The Rule of Bureaucrats – A Study of the Reich Treasury. – Politics

Carl Schmidt’s quote from Political Theology from 1922, which states that “he who governs a political emergency is the sovereign” is now cited, whenever he wills. Thus, the term “state of emergency” has been decontextualized and stripped of history, referring to everything and nothing from the political world of seventeenth-century Spain to conditions in concentration camps in the twentieth century. In her remarkable qualifying treatise, historian Stephanie Middendorf gives the term more accurate and historical contours by meticulously questioning its more than 500-page detail on the ministerial bureaucracy of the Reich Finance Ministry (RFM), which was founded in 1919. This consists of “the real relationship to the formal system of law It differs from the “concept of pity,” which includes almost everything that deviates from it in some way. In the narrow sense, the term emergency refers to a form of state crisis management, which the author, following the work of constitutional law expert Guenter Frankenberg, understands as “state technology”. This moves in the field of tension between politics and law, organization and administration, management and law.

They saw themselves as a political section

According to the publisher, The Power of Exception aims to show that “the technocratic practice of state administrations should be understood as a prominent political dimension of governance history.” And indeed: in the Weimar Republic, the mechanism for rewriting the constitution was not characterized by far-sighted plans and concepts, but it flexibly interacted with the political towers and used room for maneuver with ad hoc solutions and exceptions. In this sense, the RFM has always considered itself a political rather than a specialized department. So it was not an apolitical, apolitical power or administration in the typical ideal sense of Max Weber, which allegedly suddenly fell prey to ideology and politicization in 1933. In 1933, with the exception of a few racist “purges”, it was not necessary to replace workers in a union Radically economic forces. The bureaucracy in the wrestling restructuring mechanism did not see a break in 1933, but rather was a gradual transition from the exceptional to the permanent state of exception or exit to a different time.

Stephanie Middendorf – who now teaches history at the University of Jena – addresses in her book, which is impressive in breadth and depth, not only the huge stock of files from the Reich Ministry of Finance, the Reich Audit Office and the Reich Ministry of Economics in the Federal Archives in Berlin Lichterfeld, but Also the property of the ten most important officials of the Reich Ministry of Finance is in the Federal Archives in Koblenz.

Shaped by the experience of war

But from the beginning: with the victory of the Social Democratic Party in the elections to the Reichstag in 1912, there was a movement in the financial policy of the empire. The 1913 Defense Bill provided for a direct tax on the Reich in the form of a one-time wealth tax, which conservative parties fiercely opposed and called “expropriation”. However, the demand for the Reich Finance Minister instead of the Reich Chancellor of the Exchequer was not fulfilled. War financing was not put on a new footing until 1916 with the introduction of the general sales tax and life tax.

Bureaucrats and Nazis: Prussian Finance Minister Johannes Popitz (left) welcomes Hermann Göring as Prussian Prime Minister in Berlin in 1935.

(Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo)

The plans to transform the modestly equipped imperial treasury also go back to the mechanism of restructuring the institutions of the empire. From the outset, the ministerial bureaucracy in the newly emerging democracy faced the task of saving the existence of the state by all means legally available. So it seemed legitimate to many officials early on to resort to outlaw emergency measures, personal licenses, ordinances and regulations that circumvent laws as well as laws. Middendorf asserts that “the language of objectivity used and the logic corresponding to rationalization have been formed in war economy”, because government in war, like any work oriented toward success, cannot participate in the proceedings of discussion.

In the field of conflicting emergency budgets

The first law “On a Simplified Form of Legislation for the Purposes of Transitional Economy” of April 17, 1919, as well as subsequent efforts within the company “Administrative Simplification,” already became the basis for subsequent emergency regulations and exceptions justified by “expediency considerations” (Ernst Rudolf Huber) Under the pressure of the economic and currency crisis as well as revolutionary threats at home and the demands of creditor countries from abroad, the fiscal and budgetary policy of the young democracy moved from the beginning – and not only in the global economic crisis at the end of the 1920s – in the field of tension emergency budgets and situational processes To move from war to a peace economy, as the author emphasizes, in contrast to old research, for example by Frankfurt historian Dieter Ribbentsch.

The Reich Budget Act of 1922 provided not only a veto of the Minister of Finance against the plans of other departments, but also of a budget commissioner with dictatorial powers (Friedrich Ernst Simich 1869-1945). Since then, the tension between democracy and dictatorship has been present in the politics of the Weimar Republic – despite the democratic constitution and partially successful attempts at democratization.

For democratic constitutional law guru Gerhard Anschutz, the commandments of objectivity, impartiality and legal commitment to the administration belong in the “spirit of democracy,” even if it can be used as a tool for conservatives or right-wingers. Policy. The biographies of senior RFM officials show how little clear party and political affiliations explain the transformation of democracy into dictatorship. Large sections of the civil service saw themselves as conservative in a national sense, such as Johannes Popitz (1884-1945), who rose to become the RFM’s only minister of state in 1926. These parts of the civil service met the new conditions, democratic and republican, albeit with Some reservations.

Democracy is tolerated, not love

Fiscal Policy in the Weimar Republic: Stephanie Middendorf: The Power of Exception.  Reich Ministry of Finance and State (1919-1945).  Series: The Treasury of the Reich under National Socialism.  De Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin 2022,585 pages, €69.95.

Stephanie Middendorf: The Power of Exception. Reich Ministry of Finance and State (1919-1945). Series: The Treasury of the Reich under National Socialism. De Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin 2022,585 pages, €69.95.

Until 1929, Bobitz was the “intelligent and planned ruler of the RFM”, whom Bernard Harms, founder of the Kiel Institute for World Economics, considered “an advocate of the idea of ​​the state and the common good”. Popitz had already made a name for himself as a tax expert during the war. In the latter phase of the Weimar Republic, he was closely associated with Karl Schmidt and was involved in his criticism of parliament and interdisciplinary decision-making. As early as 1931, he saw democracy only as an “emergency building” in need of refurbishment, and to that extent, as a temporary institution. At the center of his thinking were the ideas of the political homogenization of the nation under central leadership, which later made his policies easily compatible with those of the National Socialists.

During the national crisis of 1932, in which the problem of an unsatisfactory fiscal balance between states, municipalities and the Reich also played an important role, Popitz made a name for himself with an adventurous proposal to overcome the “violence of the many”. Of the 65,000 “many” he counted societies, social security agencies, health insurance companies, and professional associations. They should be replaced by a “real one-handed government”. From these positions it was only a move after 1933 to demand the replacement of the “society of the people” by a “people’s society” led by an elite of determined men, as in von Papen’s “council of barons” which had room to destroy the democracy used by the system established by those other governments .

Fiscal Policy in the Weimar Republic: In Big Politics: Hjalmar Schacht (left), Reich Bank President, Minister of Economy and Commissioner-General of the Defense Industry in conversation with French Minister of Trade Paul Bastide in 1936. Right: Finance Minister Lutz Graf von Schwerin-Krosigk.

In Big Politics: Hjalmar Schacht (left), President of the Reichsbank, Minister of Economy and Commissioner-General of the Defense Industry in conversation with French Trade Minister Paul Bastid in 1936. Right: Finance Minister Lutz Graf von Schwerin-Krosigk.

(Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo)

Adoptively promoted Lutz Graf von Schwerin Krosigk also entered this ministry as minister, a position he held until 1945 and had always supported the empowerment of the National Socialist government. In the wake of the global economic crisis, politicians have not succeeded in formalizing and reducing the rampant emergency decree system. As early as 1932, for every 59 emergency resolutions, there were only five ordinary laws. At that time, administrative discretion was expanded and the political influence of Parliament and parties was reduced, while economic economics, that is, the direct incorporation of economic interests into politics, grew steadily and paved the way for the authoritarian overthrow of democracy.

Hitler’s Combative Society

With Hitler’s personal intervention, Fritz Reinhardt (1895-1945) became Minister of Foreign Affairs under Kroczyk in 1933. He had been a party member since 1926, and set up a far-reaching trade school attended by about 6,000 party members who formed the officials into the leader’s “combat society”. Under Reinhardt, the simplification of law into a formal legal program and convention became increasingly outdated. Since then, freedom of action has been measured according to “what is beneficial to the people as a whole” and “what is considered wrong is what is harmful to the people as a whole.”

Despite the enormous scientific abundance of the material, Stephanie Middendorf has brilliantly managed to clearly sort the amount of material and present it transparently to readers who are interested in history and politics and have little time and patience, which is only a matter of course and usual for many qualification treatises.

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