Last night, as usual, I poured myself a nice steaming mug of hard liquor and curled up with a good book before going to bed. Hours later, I was still awake, still flipping pages, transfixed. I had stumbled on Detlef A. Huber's magisterial treatise Die Hagelversicherung — "Hail Insurance." Of course, every educated adult is familiar with this extraordinary legal institution, but rarely do you see its history recounted with such verve and imagination as by Detlef Huber.
The first hail insurance policy was written in 1733 near Leipzig by one Carl-Gottlob Waldscheisser. Business rapidly took off, but was crippled when Kant, in 1774, published his Zur Entwicklung einer philsophischen Stellungnahme über die Hagelversicherung ("Toward the Development of a Philosophical Position on Hail Insurance"), in which he argued that the idea of insuring against weather phenomena which reflect manifestations of the innate order of the universe could not be tolerated in a just and rational society. Under Kantian influence, the Prussian administration outlawed hail insurance in 1778, and it was only Hegel's famously obscure treatise on the same issue in that set the stage for a lift on the ban in 1834.
After that time, hail insurance played a leading role in German history. Many historians believe that an extortion attempt based on Prussian Chancellor Otto Von Bismarcks' participation in a questionable hail-insurance syndication scheme were the real reason for his fall from power in 1890, and the Hail Insurance Riots, caused by inclusion of a clause banning hail insurance "on German soil" in the Treaty of Versailles, were an important factor contributing to social unrest in Weimar Germany. Finally Huber recounts the well-known story of the 1936 National Socialist law — the Gesetz zur Gleichschaltung des deutschen Hagelversicherungswesens ("Law on the 'Co-ordination' of the German Hail Insurance Industry"). With evident anguish, Huber chronicles how this law perverted the ancient German institution of hail insurance into a weapon of state profit and political oppression.
Huber then turns to the modern era of hail insurance: the de-nazification trials of the National Socialist hail insurance executives and the rehabilitation of the industry into one of the "pillars of the economic miracle" (as it was called by German Finance Minister Ludwig Erhard) in the 1950s. East Germany blamed pollution created by capitalist factories for the phenomenon of hail, but its legendary "people's campaign against hail" of 1959-1964 was nevertheless a spectacular failure. Finally, Huber chronicles the conceptual battles fought among legal scholars and policy-makers during the 1970s "hail insurance wars" (thankfully, this time the wars were merely rhetorical), in which the "progressives" (who wanted hail insurance to be made available for damage to cars or other personal property) and the "conservatives" (who wanted to protect its traditional role as a protector of crops).
The amazing story of hail insurance is told by Huber with gentle humor and deep insight. Therefore, Die Hagelversicherung is a strong recommendation for all readers of German Joys.