Our namesake

Naumann Profilbild

Theodor Heuss, who consciously wanted to establish a link to the "Staatsbürgerschule" (citizens' school) founded by Friedrich Naumann in 1918, gave the Foundation its name. At the official founding ceremony on November 14th, 1958 at Godesberg Redoute, Heuss spoke to an elite audience from the fields of politics, culture and business about Naumann's legacy and thus gave the Foundation its direction: it was to become an intellectual centre of German liberalism.

Friedrich Naumann, like Dahrendorf, was not a "born" liberal, but came from a different political milieu, for him the conservative, for Dahrendorf the social-democratic one. Both, however, had a clear view of the political and social developments of their respective times and the resulting challenges for politics. Naumann found his way to liberalism in 1903 and Dahrendorf in 1967 through their historical-political analyses, which they both presented in voluminous form. With their accession both pursued long-term strategic goals, which Dahrendorf soon abandoned for science, until he again rushed to the aid of German liberals a decade later and took over the leadership of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

Friedrich Naumann, on the other hand, persistently pursued his goals and visions despite the "tale of woe of liberalism" he diagnosed. In 1911 his book with the meaningful title "Freiheitskämpfe" (struggles for freedom) he wrote: "In Germany, we have to return to attitudes of strong spirits without which we wouldn't exist at all, liberalism of life and thought that goes far beyond mere party and group struggles. To cooperate in this liberalism is the author's profound and eager effort."

Naumann's big plan

This quote describes quite precisely what Naumann was driven by and what he found. Around 1900, the German liberals were divided into various organizations- They argued vehemently about the political path which should be taken: as a cautiously correcting junior partner at the side of the Conservatives and Pan-Germans - according to the National Liberals - or as a principled and solitary fighter against all others, according to Eugen Richter's liberals. Neither had a greater appeal. In 1903 the liberal share of the vote had halved compared with 1871; although there were still just under 90 liberal parliamentarians in the Reichstag, in 1874, there were over 200. Above all, none of the liberal parties exerted measurable political influence, and the current majority voting system threatened to further reduce the crumbling voter base in the wake of mass politicization.

Naumann recognized that if they wanted to counteract this situation, they would first need more liberal unity. Nevertheless, for him, this was only a beginning. If the liberals took their political claim seriously, they also had to develop a political strategy that would strengthen their influence and aim at a comprehensive liberalization of the German Empire, preferably in the form of a parliamentary monarchy based on the British model. Of course, this could not be achieved without political allies.

Substantial success

He saw political allies in social democracy, an idea that frightened not only most national liberals but also many long-serving freethinkers. However, Naumann first found supporters in left-wing liberalism and then in younger national liberals ("young liberals"), who gradually made his strategic vision acceptable to the majority within the liberal movement. Although there were ongoing debates about this among liberals and among social democrats, who were themselves shaken by intra-party struggles between "revisionists", on whom Naumann relied, and the "Orthodox". However, in the medium term, the concept seemed to work: By 1910, the left-wing liberals came together in one party, and the relationship between them and the national liberals improved to such an extent that they supported each other in the Reichstag elections of 1912. In the same election, partial agreements with the Social Democrats not only resulted in Naumann's left-wing liberals receiving more votes than ever before. For the first time, liberals and social democrats came close to holding a majority in the Reichstag.

This meant within just under a decade astonishing progress was achieved, which had a positive effect on the self-image and charisma of liberalism. Finally, the liberals were back on the offensive, and their image was attractive. They owed this not only to the retired priest from Störmthal in Saxony, who combined many political virtues in his person: he was able to develop long-term concepts as well as drive things forward organizationally.

Besides, there was a personal charisma attested by many contemporaries, which especially attracted the younger, change-willing "performers" of the empire: industrial pioneers such as Robert Bosch, scholars such as Lujo Brentano and Max Weber, aspiring spirits such as Theodor Heuss and his wife, Elly.

Women in general: Naumann wanted to eliminate their political and social discrimination, which was not a common property of all liberals at that time. He promoted political talents like Gertrud Bäumer and sought proximity to the women's movement. After women were allowed to be politically active in 1908, the female part of the liberal movement was among its most loyal followers.

Achieving one's goal is never straightforward

We do not know whether Naumann's great plan to fundamentally reform the empire would have worked out if World War I hadn't intervened, which broke off domestic political debates. The resistance was also great. However, Naumann offered a political option that could be resorted to on occasion. That was already the case in the second half of the world war when a new reform majority began to emerge, to which political Catholicism now belonged instead of the national liberals.

Naumann and his comrades-in-arms would undoubtedly have preferred that the transformation of the Empire into a parliamentary system had been successful on its own - as it seemed for a short time in October 1918 - and had not been the child of the German defeat. Nevertheless, he quickly placed himself on the ground of the new republic, whose democratic substance was now threatened not only from the right but also by new dangers from the left. His unbroken charisma was also shown at the same time by the fact that the new left-liberal party advertised in the election to the National Assembly with the addition of the words "Liste Naumann" and had great success with it. Already in a deplorable state of health, Naumann's primary concern during the constitutional consultations in Weimar was to put the relationship between church and state on a new footing. He did this in such a way that the relevant paragraphs were later incorporated into the Basic Law.

The party chairman

Despite the knowledge of his situation, which added to the burden of the Versailles peace terms, which he vehemently rejected, Friedrich Naumann hesitated only briefly in mid-July 1919 when he was asked to take over the chairmanship of the newly founded "German Democratic Party. He immediately set about consolidating the rather heterogeneous party, which consisted of freethinkers, parts of the national liberals and political newcomers. Naumann paid particular attention to the training of a suitable new generation of young people, for whom the "Citizens' School," which had been founded during the war, was to provide, but also to the founding of a separate youth association, the "Young Democrats. During a recreational vacation in Travemünde, he died of a stroke at the end of August 1919, not even at the age of sixty.

The afterlife

Naumann was spared the many crises that followed and the eventual demise of both traditional liberalism and the first democracy in Germany. One can only speculate whether he would have been able to stop the development if he had lived longer. In any case, his death left a gap at the top of liberalism that none of his successors could fill. Perhaps except for Gustav Stresemann, who, like Naumann, had a great deal of respect beyond party lines, but whose authority was less intense, especially in his party, and who also died early.

Naumann's large group of supporters, above all Theodor Heuss, ensured the survival of Naumann's memory and work during the Weimar Republic and National Socialist barbarism. It finally became the starting point for the "renewal of liberalism", which he had regarded as his life's work from 1903 on.