What were the main features of the Weimar constitution, and to what extent was it democratic?

 From the May 2010 Paper 2 IBDP History exam

TImed in-class essay from past student

IBDP History Paper 2 November 2011
7. “Weakness in the constitution and the failure of political parties to support democracy caused the failure of the multiparty state in Weimar Germany (1919-1933).” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

The Weimar constitution by democracy’s most literal interpretation created one of, if not, the most democratic state in the world, in theory. The Weimar constitution and the provisions it contained allowed for a vast breadth of political parties all representing individual, particular ideologies. It is, however the unrestrained, extreme form of democracy that the Weimar constitution, and the political parties it caused that was the fundamental weakness, that caused the ultimate failure of democracy.
Proportional representation was a centrepiece of the Weimar democratic system, and was, in part its undoing, a point articulated in Richard J. Evans’s 2003 book “The Coming of the Third Reich”.  Proportional representation was a system of voting whereby the size of any voting block in Germany would receive exactly equal to that scale in the Reichstag. This sounds, in theory exactly what a democratic system should strive for, but that is in theory, but reality is not theoretical. In practice, from1919-1924 at a time when in McGonigle words in the legacy of war  “ The November criminals hung like a giant shadow over the period of Weimar Germany”, already detracting from the legitimacy of the Weimar state which needed strong leadership. The German people saw their nation being fractured by unrest, with the Spartacist revolt January 1919 or the declaration of an independent Bavarian communist state in a April 1919. In this time the Weimar government seemed unable to control unable to control Germany, with 11 parties actively holding seats in the Reichstag in 1920 and 28 at its highest point in later years, the largest party only holding 37% of the seats in 1920, and no party ever gaining a majority. This lack of a majority made decisions far harder to come by and less speedy always needing a coalition to form a government.
Coalitions often needed more than two political parties to be able to form a majority as in the election of 1920, further compounding the problems of Weimar. The amount of political parties created by the proportional representation also allow for more extreme voices, voices often openly hostile to the idea of democracy such as the KDP or NSDAP. The instability caused weak government unable to truly rule, weak government through time, caused a lacking in trust and patience for the established political order. This is despite what seemed an end to troubles for some in the golden years, but was in fact the result, not of parliamentary democracy but of the presidential power Gustav Stresemann, working on borrowed money. This established political order who, because of the plurality of proportional representation was never able to rule, but blamed for that fact. This despair amongst the general public, made them seek after the catalyst of the 1929 wall street crash smaller fringe parties promising end to political deadlock. As the leader of the the once fringe NSDAP Hitler said at his annual Nuremburg rally in 1932, “They say we don't want to work with other political parties – I have to admit on thing these gentlemen are right- I have one goal to sweep these 30 political parties out of Germany.” Proportional representation and political volatility it created, manifested an atmosphere of such extreme democracy that it hindered the function of democracy, and as a result did not support democracy in practice.
The weakness of this proportional representation parliamentary system was contrasted and contradicted by Article 48 of the Weimar constitution. Article 48 allowed in times warranting quick action the issuing of dictatorial decrees. Article 48 was not, however a designed to be a means of government but an extreme measure in times of emergency. The first President of the Weimar government Freidrich Ebert, used this power on 136 occasions, to control unrest in the early years of the Weimar democracy. Many of these instances help maintain the continuation of Weimar democracy such as the organization of the Freikorps to restore order to a ceded Bavaria workers republic, or to squash a rebellion in the Rhineland. In the short term it could be fairly asserted the Article supported democracy, but in the long term is served to undermine the parliamentary authority by showing its inadequacy, and showing the strength of authoritarian power. It must however be noted that in some instances Article 48 was even used to depose fairly elected governments such as in Saxony, further and in a most blatant way detracting the constitution claim to supporting democracy. Article 48 throughout the Weimar republic increasingly became seen as not responding to specific emergency but as replacement for parliamentary leadership.
It could be contended as it is in Richard J. Evans afore mentioned book that the misuse of Article 48 is not to be blamed on the constitution but on the men who misused. It is for men to decide whether they wish to follow the spirit of the laws they work with. Under this premise it could not be argued that the constitution failed democracy but democracy failed the constitution.
To say the Weimar constitution and the failure of political parties caused, solely the failure of Weimar would naive and overly simplistic; It is however true the Weimar constitution, contained within the Trojan horses of proportional representation and Article 48. On the surface it seemed these notions seemed to add stability and longevity to a new Germany state. How far from the truth this thoughts would turn out to be. Instead these fundamental sections of the constitution served to destabilize and undermine, the democracy in it’s infancy not support it. They caused democracy to fail and people to seek more forceful and authoritarian leadership, leadership promised by fringe political parties. The ultimate result of this was the 1933-enabling act in which Hitler took total control of Germany, after winning the election 1932.
What were the main features of the Weimar constitution, and to what extent was it democratic?

The Weimar Republic was developed in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles following the Armistice of 1918. Germany having suffered great losses in the Great War blamed much of their miserable predicament on their new government (known later as the 'November Criminals') as they saw them as the ones that had signed the treaty and admitted defeat. The constitution attempted to bring democracy to Germany and according to William Shirer was the "most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had ever seen."  Why then, were the years under Weimar Germany so politically controversial and deeply unstable, leading to the rise of Hitler? The historian Richard J. Evans remarked that "It's more problematical provision might not have mattered so much had the circumstances been different." Indeed, the orthodox view of Weimar Germany sees it as a time period full of struggle, assassinations and political instability. This orthodox view is orthodox for a reason. Knowing that ironically this democracy led to the rise of a dictator who arguably caused one of the most horrific wars in history it is easy to pinpoint elements of the Weimar Republic and it's legislation that were negative. But despite its collapse, I believe Weimar Germany was a brave attempt at creating a constitution that was not only concerned with building a viable democratic political structure but also one that sought to establish revolutionary social and economic rights - a complex document aiming to make way for the basis of modern parliamentary democracy. Therefore the document itself represented clear democratic features, but the enactment of these features in this time period could not maintain democracy and led to one of the most politically confused eras of German history.

Perhaps the most significant element of the constitution that proves without a doubt that Weimar Germany was a democracy is the system of election - proportional representation. Article 20 states that "The Reichstag is composed by the representatives elected by the German people." To think in mathematical terms, this is the most democratic system that could be put in place - the number of votes a party received corresponded directly to the number of seats that party held in government. Unlike other democratic systems in place the German election process also included all men and women over the age of 20 making Germany one of the first countries in Europe to allow women to vote. This alone is surely enough to convince one of the sophistication the constitution demonstrated. The country, divided into 35 electoral areas, voted, and a party was ensured one seat for every 60,000 people that voted them there. Furthermore, the parliament was given power over the army and was to be re-elected every four years. Evidently in writing this is a magnificent document. However the components of the constitution being democratic does not necessarily that it worked flawlessly. The ideology encountered terrible problems. First the wide spectrum of political parties such as the right-winged DVP, to the Zentrum Partei, to the left-winged KPD had such conflicting principles, and had left Germany so divided that no single party was able to secure 50% of the vote. As a result coalition governments were rife, decisions were not made easily, government upon government was overturned and there was deep political instability. There was a total of twenty different coalitions with the longest government maintaining control for a mere two years. Once again in practise the document was the epitome of democracy, but in reality it fell into a political stew pot of flavours and poisons.

The system of election itself not enough, even parliamentary control was to be tempered, especially under Article 48 - there was still a lot of power placed in the hands of very few individuals. Articles 46-49 of the Weimar Constitution delineated the powers of the president and made very clear the immense power the president would hold from appointing and dismissing chancellors, to having control of the army, to being able to call a state of emergency and rule by degree under Article 48. Firstly, the appointing and dismissing of chancellors by the president is seen by some as an undemocratic element of the constitution as it gives the power to one person, and not the people. However, I feel that as the German population voted the president in, they would have chosen someone that represented their ideals which would be expressed through the appointing of chancellors. As for having power over the army, this was important to democracy, the president was again chosen by the people and therefore had the final say. Unfortunately as has been a common theme already the practise was different than the written word and often the president lost control of the army such as happened during the Kapp Putsch revolt in Berlin. Finally a highly criticised aspect of the constitution was in regards to Article 48 - giving one man pure control of the country in any situation he chooses to define as an 'emergency' takes the power completely away from the people and nudges it strongly towards a dictatorship. However, without this the governmental system may have fallen many times such as when Ebert called for a state of emergency and took control during the Spartacist uprising in 1919. As Baroness Ruth B. Henig wrote in her book on the Weimar Republic after explaining the power the president was given, "Thus the President would check the Reichstag, the Reichstag would check the individual states, and parliamentary democracy would be safeguarded." Evidently this holds significant merit - the problem of course arises when the 'checker' at the top of the chain is abusing his power. Therefore I feel that although the initial formula for maintaining parliamentary democracy was sound, it did not address or even recognise this vital flaw and set itself up to be ripped apart in its putting of power in the hands of one man.

Another single man continued to rule during Weimar Germany, even though he was no longer in a direct position of power - a fact that undermined the playing out of democracy. Officials and judges put in place by the Kaiser had not lost their positions of power when he did. His once important hand continued to reach out into Weimar Germany - take article 109 which stated "All Germans are equal in front of the law." However these Kaiser judges were heavily biased and this article was not exercised. Let us take for example the Spartacus movement of 1919 and the Kapp Putsch of March 1920. 1919 brought about the left-wing Spartacist movement, led by Rosa Luxenburg and Karl Leibknecht. The attempted revolution was dramatically crushed by both the army and the Free Corps, and the leaders were brutally murdered. In contrast, during the right-winged Kapp Putsch the army refused to crush the rebellion and instead supported Kapp by providing him with weaponry. In fact, the movement was only stopped when the people threw a general strike, bringing the country to a standstill and forcing Kapp to Sweden after just 100 hours in power. Isolated, this strike may show true democracy. A Marxist perspective would be quick to point out the power of the people. What this demonstrates in terms of democracy is that the people did have control and could make the changes they desired. But then we are presented with further information: 770 people were arrested, but one soul man stood trial. Clearly the deep discrepancies in the application of the democratic legislation were varied and the originally democratic rights German citizens were given were tainted and marred in their application to real life situations.

This connects heavily to the Bill of Rights which is the final aspect that can be used to heavily outline to democratic system in place. As well as creating a constitution that served the requirements of a democratic, fair, and just parliament it also expanded its aims to attend to the welfare of its population. Article 118 stated that "Every German is entitled […] to express his opinion freely in word, writing, print, image or otherwise […] there is no censorship…"  Article 135 continued along the same freedom of the people lines "All Reich inhabitants enjoy full freedom of liberty and conscience." Furthermore many aspects of the constitution aimed to provide financial aid to the people - Article 119 declares "Large families may claim social welfare". Such grand aims were truly admirable, but to be fair were also unrealistic. Germany was in a situation of deep economic trouble - it was being asked to pay reparations for the first war of 2/3 of the total price, a grand 6.6 billion. With such financial issues it was impossible for the government to financially aid its people. However, as revisionist historian Michael E. Brooks wrote, "At the same time we should not forget that few democracies have been founded in such difficult circumstance as the Weimar Republic. The republic needed a long breathing space, it needed a more expansive and forgiving attitude on the part of the Western allies, it needed economic stability and progress - all of that was in precious short supply in the post World War 1 years." I think he definitely captures the essence of the document - it was democratic, but appears to have been produced without looking at the context of Germany, and what Germany was capable of achieving and being led under.

To conclude, the Weimar Republic's constitution was written with total democracy in mind - to bring this fabulous ideal to the country that had just emerged from an autocratic political system. However it asked a lot of the people of Germany who had just emerged from a devastating war, and who were suffering from deep economic troubles and on many accounts starvation. For this reason a truly democratic constitution was tossed around in a melee of different political spectrum's ideologies that in the end did not at all represent the true democratic nature of the document - but that did do perhaps the best it could considering the devastating circumstances.

In order to evaluate the democratic merit of the Weimar Republic, one needs to consider its roots: the Weimar constitution. Many claim that the Weimar Constitution made the republic intrinsically weak. It would be simplistic to blame this weakness on any single aspect of the constitution, but I believe that the a truly fatal weakness of the Weimar Constitution was that it was democratic to an unrealistic extent. This is particularly true of the voting process. It was too much too soon, going straight from a monarchy to this sort of republic. The role of the President in the constitution, as well as other governmental branches will also be considered.
            One of the main features of the Weimar Constitution was the concept of proportional representation. In this method of electing representatives for the Reichstag, political parties received the percentage of seats that they had received reflected the percentage of votes they got. Votes were taken from all men and women aged 20 and older. This was better than Britain, where only women 30 and older could vote. Overall, both of these constitutional concepts are very democratic ones. All popular view points are represented. However, the concept of proportional representation was almost too democratic. Decisions could not be made. There were simply too many parties and no one party could gain the majority vote, so there were frequently changing coalitions.
Another major player in the Weimar Constitution was the President. A President would be elected by the people and remain in office for 7 years. The President himself would choose a Chancellor. He also could dissolve the Reichstag and veto any laws he disapproved of. These aspects of the constitution could be seen as a stumbling block to the democratic process. However the height of the President’s power was found in Article 48, in which the President could declare a state of emergency and become, essentially, a dictator. The constitution did not specify what qualified as an emergency, and so this came to be known as the “enabling act.” It was supposed to be used only to restore order to the public, but Richard J Evans claimed that “in the end, [the President’s] excessive use [of Article 48], and occasional misuse of the Article widened its application to a point where it became a potential threat to democratic institutions.” Therefore, to some extent the President’s great power put the democratic nature of the Weimar Republic in peril.

Perhaps this presidential power was necessary, however, with the army’s, the legal system’s, and the local state governments’ lack of loyalty. Evans says that “Ebert’s concern for a smooth transition from war to peace led him to collaborate closely with the army without demanding any changes in its fiercely monarchist and ultra-conservative officer corps.” And so, the army acted against the President’s wishes on several occasions, one of which being the Kapp Putsch of 1923. The troops would not fire upon the Freikorps. As The Chief of the Army Command, General Hans von Seeckt stated at the time: “Reichswehr (army) do not fire upon Reichswehr.” After this putsch and future ones, there were many ineffective imprisonments as a large proportion of judges were right wing and wanted to destroy the democratic government. Lastly, the German states had too much power and also often ignored the president. This mess impeded on the democratic aspects of the constitution, as the elected government was unable to create order.
I think Richard J Evans truly describes the heart of the issue when he says: "all in all, Weimar's constitution was no worse than the constitutions of most other countries in the 1920's, and a good deal more democratic than many. Its more problematical provisions might not have mattered so much had the circumstances been different. But the fatal lack of legitimacy from which the Republic suffered magnified the constitution's faults many times over."

The Weimar Republic, implemented shortly after the signing of the Armistice in 1918, was Germany’s first attempt at a republic as such, and was in place for a rough 15 years before Hitler took over. In order to evaluate whether or not the constitution of Weimar Germany was democratic one must first understand the context of the time; Germany had been demoralized after the war and many believed in the “stabbed in the back” myth and they blamed this stab on the newly formed government, later known as the “November Criminals”, as they had been the ones to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and many Germans did not approve of the new government while many simply did not care as much. As William Shirer stated in his book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” the Weimar constitution was "on paper, the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had ever seen”; in his opinion the ideology behind the Weimar Republic was great and incorporated much democracy yet the problem which the government was faced with was implementing their constitution. How should they do this when the country itself was not united as a whole? Right wing and left wing strongly opposed each other and openly fought in cities making it nearly impossible for a clear, well functioning democracy to grow and sustain itself in Germany. The historian Richard J. Evans agrees with this, according to him “all in all, Weimar's constitution was no worse than the constitutions of most other countries in the 1920's, and a good deal more democratic than many. Its more problematical provisions might not have mattered so much had the circumstances been different. But the fatal lack of legitimacy from which the Republic suffered magnified the constitution's faults many times over"; while the set up of Weimar contained good ideas; having a president elected by the people, having a universal suffrage for both sexes and a proper bill of rights could have created an amazingly democratic state yet there were problems. Implementing the constitution was the problem – a fact, which I mostly agree with. The chaos in Germany at the time, the hate between different groups of people and different parties and the little support of the public and army the government had, made the troubles in the constitution much worse than they actually were.
            One of the main features of the constitution was that for the first time Germany had a President of state. This president was elected every seven years by the general public of Germany giving them the total power to choose their head of state and already resulted in a feel of democracy in the newly written constitution. Yet seven years are an extremely long time for one president to serve – the president was in charge of appointing and dismissing a chancellor that would have the support of the Reichstag, the president was the head of the army, this however did not work out very well as the army itself was right winged and did not support the president, for example Friedrich Ebert, who had not been supported by the army when it came to fighting the Kapp Putsch revolt in Berlin. The power to appoint and dismiss the chancellor, which the president had was in a way a limiting factor of democracy as the president himself was almost more of a figurehead position while the chancellor was the one who did most of the work. As a result, the German population had little to no say when it came to choosing their chancellor – they had to trust in their president to appoint someone who was capable and wouldn’t abuse his powers but as one can see in the case of Hindenburg who appointed Hitler as chancellor the president did make mistakes – and this lack of voting freedom in the case of the chancellor made the Weimar constitution less democratic. The president also had another power in the form of Article 48; under this article the president could declare a state of emergency and rule by decree, which happened quite often like in the case of the Spartacist uprising in January 1919. This article could easily be abused as a “state of emergency” is interpreted differently by everyone and under it the president had the sole power in the country – here democracy was completely ignored as the president functioning as a dictator would not rule in a democratic way even if it was for the good of the people.
            Another part of the Weimar Constitution was that a Reichstag was to be formed. Here, seats were giving to different parties on the basis of proportional representation – each party received the number of seats according to the percentage of votes they obtained. Proportional representation was a good ideology in its roots, yet the way it was implemented was not too successful; obviously this way of obtaining a place in parliament was democratic, as each party could receive a set however, due to the vast number of different parties, from right-winged ones like the DVP who did not trust the democracy over the Zentrum Partei, a catholic party set up to defend and represent the catholic church’s interests to the left-winged party KPD who did not want a republic and were strongly united with Moscow to form a communist Germany,  there was great instability in the Reichstag. This instability caused little things to be able to be passed and approved by the parliament and thus show that even though very democratic the constitution of Weimar which had allowed proportional representation was hindering itself by allowing “too much” democracy, resulting in much bickering but no major changes. The Reichstag was also elected by the general public of Germany, however not every seven years like the president but every four years. Under the Weimar Republic universal suffrage was implemented, every German over the age of twenty, no matter of sex, was allowed to vote making the voting itself rather fair as one was no longer discriminated by sex, there were however, also problems with this. Even though there were plenty of parties in existence who put themselves up for election there were none to represent the women. So whom would they vote for if there was not a specific women’s party, or a party that represented they wishes? Often, this resulted in women voting for the same party as their husband without putting into consideration any other parties or they voted for the Central Party, which often represented their wishes if they were catholic. The large number of political parties in Germany also led to many coalition governments as no party could secure fifty percent of votes for themselves to become the sole party in power – during the fourteen years of Weimar rule there were twenty different coalitions, the longest government being in power for two years. This absolute chaos, even though built on democracy, made it nearly impossible for a government to fulfil the wishes of the people and thus allowed little democracy.
            The Weimar Republic included a bill of rights for the first time in German history. Under this bill of rights Germans were promised equality before the law as long as political and religious freedom this however was not carried out as planned. As Rosa Luxenburg stated "freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party” this showing how differently this bill of rights was actually carried out. Taking the Spartacus movement of 1919 and the Kapp Putsch in March 1920 as an example, the left-winged Spartacus movement was crushed and the leader, Rosa Luxenburg and Karl Liebknecht, were killed along by the army along with the support of the Free Corps together with many other Spartacists. When the right-winged Kapp Putsch came in 1920, the army refused to help and even supported Kapp and his men with weapons and the movement was only stopped when Ebert called trade unions and workers to go on strike. After 100 hours in power in Berlin, Kapp fled to Sweden, leaving a total of 770 people to be arrested of which only one was actually tried. This is a perfect example of how the bill or rights were not applied equally to everyone in Germany at that time; the left-wing uprising was slaughtered, as well as the leaders of the Ratrepublik in Munich in addition to other communists at the time, while right-wing uprisings were met with much more lenient measures as the army supported them. This is quite a drastic example of how the constitution of the Weimar Republic was not democratic. Much like in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” in the Weimar Republic “all animals were equal, but some were more equal than others”, in the case of Germany this conflict was in between the right-winged army and the left-winged communists, the right-winged parties being the more equal ones while left-winged party members would be beaten or even killed in the streets of, for example, Munich just because of a different political viewpoint which was allowed under the constitution. Another example of a fail of democracy of the bill of rights is the number of political assassinations in Germany between 1919 and 1922 – a rough total of 356, most carried out by right winged extremists who wanted to get rid of the by them unwanted Weimar Republic and who would use any means to do so.
            All in all I believe the Weimar Republic’s constitution to be democratic in its roots, yet it failed to fully carry out its democratic building blocks and hindered itself from fulfilling its true potential through the division of parties, with none standing up to represent Germany as a whole. Also the bill of rights, which was not applied to some people made the level of democracy in Weimar Germany less than it could have actually been. Due to this I believe that while the ideology behind the Weimar constitution was truly democratic its enactment was not.

William Shirer in his highly regarded book, Rise and Fall of the third Reich wrote about the Weimar constitution "on paper, the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had ever seen ... full of ingenious and admirable devices which seemed to guarantee the working of an almost flawless democracy.” However in action the years that the Weimar system was implemented were wrought with violence and discontent with the government and the democratic system. It seems amazing that such a “liberal and democratic” document could lead to such disaffection and apparently  lead to the rise of national socialism, which ideals seemingly are the polar opposite to those of the Weimar Republic. Due to this I will attempt to argue that the constitution of the Weimar Republic was in fact highly democratic and it was the context that it was implemented and not the un democratic nature of it that lead to discontent.

The voting system enacted by the Weimar government was one of proportional representation, its apparent merits are well summed up in the words of Desmond Tutu who wrote "The system of proportional representation ensures that virtually every constituency in the country will have a hearing in the national and provincial legislatures." I however would argue that by representing everyone's views to some extent It becomes somewhat undemocratic as it inevitably ends up that the government represents no ones. Another problem with this system of government is that it naturally leads to a divided government and coalitions which in turn lead to very little being done because of the opposing views of the parties. This in the instance of the Weimar Republic lead to people voting for more radical parties in the hope that they wouldn’t compromise thus adhering to the policies that the people voted. However despite the fact that It doesn’t seem proportional representation would work in any country I feel that It was a obvious attempt by the Weimar Republic to ensure that their constitution was highly democratic.

The Weimar republic was also one of the first instances of universal suffrage as it gave the vote to all men and women aged 20 or over. Due to this It seems very difficult to argue that the Weimar constitution wasn’t a very forward thinking document composed with the intention of having a highly democratic system. This however contributed to its downfall, as it was to much at odds with the previous system of government and was therefore not accept by the general populace of Germany.

Article 48 seemingly is the least democratic component of the constitution as it gave the president dictatorship like powers in a state of emergency. This I however would argue was entirely necessary as without such an article the government would have collapsed long before 1933. It was a long standing defence against the military wing of the KPD, the Spartacists, who attempted numerous times to take control of Germany and without article 48 it would have been almost impossible for the German government to combat this threat as they had a very small army due to the sanctions of the Treaty of Versailles. For these reasons it seems inevitable that without being able to easily mobilize the army and give the police more power the Weimar government would have struggled to keep power. Therefore in conclusion It seems that although Article 48 obviously was not entirely democratic without such an article the democratic Weimar Republic would have collapsed long before 1933 therefore it was entirely necessary to ensure that democracy didn’t collapse in Germany.

In conclusion the Weimar Republic constitution could not be argued to be anything other than an attempt at creating a very forward thinking democracy. This is most apparent in the introduction of proportional representation and universal suffrage. Despite the fact that Article 48 is often argued to have been the downfall of the Weimar Republic and undemocratic it seems to have been entirely necessary at the time to ensure that democracy didn’t collapse in Germany before 1933.

            The fundamental theory, on which the Weimar Republic was planned to be built upon expressed the principal objectives of a democracy. However, this essay will argue whether the main features of the constitution were indeed democratic or, in the words of Lenin, if they merely looked democratic but were in fact a mirage using two main examples: Article 48 and the powers of the president, the political system including proportional representation and the Bill of Rights. The Germany that emerged from the Great War was crippled and demoralized. It had lost over two and a half million men to the war and four million were wounded. The forced abdication of the Kaiser was met with high discontent of the society and thus, the new democratic constitution was what Germany needed to get back on its feet.
            Article 48 gave the President of the Weimar Republic dictatorial powers should an emergency situation demand this, meaning it allowed the President to override the Reichstag to pass laws. This provided the opportunity for the country leader to solve possible harming disputes that may have otherwise not been solved due to opinions within the Reichstag that were not unanimous. However, the first president of the Republic, Friedrich Ebert, used the powers of the Article 136 times. Historian Richard Evans states that Ebert misused the Article in non-emergency situations to simply get his political desires passed through the Reichstag without any opposition. This was of course not what the article was designed for and therefore Ebert's actions "became a potential threat to democratic institutions." This provides evidence that Article 48 was in fact not very democratic as it shows how easy it was for a President to dictate a country, possibly against the will of the people, without much justification. As well as this the president was elected by the people for seven years. In seven years a lot of things could happen to make the view of the people change. They are not able to vote for the party they believe to be the best for their country and fellow citizens and they have no say in political affairs for seven years, which shows again that democracy was not exactly at its best state in the new Republic.
            Proportional Representation is a political system still used in Germany today and as a German I believe it is rather effective. It is highly democratic as it allows all parties to have a say, not just the major ones. During the Weimar Republic, people aged 20 and above were allowed to vote, even women, giving an equal chance to the people of Germany. However, during the Weimar time period this system created more problems than it solved. Firstly, it made the Republic politically weak due to a vast number of completely different parties, where each represented very narrow selectional interests such as religion, regions or social class. Thus, there were frequently changing coalitions. The people of the Republic suffered from a constantly changing leadership, denying them stability and reassurance during a time where they needed it most to build up the country from the ruins caused by the Great War. This was evidently not good for the German society but if a democratic government is not able to give its people the chance to be successful then is it still democratic? As well as this women were allowed to vote, which is again extremely democratic, but there was an issue with this as well and that was the fact that no party truly represented them and their desires, suggesting that the new constitution did not create a democratic republic as it failed to offer representation for half the population.
            Finally, the Bill of Rights protected the freedom of the people and their equality before the law. Again, this is very democratic, however, this was not exactly carried out. Between 1919 and 1922 there were 356 political murders. For example Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, who lead the Communist uprisings in Germany during this time were brutally murdered. Where was their equality before the law and freedom of speech? This evidently shows that the Weimar constitution consisted of qualitative democratic principles that were simply not carried out correctly or followed.
            Therefore I believe that the key principles of the Weimar Republic, such as Article 48, proportional representation and the Bill of Rights, would have been ideal to construct and rebuild a new republic as they were all extremely democratic in theory. However, the way they were carried out, or not even followed, during the Weimar period was far from democratic. A president using the dictatorial powers to get his will, a government consisting of a vast number of parties representing many different groups of people throughout the German society and the Bill of Rights that was ignored for many cases does not make up a democratic republic where the people are supposed to be free to choose what is best for themselves. Thus, the key principles of the constitution were only democratic in theory and on paper, however, when carried out they failed to create a state strong enough to rebuild what had been shattered by the Great War.

When the new German Constitution, the “Verfassung des Deutschen Reichs” was created in the city of Weimar in Germany, 1919, Germany was in a state of Turmoil, Hyperinflation and Chaos. It could be considered a “Democratic Experiment.” The government was split and both radical right-and left wing parties were using violence in order to gain control of a country that was shaken to its core by the Loss of the First World War. The constitution of the Weimar Republic, which was in action until 1933, had flaws and weaknesses. This Constitution of the German Reich could be considered democratic and it can be argued to what extent the Constitution of the Weimar Republic really was democratic.

“On Paper, the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had ever seen (…) full of ingenious and admirable devices which seemed to guarantee the working of an almost flawless democracy.”  These are the words used by historian William Shirer in his book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” to describe how democratic the Weimar Republic was for its time.  This is true if one considers the conditions previous to the Weimar Constitution, and even though the Weimar Constitution is often criticized for its articles, the constitution a large step forwards in matters of Democracy for Germany. Taking a closer look at the actual constitution, we can see almost immediately the liberal changes brought forward with the constitution, taking in example article 126,

[1]“Every German is entitled to address the respective authority or parliament with petitions or grievances.”
The fact that even women were allowed to vote shows how liberal and democratic the constitution was. This constitution allowed women to vote almost 20 year before any woman in France was allowed to vote, a country, which has a reputation for being revolutionary, modern and liberal. In order to recognize how valuable and democratic this article is we must put it into context, remember that this is 1919 and not the twenty-first century.  Women had never received suffrage before and this can also be seen what period of change Germany was going through, changing from centuries of Monarchy to a somewhat Involuntary Democracy.

Another feature of the constitution would be the “Reichstag” and its Proportional Representation.  The fifth chapter of the Weimar Constitution, the “Verfassung des Deutschen Reiches” concerns about the German Parliament that would run by a system of Proportional Representation.  This can be an important factor of how democratic the new Constitution was. This system would be considered democratic because it ensured a fair vote and that the people’s views get represented. The Reichstag would consist of different parties, which get voted by the public, and the more votes they would receive from the folk, the more seats would they get in the Reichstag. This would show that the Weimar Constitution was democratic to a great extent because it ensured that citizens’ views are represented by not only one ruling monarch but by many different parties.  This system, nowadays called the “Bundestag”, is still used in Germany today and its success is visible by Germany’s strong economy and democracy.

On the other hand however it can be argued if the Weimar constitution really was democratic, or if it was just supposed to look like it was.  An example for this would be Article 48.  Article 48 read that in emergency situations the ruling power would be given dictatorial powers, and this clause especially is criticized by many.  Many blame the Weimar constitution for being a window in letting Hitler gain power over Germany.  Joseph W. Bendersky comments about Article 48 in his book “A History of Nazi Germany: 1919-1945”: “The Latter held that the constitution had in fact granted the president such extensive authority and that any attempts to restrict his powers would be contrary to the original intent of article 48”.
Article 48 is an excellent example to show that the Weimar Constitution of 1919 was democratic to a minimal extent because it basically ignored the democratic clauses it stated and returned the power back to one individual, just like it had previously been with monarchy. This article therefore is not in any way democratic due to the fact that it gives power to the president, and not to the people, the “Volk”.

The Weimar Republic could be considered democratic to a medium extent because even though it did have many very democratic articles it also had articles such as Article 48, which gave dictatorial powers to an individual, which is heavily contradictory to a democracy. We are not allowed to forget however what conditions Germany was in and we must put into context that this constitution was created almost one hundred years previous to the time we are currently living in; Democracy was still in its making and Germany was somewhat a Pioneer for European Democracy at the time.  Coming back to William Shirer’s praising words of the Constitution,  even though it “seemed to be flawless”,  there were faults in the constitution, however it cannot be denied that his was indeed a democratic document.

[1] Website with Complete Weimar Constitution http://www.zum.de/psm/weimar/weimar_vve.php#Second Chapter : Life within a Community