act allowed the cabinet to enact legislation, including laws deviating from or altering the constitution, without the consent of the Reichstag. Because this law allowed for departures from the constitution, it was itself considered a constitutional amendment and thus its adoption required a two-thirds majority, with at least two-thirds of deputies attending the session.

The Social Democrats (SPD) and the Communists (KPD) were expected to vote against the Act. The government had already arrested all Communist and some Social Democrat deputies under the Reichstag Fire Decree. The Nazis expected the parties representing the middle class, the Junkers and business interests to vote for the measure, as they had grown weary of the instability of the Weimar Republic and would not dare to resist.

Hitler believed that with the Centre Party members’ votes, he would get the necessary two-thirds majority. Hitler negotiated with the Centre Party’s chairman, Ludwig Kaas, a Catholic priest, finalizing an agreement by March 22. Kaas agreed to support the Act in exchange for assurances of the Centre Party’s continued existence, the protection of Catholics’ civil and religious liberties, religious schools and the retention of civil servants affiliated with the Centre Party.

Fortunately, we can’t amend the Constitution by a 2/3 vote of Congress. The German constitution of the time, however, provided for just that. Perhaps the following negotiations will sound familiar, however:

Debate within the Centre Party continued until the day of the vote, March 23, 1933, with Kaas advocating voting in favour of the act, referring to an upcoming written guarantee from Hitler, while former Chancellor Heinrich Brüning called for a rejection of the Act. The majority sided with Kaas, and Brüning agreed to maintain party discipline by voting for the Act.

Oh, that party discipline! So important for the proper functioning of a democracy. And then there are those pesky rules:

Meanwhile, the Social Democrats initially planned to hinder the passage of the Act by boycotting the Reichstag session, rendering that body short of the quorum (two thirds) needed to vote on a constitutional amendment. The Reichstag, however, led by its President, Hermann Göring, changed its rules of procedure, allowing the President to declare that any deputy who was “absent without excuse” was to be considered as present, in order to overcome obstructions. Because of this procedural change, the Social Democrats were obliged to attend the session, and committed to voting against the Act.

Some more:

Hitler’s speech, which emphasised the importance of Christianity in German culture, was aimed particularly at appeasing the Centre Party’s sensibilities and incorporated Kaas’ requested guarantees almost verbatim. Kaas gave a speech, voicing the Centre’s support for the bill amid “concerns put aside”, while Brüning notably remained silent. Only the Social Democratic chairman Otto Wels spoke against the Act. Kaas had still not received the written constitutional guarantees he had negotiated, but with the assurance it was being “typed up”, voting began. Kaas never received the letter.

I am sure that rings a small, sad bell for someone whose name is somewhat similar (hint: instead of beginning with a “k” and ending with an “s,” it begins with an “s” and ends with a “k”).

And then there was the soupcon of fear, and the final denouement:

At this stage, the majority of parties already supported the bill, and any deputies who might have been reluctant to vote in favour were intimidated by the SA troops surrounding the meeting. In the end, all parties except the SPD voted in favour of the Enabling Act…

The passage of the Enabling Act reduced the Reichstag to a mere stage for Hitler’s speeches. It only met sporadically until the end of World War II, held no debates and enacted only a few laws. Within three months after the passage of the Enabling Act, all parties except the Nazi Party were banned or pressured into dissolving themselves, followed on July 14 by a law that proscribed the founding of political parties. With this, Hitler had fulfilled what he had promised in earlier campaign speeches: “I set for myself one aim … to sweep these thirty parties out of Germany!”

Due to the great care that Hitler took to give his dictatorship an appearance of legality, the Enabling Act was renewed twice, in 1937 and 1941. In 1942, the Reichstag passed a law giving Hitler power of life and death over every citizen, effectively extending the provisions of the Enabling Act for the duration of the war. It was finally renewed indefinitely in 1943 “by order of the Führer”

The rest, as they say, is history. Actually, it’s all history.

27 Responses to “Unhappy historic anniversary yesterday: the Enabling Act of 1933”

  1. Steve G Says:

    For some time I have toyed with the idea the Pelosi has been playing the role of Obama’s Goering.

  2. ConceptJunkie Says:

    The parallels of the modern Democrat party and various tyrannical forces of recent history and their ideological underpinnings never fail to amaze me.

    The parallels between the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and the current social, economic and political state of the United States also never fail to amaze me.

    The fact that most people fail to see these parallels or would dismiss them as not substantive is the most amazing thing of all.

  3. Tom Says:

    Thanks, Artfldgr and Neo.
    How’s that go again? “Those that don’t know history….”
    Ah well, maybe Mitsu will comment to show us how Adolf and National Socialism were simply misunderstood, and were moderate, even conservative, just like Nixon.

  4. Portia Says:

    History rhymes or G-d is an author. From the fact that the law PASSED on the anniversary of the Stamp Act, I assume the plots being combined are Nazi Germany and the American revolution.

    Perhaps there is a reason for it. We beat back fascism and communism, (not such different regimens) but allowed their ideals to become entrenched in our own culture, education and entertainment.

    For those who believe in an intelligent and directed history (or at least have an uneasy suspicion there might be such a thing. If you’re not religious, feel free to believe it is the human collective unconscious and being doing this. For all I know, it might be. We’re starting to find there’s more to us than just what’s contained in our cranium) and even for those who don’t (and just think that statist oppression is repulsive) this is a great time to be alive.

    This time we’re forced to confront the monster in our own bedroom. This time if we defeat it, it will be dead never to rise again. And if we don’t — well, perhaps humanity is unsuited to freedom, but at least we tried.

    FYI though for the monster to be discredited, it will have to get worse before it gets better.

    And if America (and I hope not, and will fight against this) goes down, Europe will have to back off from the socialism we’ll be enabling and perhaps something good will emerge there.

    Be of good cheer. We will fight this. Win or lose, we’ll fight for all free men and women, even if the next relay of freedom ends up being a thousand years in the future.

  5. Portia Says:

    above it should be “the socialism we’ve been enabling” — clearly I’m not in good grammar this evening.

  6. David Says:

    Now come on. I’m pretty conservative but this is pushing a parallel too far. There is an old rule that the first one to say “Nazi” has lost the debate. Usually the left has this honor.

  7. reader Says:

    I have been very worried by the news media’s treatment of the supposed attacks on congressmen. This is exactly how the media and the administration would lay the groundwork for a Reichstag-fire-type incident.

  8. reliapundit Says:

    great post.

    these are not parallels or history repeating itself; these are perennial issues because humans haven’t changed.

    a fair number of us always seen to be leftists who think that by diminishing liberty and strengthening government we can usher in some great new utopian era.

    nazism and fascism like their cousin communism are all expressions of this defective way of thinking.

    the lies and bribes which aid the antidemocratic utopianists are likewise human defects and not strictly partisan.

    this is why conservatives love limited government:

    because conservatives recognize that – because humans are imperfectable – we can only be safe and free when the state has restrictions on how much it can do.

    then again, i am intrigued by the fact the dates.

    the same thing happened when obama canceled the polish deployment of missile defense.


  9. skwiself Says:

    “The fact that most people fail to see these parallels or would dismiss them as not substantive is the most amazing thing of all.”

    That’s because they aren’t substantive, they’re shallow, trendy claptrap.

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    David: this post was because it was just the anniversary of the Enabling Act, not in order to draw some sort of one-on-one parallel. It is a cautionary tale of how tyranny comes about through democratic (small “d” :-)) processes. In fact, I made a distinction, saying our constitution is not so easily amended as Germany’s, fortunately.

    The parallel I drew between Stupak and Kaas has to do with them both being Catholic, and getting an assurance about a promise on which their vote hinges, and that promise being a betrayal of sorts (Hitler totally betrayed the promise; Obama just delayed it, and of course his executive order is meaningless).

    So we are not Germany, and today’s progressives are not Nazis. Nevertheless, I believe they have a very strong totalitarian impulse very little respect for liberty. I’ve said many times I believe their tendency is towards a Chavez-type situation, but tyranny is tyranny, and they will achieve it if they can. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that any more.

  11. David Thomson Says:

    “There is an old rule that the first one to say “Nazi” has lost the debate.”

    That hyperbolical “old rule” should be approached with a huge grain of salt. Obama is not another Hitler! Still, our citizens are subtly losing their freedom by seductive rhetoric that justifies the handing over of enormous power to the chief executive. There are disturbing parallels to our present set of circumstances and the radical overthrow of Czarist Russia and Weimar Germany. It would be foolish to ignore the evidence.

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    “skwiself” has spoken! I have seen the light—it is all shallow, trendy claptrap!

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    Actually, that rule (Godwin’s law) only applies to exchanges in comments threads and other online discussion groups. It also doesn’t say that that person loses or is incorrect, just that, as the discussion grows longer, Nazi accusations are more likely to occur.

    What’s more, discussions of actual German history or Nazi history (such as this post) are excepted. And note I did not call anyone a Nazi (see this).

    It is important to study how tyranny can come through a democratic process. That’s how the Nazis came to power. Not all tyrannies are alike (I happen to think Obama is more intent on a Chavez-esque tyranny). But all tyrannies are to be avoided.

  14. Brian Says:

    Humanity is a maintenance issue.

  15. betsybounds Says:

    Reader @ 9:18,

    Far out. I just saw this link and had exactly the same thought myself–“Here comes the Reichstag fire:”

    Some six or so months ago I made a similar prediction to a good friend of mine at work: There will be a Reichstag fire soon.

    They’re laying all the groundwork. Soon it may be illegal to espouse conservative ideas publicly. I don’t know–I like to think I’m being over-wrought.

    But every now and again, there’s, um, just a feeling about all this.

  16. DirtCrashr Says:

    It’s not necessarily history repeating so much as certain politicians, having learned what they could do from history’s example, repeating for themselves a successful outcome – for a while anyhow – which is all they’re concerned with anyhow – a while, and their own wiles.
    Afterward East Germany while hardly Democratic by any means called itself the “German Democratic Republic,” and in California the Democrats are run by their own auspices out of the “Central Committee.” Power and the consolidation of more power seems to replicate certain mechanisms and vocabulary.

  17. John Davis Says:

    Don’t forget, the administration did try to get Fox News kicked out from the White House press pool. It would have been a big step on the road to total control of the media. As it failed, they are proceeding with small steps. The name calling, the refusals to answer questions, and on….

  18. ronnor Says:

    Now they have the data base and a cudgel for those that disobey the dictates. They only need a Reichstag fire or assassination to Nationalize the National Guard units, the unions and ACORN and hold Congress in protective custody until the “plot” is uncovered. They already have the means of fanning the flames with the Propaganda Organs of the MSM, they have shown themselves to be owned by the DNC. The plot is older than history itself, Hitler learned it from Bismarck or Napoleon and they learned it from the annals of Roman History or some such. ‘Temporary Marshall Law’ until things settle down and the miscreants are caught and of course just what is the definition of temporary?

  19. Boots Says:

    This whole administration is like Good Fellas or The Sopranos, it’s the Chicago political mob gone to Washington DC. The mob is ruthless about cutting down those who stand in its way.

  20. Gabriel Hanna Says:

    What people need to remember about Nazi Germany is that it was not a case of a democracy slowly being turned into a dictatorship.

    It is not a stretch to say that the Weimar Republic never functioned as a democracy. For nearly two decades successive presidents ruled by decree using emergency powers, because almost nothing got done by the Reichstag.

    Hitler and the Nazis actually campaigned on dictatorship. It was not a secret, what they planned to do, and about 40% of Germans thought it was a good idea. Hitler claimed that vesting all power, and all responsibility, in him was superior to the Weimar Republic. If things went well, you knew who was responsible, and if they went poorly you knew who to blame–Hitler could never dodge responsibility, unlike politicians in Parliament. (Think of “I voted for it before I voted against it”.)

    What we are seeing in our country is more like hardening of the arteries, something like the Roman republic experienced. Eventually, they got a dictator, and when they did, it was not a secret what he intended to do and how he intended to do it.

  21. Koblog Says:

    Portia said, And if we don’t [defeat the monster of totalitarianism]— well, perhaps humanity is unsuited to freedom, but at least we tried.

    This has crossed my mind as well. In the long history of human government, very, very few have been “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Most have been tyrants or worse.

    We may be a blip in history, a brief flash of liberty.

    Ancient Israel was granted tremendous liberty upon entering the Promised Land but soon lusted for a king:

    1 Sam 8:4-20
    4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah,
    5 and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
    6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the LORD.
    7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.
    8 “According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day– with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods– so they are doing to you also.
    9 “Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.”
    10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king.
    11 And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots.
    12 “He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.
    13 “He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers.
    14 “And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.
    15 “He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants.
    16 “And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work.
    17 “He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants.
    18 “And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”
    19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us,
    20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

    Man seems destined to be ruled by tyrants, but most especially when they have rejected God.

    America has never had a king. That could change. Who says a Constitution must be followed, anyway?

    Obama himself has said he is dissatisfied with the limiting nature of the document…that it limits what government can do. This, from a so-called Constitutional professor who, as Commander In Chief and President, has sworn to protect and abide by that very document. Yet it means little to his ends.

    Bribes, lies, unkept outlandish promises, corruption, intimidation, threats…these are not the ways of a free people, rather the beginnings of “one man, one vote, one time.”

  22. Gabriel Hanna Says:

    15 “He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants….He will take a tenth of your sheep….

    A 10% flat tax is NOT a good argument against monarchy.

  23. Bob from Virginia Says:

    According to Rasmussen Obama’s popularity has INCREASED since HCR passed. We’ll see if the trend continues.

    I cannot help but to remember Clint Eastwood’s movie The Unforgiven when I hear of violence against the congressmen who voted for HCR. What did these people expect? When one opts to ignore the way democracy was set up to operate and in effect set up a one-party dictatorship, violence is what you should get. As of Tuesday the US is a one-party dictatorship. Isn’t violence is completely justified?

    And I was a gun-control advocate.

  24. neo-neocon Says:

    Bob from Virginia: There is no question there would be an increase post-passage of the HCR bill. Some portion of his disapproval rating was always liberals who were upset because he hadn’t accomplished what they wanted. Some of them still don’t think the bill went far enough, but they have changed from “disapprove” to “approve” (at least for the moment, perhaps permanently) due to the bill’s passage. This was inevitable. I was listening to some pundit on TV saying that when the polls are broken down into groups, all the increase in approval is due to Democrats, no Republicans and no independents. Haven’t looked it up myself yet.

  25. The Daily Brief: Military Musings and Thoughts Less Filtered » Battle space Preparation Says:

    […] itself naturally. Thoughtful and sensible commentators like Wretchard, at the Belmont Club, and Neo-Neocon are drawing unsettling historical […]

  26. Don Rodrigo Says:

    So we are not Germany, and today’s progressives are not Nazis. Nevertheless, I believe they have a very strong totalitarian impulse very little respect for liberty.

    Within the context of the American system, it’s not necessary for the parallels to be precise. A political party /movement in America doesn’t have to behave as brutally and egregiously as the Nazis to be way out of line by the standards we’re supposed to uphold. The reason why this point matters is because liberal critics all too easily dismiss alarmism if the acts of politicians fall far short of outright fascism or socialism. Our founders got very angry and rebelled against what, by comparison with what much of the 18th-century world put up with, was “not all that much.” Had they not gotten angry about those slights, we would now be the southermost part of Canada.

    Obama does not have to be as bad as Hugo Chavez for us to think of him in the same terms.

  27. History reflected in present actions. « Says:

    […] Please read it all here: […]

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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