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The history of the enabling act gives the lie to the National Socialist claim that they came into power by constitutional means. It is true that the act was passed by a vote of 441 to 94 and thereby received the necessary two-thirds majority of the members present (Article 76 of the Weimar Constitution). But the meeting took place in an atmosphere of terror. The eighty-one Communist deputies and many Social Democrats had been arbitrarily arrested and were therefore absent. (The Social Democrats present voted against the measure.) If the Centrists had not capitulated and given their support to the bill, a reign of terror would unquestionably have been unleashed.

Source: F. Neumann: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism 1933–1944, p. 52.

I have the problems with the last sentence of this paragraph which I find very confusing. There is used the third conditional. So the first part ("If the Centrists had not capitulated") asserts that in reality the Centrists capitulated and betrayed the democracy by voting for the enabling act which really happened; only social democrats were against the bill. But this statement contradicts the part "[Centrists had] given their support to the bill"; as if the Centrists did not vote for the bill (enabling act). How do you understand the last part ("a reign of terror would unquestionably have been unleashed")? It suggests that the reign of terror was not established in Germany which is of course a nonsenese.

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    Giving their support to the bill is giving up their resistance against it. Those two statements are certainly not contradicting each other. As for the reign of terror that is mentioned, my guess is that that is a reference to the Terreur of the French Revolution which was, by modern standards, not exactly democratically appointed. No matter how terrible the National-Socialist government turned out, the assertion of the author here is that _if they had not won this "democratic" vote, they would have taken power anyway, in the same way the French Terreur had done after the revolution.
    – oerkelens
    Apr 29, 2015 at 12:44
  • Thanks for your reply. Can the first part of the sentence be rewritten in this way: If the Centrists had not capitulated and if they had given their support to the bill… If so, I still do not undesratnd. "If they had given their support" indicates that in reality they did not support the enabling act which is not true.
    – bart-leby
    Apr 29, 2015 at 12:58
  • The no refers to both parts: If the Centrists had not capitulated, if they had not given their support to the bill. Compare to If Johnny had not stolen and eaten that apple, he would not have gotten sick.
    – oerkelens
    Apr 29, 2015 at 13:15
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    Yes, it is now clear to me. I by mistake supposed that the second part of the sentence is a positive statement. From this stemmed my misinterpretation of the meaning.
    – bart-leby
    Apr 29, 2015 at 13:19

2 Answers 2

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I am going to give my personal interpretation of the sentence devoid of any grammatical considerations (so if anyone has some points to add there please do).
First off

[had not] given their support to the bill

is simply a clarification off what exactly the Centrists surrendered. This is still part of the impossible proposition of the third conditional and still under the influence of not. Therefore the assertion is that

[I]n reality the Centrists capitulated

as you've pointed out. But also

Centrists had in fact given their support to the bill.

So there is no contradiction here - just a negation with an extended range.

Now for the second part, the result of the condition (for lack of better words). You are right in mentioning that in the end supporting the bill lead to a reign of terror by the National Socialists over Germany and for a time Europe as well thus making it seem strange to state the reign of terror as an irreal consequence. However the reign of terror addressed by the author seems to be a different one:

But the meeting took place in an atmosphere of terror. The eighty-one Communist deputies and many Social Democrats had been arbitrarily arrested and were therefore absent.

Looking at these two sentences the violence used by the National Socialists to silence their political and ideological opponents is the immediate terror feared by the Centrists. That is the reign of terror on question concerns only the politicians and isn't meant to include the general populace (yet).

I hope I have been sufficiently clear in presenting my reading of those lines. If not feel free to ask for clarification.

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The author missed a word, but perhaps it was obvious to him:

If the Centrists had not capitulated and given their support to the bill, a reign of terror would unquestionably immediately have been unleashed.

The establishment of terror in Germany went by degrees. This capitulation allowed for a more gradual transition to full-terror mode.

[in reply to Robusto's comment] We're talking about local vs general here. The meeting could have been on a pitch of error, but the legislated and organized extension of it to the scale of the whole society would take some more time. The Nazis had just been voted in power.

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  • So the preceding sentence "But the meeting took place in an atmosphere of terror" is not a manifestation of "full-terror mode"? Doesn't sound too gradual to me.
    – Robusto
    Apr 29, 2015 at 13:13
  • @Robusto: if you consider the number of decapitations during the actual original Reign of Terror, a couple of arrested politicians hardly qualifies as even "uncomfortable"...
    – oerkelens
    Apr 29, 2015 at 13:17
  • I guess it depends on which side of the line you were. If you were arrested, it surely seemed like terror.
    – Robusto
    Apr 29, 2015 at 13:18
  • @Robusto Well, we're talking about local vs general here. The meeting could have been on a pitch of error, but the legislated and organized extension of it to the scale of the whole society would take some more time. The Nazis had just been voted in power. Apr 29, 2015 at 13:19

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