Obituary: Professor Theodor Eschenburg

David Childs
Monday 02 August 1999 23:02

ALTHOUGH NOT a politician, Theodor Eschenburg could be regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Federal Republic of Germany's democracy. Generations of students benefited from his political science teaching and a much wider audience gained from his writing in the liberal weekly Die Zeit and other publications.

He was born in 1904, into the Hanseatic commercial aristocracy so well described in Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks. Like Mann, he was brought up in Lubeck in the Kaiser's Germany. He studied history and public law at the universities of Tubingen and Berlin, observing the rise and fall of the Weimar Republic.

In 1928 he was awarded his doctorate from the University of Berlin for a contemporary history study of "Das Kaiserreich am Scheideweg" ("The Kaiser's Reich at the Crossroads").Through initiative and connections he gained access to the circle around Gustav Stresemann, the moderate Conservative Chancellor and Foreign Minister of Germany.

This was a good vantage-point, for Stresemann faced intrigue in his German People's Party, which, despite its name, was never a mass party. His constant negotiating with other parties to form and keep coalitions going was an eye-opener for the student Eschenburg.

When Stresemann, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926, died in October 1929, Eschenburg saw it as a harbinger of the death of German stability and democracy. In the same month Wall Street crashed and, a few months later, Hitler's Nazis became a mass party. Any hope of finding a job in politics ended for Eschenburg in 1933 with the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor. He found a safe haven, in Berlin, in an organisation representing the interests of small family businesses. This was useful for his later academic interest in pressure groups and their involvement with government and parliament. The result was his classic, Herrschaft der Verbande ("Rule by the Interest Groups"), published in 1955.

Eschenburg emerged from the ruins of Hitler's Reich with an unblemished record and became a sought-after democrat. He was installed as Commissioner for Refu-gees in what was then the Land of Wurttemberg-Hohenzollern. The millions of refugees - over 15 per cent in this area - represented a massive problem. Failure could have led to the growth of right-wing political extremism.

Eschenburg also served as deputy interior minister for the Land. He was active in the restructuring of the Lander (regions) and Wurttemberg-Hohenzollern became part of Baden-Wurttemberg in 1952 after a referendum. In 1952 he was appointed Professor of Political Science at Tubingen University. He saw as his task the introduction of Anglo- American concepts of empirical political science believing German academics had concentrated too much on law and history and neglected this key area. His major work Staat und Gesellschaft in Deutschland ("The State and Society in Germany") was published in 1956 and became a classic, with several editions.

He is credited with a number of concepts which became the common currency of both German and foreign observers of the German political scene. He felt that under Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor 1949-1963, West Germany had become a "Chancellor democracy". He was critical of the authoritarian style of leadership.

Eschenburg was also concerned with political corruption in German public life. He had published on this theme in 1952 and in 1961 his mteerpatronage ("Patronage of Office") appeared. In 1970 he believed that the Germans had been spoiled by an extremely honest public administration for more than 150 years. With several major scandals coming to light in the 1980s his critics thought he had been somewhat naive. When he died, he had just finished the second volume of his memoirs.

David Childs

Theodor Eschenburg, political scientist: born Kiel, Germany 24 October 1904; Professor of Political Science, University of Tubingen University 1952-99; married; died Tubingen, Germany 10 July 1999.

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