Alfred von Tirpitz and German Right-Wing Politics, 1914-1930

Raffael Scheck

Humanities Press, January 1998

Interweaving biographical case study and broader analysis, the book manuscript reveals that Great Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz played a key role in German right-wing politics after 1914 that helps to explain the predicament of conservatives in the two decades before the rise of the Nazis. The book demonstrates how Tirpitz, the architect of the German battle fleet before 1914, spearheaded right-wing opposition to emperor Wilhelm II and his government in World War I. This opposition radicalized government policy, led to the fatal declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917, and undermined the German monarchy. The book’s analysis thus elucidates why German rightists did so little to prevent the fall of the monarchy during the revolution of 1918 and why their vision of an alternative to Weimar democracy remained deeply flawed.

Tirpitz’s later role as the gray eminence of the Weimar right reveals fanciful putsch plans and schemes for a guerrilla war against France in 1922-24. As candidate for chancellor in 1924 and advisor to the strongest right-wing party, Tirpitz tried to substitute a confrontational foreign policy for the official course of reconciliation. His role in making the conservative general Paul von Hindenburg President of the Republic aimed to revive the political culture of the German monarchy, but with an authoritarian president instead of a monarch as head of state.

The focus on Tirpitz, known as a skillful politician and supreme manipulator of public opinion before 1914, helps to explain the political and ideological problems contributing to the breakdown of the conservative German right and to the success of the National Socialists in the early 1930s.

The book draws from a vast base of unused archival materials and sheds new light on German policy and naval warfare during the First World War, the origins of the revolution of 1918, the context of the Hitler Putsch, Italian military help for German rightists, the adoption of the Dawes Plan, and the presidential elections of 1925. It contributes to an understanding of the troubled transition period leading to the Nazi catastrophe.

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