Baden, Max von (1867–1929)

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BADEN, MAX VON (1867–1929)


Last chancellor of the German Empire (October 1918–November 1918).

While considered weak and indecisive, the wrong man for the position, Maximilian (known as Max von Baden) was responsible for some of the most consequential political decisions during last days of the empire and set the stage for the Weimar Republic.

Max von Baden was destined for a different world than the one he came to shape. He became heir to the throne in liberal Baden in 1907. He had married Marie Luise of Hanover, royal princess of Great Britain and Ireland and Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1900 and was self-consciously a member of the high aristocracy. Due to his disinterest in military matters, he left active military service in 1911. While reentering the military world briefly at the beginning of World War I, he almost instantly resigned and took on the role of the honorary chair of the Baden Red Cross. In this capacity, he became a leading figure in the promotion of the welfare of prisoners of war in Germany and in Allied countries.

The prominent humanitarian role of Max von Baden reinforces his image as a gentlemanly cosmopolitan of considerable moral standing. His comportment rather makes him a quintessential member of the Wilhelmine German elite. His aesthetic inclinations led him to become an avid Wagnerian and also a close correspondent with Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927), as well as into a free-church pietism that defined his personality. During the war he was part of the elite political culture and avidly corresponded with more moderate elements in the academy, like Alfred Weber (1868–1958); in the German government, like Wilhelm Solf (1862–1936); and the Reichstag, like the liberal deputy Conrad Haußmann (1857–1922). He came out strongly against unrestricted submarine warfare, but was opposed to the peace initiative of the Reichstag in 1917, mostly because he rejected its defeatist tone. Like many others, he exhibited an unbroken sense of German culture and of a distinctly Germanic mission in Europe and the world. This "liberal" world picture neither suffered radical nationalism and militarism, nor certainly an admission of weakness. It was, above all, concerned with preserving honor and with salvaging the moral stature of Germany.

Max von Baden's name came into circulation in consideration for the imperial chancellorship in 1917, a position he also began to pursue actively. He finally became chancellor on 3 October 1918. He entered the chancellorship believing that imperial Germany could yet be saved, but he was rudely undercut when the Supreme Command, Paul von Hindenburg (1847–1934) and Erich Ludendorff (1865–1937), demanded that Max von Baden make the request for an immediate armistice the first and foremost initiative of his chancellorship. This he did after much prevarication in the night of 3–4 October, which set in motion a most remarkable sequence of events.

As chancellor, Max von Baden, who was revolted by the Supreme Command's armistice initiative, came around to recognize that Germany was no longer capable of fighting with any chance of success and that continuing war would invite invasion. Therefore, he insisted on negotiating an armistice at virtually any price in the month-long exchange with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924). In the pursuit of an armistice and peace negotiations, he turned against the Third Supreme Command, which made preparations to prolong war into 1919, and brought about the resignation of Ludendorff, an extraordinary show of determination that brought down military rule. Two days later, on 28 October 1918, the chancellor endorsed and the Reichstag ratified the parliamentarization of government, including the position of the (Prussian) war minister and thus tipped the balance not only between constitutional and extra-constitutional (the monarch, and the military) forces, but also between the states, including his own, and the imperial federation. He declared an amnesty for imprisoned pacifists and communists and appointed an Alsatian as governor of Alsace-Lorraine. Above all, on 9 November 1918, he announced on his own initiative the abdication of the emperor; in renouncing his own chancellorship, he made the leader of the strongest parliamentary party, the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert (1871–1925), his successor, thus ascertaining the continuation and legitimacy of parliamentary rule.

Max von Baden did none of this on his own, and all of it came too late to save the empire or reverse defeat. Much of it he had not initiated and, indeed, outright opposed when becoming chancellor. But while known to be weak and dithering, he acted with great fortitude. He subsequently suffered the scorn and wrath of the Right. He withdrew from politics and founded Salem School (on his estate in Baden) in 1920 to educate a future German elite dedicated to self-discipline and the spirit of community. He worked in this and other endeavors with his private secretary and confidant throughout this period, Kurt Hahn. The latter went on to found Gordonstoun public school (1934) and Outward Bound (1941), after having been thrown out of Germany by the Nazis both for his Jewishness and his protest against Nazi rule.

See alsoAristocracy; Germany.


Baden, Max von. Erinnerungen und Dokumente. Edited by Golo Mann and Andreas Burckhardt. Stuttgart, 1968.

Epstein, Klaus. "Wrong Man in the Maelstrom: The Government of Max von Baden." Review of Politics 26, no. 2 (1964): 215–43.

Matthias, Erich, and Rudolf Morsey, eds. Die Regierung des Prinzen Max von Baden. Düsseldorf, 1962.

Michael Geyer

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Baden, Max von (1867–1929)

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