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Courtroom to Revolutionary Stage

Henning Grunwald

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199609048
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191744280 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199609048.001.0001
Courtroom to Revolutionary Stage

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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What role did the courts play in the demise of Germany's first democracy and Hitler's rise to power? This book challenges the orthodox interpretation of Weimar political justice. It 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: its drama. Drawing on untapped sources and material previously inaccessible in English, it shows how an innovative group of party lawyers transformed dry legal proceedings into spectacular ideological clashes. Supported by powerful party legal offices (hitherto almost entirely disregarded), 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 Socialist 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 a ‘revolutionary stage’, as one prominent party lawyer put it. This political justice as ‘revolutionary stage’ powerfully impacted Weimar political culture. This book's argument about the theatricality of justice helps explain Weimar's demise but 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, admittedly for the time being played out in the grit-your-teeth, clench-your-fist mode of the theatrical ‘as if’. 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.

Keywords: political justice; Weimar Germany; legal history; political culture; party lawyers; trials as performance; ideology; National Socialism; NSDAP; Communism; Agitprop; legal profession; legal aid

Book.  272 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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Introduction in Courtroom to Revolutionary Stage

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Conclusion in Courtroom to Revolutionary Stage

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