Thomas Mann speaks in favour of the Weimar Republic (1922)


In 1922, German writer Thomas Mann spoke to a group of young students and urged them to support democracy and the Weimar Republic:


“War is romantic. No one has ever denied the mystic and poetic element residing in it. But today only the insensible would deny that it is utterly debased romanticism, an utter distortion of the poetic. To save our national feeling from falling into disrepute, to keep it from becoming a curse, we must learn to understand that a warlike and brawling spirit is not its whole content but more and more absolutely a cult of peace in accord with the mysticism and poetry in its nature.

I must beg you, young men, not to take this tone. I am no pacifist, of either the unctuous or the ecstatic school. Pacifism is not to my taste, whether as a soporific for the soul or as a middle-class rationalization of the good life… The side of peace is my side too, as being the side of culture, art, and thought, whereas in a war vulgarity triumphs… War is a lie, its issues are a lie; whatever honorable emotion the individual may bring to it, war itself is today stripped of all honor, and to any straight and clear-eyed vision reveals itself as the triumph of all that is brutal and vulgar in the soul of the race, as the archfoe of culture and thought, as a blood orgy of egoism, corruption, and vileness…

My aim, which I express quite candidly, is to win you—as far as that is needed—to the side of the republic, to the side of what is called democracy and what I call humanity… Our students, our student associations, by no means lack democratic tradition. There have been times when the national idea was at odds with the monarchical and dynastic; when they were in irreconcilable opposition. Patriotism and republic, so far from being opposed, have sometimes appeared as one and the same thing; and the cause of freedom and the fatherland had the passionate support of the noblest youth. Today the young, or at least considerable and important sections of them, seem to have sworn eternal hatred to the republic and forgotten what might have been once upon a time…

The republic is our fate… Freedom, so called, is no joke, I do not say that. Its other name is responsibility; the word makes it only too clear that freedom is truly a heavy burden, most of all for the intellectual. “We are not the republic,” these patriots tell me, averting their faces. “The republic is foreign domination—insofar as weakness is only the other side of foreign power…

Students and citizens, your resistance to the republic and the democracy is simply a fear of words. You shy at them like restive horses; you fall into unreasoning panic at the sound of them. But they are just words: relativities, time-conditioned forms, necessary instruments; to think they must refer to some outlandish kind of foreign humbug is mere childishness. The republic—as though it were not still and always Germany! Democracy! As though one could not be more at home in that home than in any flashing and dashing and crashing empire!”