Loose Cannons: War Veterans and the Erosion of Democracy in Weimar Germany

Christoph P Koenig

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper


I study the effect of war participation on the rise of right-wing parties in Inter-war Germany. After the democratisation and surrender of Germany in 1918, 8m German soldiers of WWI were demobilised. I argue that defeat made veterans particularly sceptical about the new democratic state. Their return undermined support for democratic parties from the very beginning and facilitated the reversion to autocratic rule 15 years later. In order to quantify this effect, I construct the first disaggregated estimates of German WWI veterans since official army records were destroyed. I combine this data with a new panel of voting results from 1881 to 1933. Diff-in-Diff estimates show that war participation had a strong positive effect on support for the right-wing at the expense of socialist parties. A one standard deviation increase in veteran inflow shifted vote shares to the right by more than 2 percentage points. An IV strategy based on draft exemption rules substantiates my findings. The effect of veterans on voting is highly persistent and strongest in working class areas. Gains for the right-wing, however, are only observed after a period of Communist insurgencies. I provide suggestive evidence that veterans must have picked up especially anti-Communist sentiments after defeat, injected these into the working class and in this way eroded the future of the young democracy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 Dec 2021

Structured keywords

  • ECON Applied Economics


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