Courtroom to Revolutionary Stage: Performance and Ideology in Weimar Political Trials
What role did the courts play in the demise of Germany's first democracy and Hitler's rise to power?
Courtroom to Revolutionary Stage challenges the orthodox interpretation of Weimar political justice. Henning Grunwald argues that an exclusive focus on reactionary judges and a preoccupation with number-crunching verdicts has obscured precisely that aspect of trials most fascinating to contemporary observers: their drama. Drawing on untapped sources and material previously inaccessible in English, Grunwald shows how an innovative group of party lawyers transformed dry legal proceedings into spectacular ideological clashes. Supported by powerful party legal offices (which have hitherto escaped scholarly notice almost entirely), they developed a sophisticated repertoire of techniques at the intersection of criminal law, politics, and public relations.
Harnessing the emotional appeal of tens of thousands of trials, Communists and (emulating them) National Socialists institutionalized party legal aid in order to build their ideological communities. Defendants turned into martyrs, trials into performances of ideological self-sacrifice, and the courtroom into 'revolutionary stage', as one prominent party lawyer put it. It is this political justice as 'revolutionary stage' that most powerfully impacted Weimar political culture.
While it helps to explain Weimar's demise, this argument about the theatricality of justice transcends interwar Germany. Trials were compelling not because they offered instruction about the revolutionary struggle, but because in a sense they were the revolutionary struggle. The ideological struggle, their message ran, left no room for fairness, no possibility of a 'neutral platform': justice was unattainable until the Republic was destroyed.
- Develops a novel perspective on Weimar political justice, an important factor in the rise of the Third Reich
- Significantly broadens our understanding of the impact of trials on political culture and the collapse of democracy by focusing on lawyers, not judges, and on the entirety of proceedings rather than just verdicts
- Uses archives made available since fall of the wall, and makes primary sources accessible for the first time in English, and often for the first time ever
- Interprets trials as spectacular performances of ideology; as dramatic, vivid, and entertaining propaganda vehicles, not dry legal affairs
- Highlights the role of party legal organizations for the first time
- Considers right- and left-wing legal aid and anti-judicial propaganda jointly; challenges the historiographical orthodoxy and emphasizes the common ground between communists and nationalists
|Publisher:||Oxford University Press|