"Social Monarchism" in Weimar Germany

Lev [Nussimbaum aka Essad Bey] was not only [a would-be Burkean] conservative, he was a monarchist—as he announced in an article in Die Literarische Welt in 1931. “So why have I remained to this day a monarchist despite my having lived in a republic for years, and why am I becoming more monarchistic every day?” … His answer is simple and even rather sensible: “The world of today faces two great dangers: bolshevism and a nationalism that is overrunning everything. I know of only one means to stave off these two dangers: monarchy.” To which he adds, it must be “true monarchy and not its constitutional, nationally limited, Wilhelmine version.” …

Lev’s eclectic politics led him to ever weirder groups on the fringe of Weimar society. One such was the Soziale Konigspartei—the “Social Monarchist party”—which ran against the spirit of the times in various conflicting ways: it was philo-Semitic and called for a restoration of the kaiser but also wanted to form a kind of “workers’ state.” The idea was to get the kaiser to return with the backing of the proletariat, thus ending the farce of competing extremisms and finger-pointing that parliamentary democracy had brought to Germany. The Social Monarchists attacked everything the Nazis stood for, and didn’t find many allies anywhere else, so they were doomed from the start. It didn’t help that their leaders were an obscure mixture of liberal but penniless nobles and “creative proletarians.”

Lev’s dabbling in such groups evokes something of the disorientation of the time. Many people in the 1920s looked back on the monarchies and could not fathom that it was all over. This was not ancient history—this was life the way it had always been throughout history, back to Charlemagne, Saladin, or King David, and up until last year, or the year before that. This was the world that Lev had over his shoulder. And it had been replaced by—what? Fiends on all sides, bloodthirsty, completely unrestrained by their fathers’ and grandfathers’ traditions of politics, society, and decency. All the groups Lev tried joining in these years would have in common the idea that the only way to avoid bolshevism or fascism was a revival of monarchism with the support of the “people,” however defined. It was really a “happy valley” sort of politics that hoped to achieve something familiar from Robin Hood and King Arthur stories: the world righted by placing the “good” king back on the throne, his people content in their old time-tested traditions. But Lev’s state of mind had something in common, too, with modern libertarianism and its suspicion of central authority (and with a lot more justification). As he commented, “The less a government tried to make me happy, all the better I felt.”

SOURCE: The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, by Tom Reiss (Random House, 2005), pp. 246-247

Genius or crackpot? Wingnut or moonbat? Lev or Essad? We excerpt, you decide.

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