"Grave Offenses" vs. "Tendentious Misconstruals" The David Abraham Case
The historical field concerning the Weimar Republic, Germany's parliamentary government during the interwar years, is not only an extremely sophisticated area of study, but an extremely competitive one as well. In the early eighties, a much heated and unprecedented scholarly dispute arose surrounding The Collapse of the Weimar Republic, written by David Abraham - at the time, a fledgling historian and assistant professor at Princeton University. Nazi seizure of power from the Weimar Republic has long intrigued scores of historians. Various models have been constructed in an attempt to explain how an entity such as the Nazi movement came to power over such an industrially, culturally, and socially advanced society such as Germany's (Notes from Jamie van Hook 2/14).
One such model, and the one used in Abraham's book, seeks to illustrate the role of capitalism, German industrialists, in the fall of the Weimar Republic (Notes from Jamie van Hook 2/14). More specifically, Abraham attempts to decipher: "how did Germany's divided economic elites attempt to articulate a national agenda around which they could unite, how and from whom was popular support won (if it was); how could the institutionalization of accord first work and then fail?" Initially, the book received favorable reviews; it was called "imaginative and interesting" and "distinguished, " among other praises. But alas, high praises gave way to harsh, uncivil criticisms. Abraham was attacked for having a "fanatical attachment to his preconceived notions " and a "complete insensitivity to and lack of interest in what actually took place in the past. " The controversy ultimately ended with David Abraham being effectively ostracized from the historical community.
So how did Abraham's book go from being deemed "the most important book on 20th century Germany written in the last 15 years " to being called "fraudulent? " What was the reasoning behind Abraham's downward spiral? Why did the events surrounding Abraham escalade into an academic crucifixion rather than culminating in nothing more than a passionate academic debate? Abraham's Marxist-like viewpoints might have something to do with it. Here, the word "Marxist-like" is used because although Abraham himself acknowledged the pronounced Marxist influences in his book, he had hoped his work would be distinguished from "recent Marxist scholarship and debates. " However, the situation calls for more complicated reasoning; after all, Abraham was not the only "Marxist" historian. Jon Wiener points out that if Abraham had written a Marxist study about the Weimar Republic that did not discuss the role of businessmen, Henry Turner would probably not have bothered to check his footnotes. If he had written a Marxist theoretical essay on the Weimar Republic that did not include archival evidence, Turner would not have been interested. Jon Weiner concludes:...