Brüning, Heinrich

(1885-1970)
   politician; the Republic's most con-troversial Chancellor. He was born to a prosperous Catholic* home in Münster; his father was a vinegar manufacturer and wine merchant. After completing Gymnasium in 1904, he studied for ten years on stipend in Germany and En-gland, taking a doctorate in political science at Bonn. Despite poor eyesight, he gained a commission and soon distinguished himself at the front. The experience reinforced his intrinsic nationalism while leaving him with a naive faith in mil-itary hierarchy.
   Joining the Center Party* in 1919, Brüning began working in 1920 for Prus-sian Welfare Minister Adam Stegerwald.* As Stegerwald was also the leader of the League of Christian Trade Unions (Vereinigung christlicher Gewerkschaf-ten), Brüning became the organization's business manager and remained active with Catholic labor for several years. Although he was never committed to unionism, he acquired an expertise on German social conditions and an interest in the fate of the working class. Elected to the Reichstag* in 1924 as Steger-wald's protege, he soon gained a reputation as a leading financial expert. His ideas found expression in Lex Brüning, a law setting limits on revenues derived from worker payrolls. In 1929 Ludwig Kaas,* the Center chairman, appointed him faction leader; within months Brüning was Chancellor. Erich Eyck* has underscored his wartime experience as crucial to his character. Not only was he unduly respectful of selflessness, sacrifice, and subjection to discipline, but he idolized Hindenburg.* When he acceded on 28 March 1930 to Hindenburg's summons to become Chancellor, his motivation was cogently expressed in a letter to a friend: "In the end I could not resist the President's appeal to my soldier's sense of duty" (Eyck). Despite a superior intellect, his veneration of the Field Marshal made him the junior partner in their relationship.
   Retaining office until May 1932 and assuming the Foreign Office in October 1931, Brüning immediately governed without a parliamentary majority. Exer-cising power at Hindenburg's pleasure and driven to widespread use of the Constitution's* Article 48 in a depression-ravaged country threatened after Sep-tember 1930 with the rise of the NSDAP, he implemented an unpopular austerity that aimed not simply at balancing the budget but at a fundamental reform of the Republic. His policy of reduced expenditure and rationalization—including salary cutbacks, tax increases, and welfare curtailment—was condemned by those, especially the civil service,* whom it harmed the most. But his most damaging act was taken in July 1930 when, with his budget blocked in the Reichstag, he dissolved the last parliament enjoying a republican majority. Al-though political compromise was an option before this date, rule via emergency decree was imperative once the September elections returned a Reichstag with 107 Nazis.
   Brüning's long-range design has been subjected to endless debate. He clearly aimed to use Germany's domestic crisis to pressure termination of reparation* payments; indeed, his policies were subordinated to this aim. Evidence suggests that he hoped to revive Germany's position of hegemony in Europe, that he worked for a restoration of the monarchy, and that the parliament he envisioned was one that filled an advisory function, much as it had under the Kaiser. His monetary policies not only sharpened Germany's economic crisis, thus leading in 1932 to the desired termination of reparation payments via the Lausanne Conference,* but forced reliance on Article 48. His five emergency decrees of 1930 rose to forty in 1931 and fifty-seven before his dismissal in 1932. He and his collaborators failed, however, to anticipate that the NSDAP would glean the spoils from his policies. By 30 May 1932, when Brüning lost Hindenburg's confidence (largely due to an Osthilfe* proposal to settle unemployed workers on Junker* estates), the populace was habituated to an ineffectual Reichstag and rule via Article 48. It is difficult to imagine any successor salvaging a parlia-mentary republic by this date.
   Unequivocally opposed to the NSDAP, Brüning was under continuous Ge-stapo surveillance in 1933. He fled to England in February 1934 and emigrated the next summer to the United States. He thereafter taught political science at Harvard.
   REFERENCES:Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; Brüning, Memoiren; Eyck, His-tory of the Weimar Republic, vol. 2; James, German Slump; Kent, Spoils of War; Kolb, Weimar Republic; Morsey, "Heinrich Brüning."

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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