Date of Award
Undergraduate Honors Thesis
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Carl Bon Tempo
In 1933, the people Germany elected Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party into power. This occurred under what had previously been a liberal democracy, the Weimar Republic. In the months following this event, the Nazis passed legislation that transformed what was once a bastion of free thinking, into the totalitarian empire. This event sparked an ideological crisis for the liberal intellectuals of Germany, and proposed an urgent question to the world: how can you, if at all, safeguard democracy without compromising its principles? This thesis follows Arnold Brecht and Hans Speier, two liberal intellectuals who came to the United States following the rise of the Third Reich. I examine how they adapt their beliefs in the wake of their traumatic experiences in Germany, how they apply those experiences to their work in America, and how they reach their conclusions on democracy. The chief influence of all the work Brecht and Speier did in America was their experiences in Weimar Germany. Despite many shared experiences, Brecht and Speier reach surprisingly different answers on how to protect democracy. Brecht maintains some liberal optimism, keeping a belief that democracy can function while embracing liberal principles, while Speier loses faith in his ideologies, deeming many liberal principles incompatible with a stable democracy. Brecht and Speier were never truly able to escape their memories of Weimar. Wielding their uniquely German experiences, these intellectuals helped shape American liberal thought and foreign policy in the Cold War period and beyond. As a result, a considerable portion of American thought and politics during this period came from German origins, a factor that counters the narrative of American exceptionalism. I examine a wide variety of sources in this thesis. However, the main focus is on primary sources. These chiefly consist of the published works of Brecht and Speier, along with other material found in the M.E. Grenander Archives’ German and Jewish Intellectual Émigré Collection.
McKenna, Alexander, "Liberalism and the Lessons of Weimar Arnold Brecht, Hans Speier, and Mid-Century America" (2019). History Honors Program. 16.