Weimar - strengths and weaknesses

The Weimar Republic comprised all the essential elements of a perfect democracy. But was it perfect or was it flawed?

The Weimar Republic

After Germany lost the First World War, the Kaiser fled and a new democratic government of Germany was declared in February 1919 at the small town of Weimar. It was too dangerous to make a declaration in Berlin where there had just been a revolt by a Communist group called the Spartacists. The Weimar Republic was a genuine attempt to create a perfect democratic [Democratic: Something that follows the principles of democracy which advocate majority rule and fair process, usually involving elections ] country.

The Weimar Republic looked like the perfect democracy, but it had two great weaknesses - proportional representation and Article 48.

The perfect democracy?

These features of the Republic served to ensure that it was the perfect democracy:

  • A Bill of Rights guaranteed every German citizen freedom of speech and religion, and equality under the law.
  • All men and women over the age of 20 were given the vote. This was even better than Britain where only women over 30 could vote.
  • There was an elected president and an elected Reichstag (parliament).
  • The Reichstag made the laws and appointed the government, which had to do what the Reichstag wanted.

It looked marvellous.

However, hidden in the detail were two flaws that eventually destroyed the Republic:

  • Proportional representation - instead of voting for an MP, like we do in Britain, Weimar Germans voted for a party. Each party was then allocated seats in the Reichstag exactly reflecting (proportional' to) the number of people who had voted for it. This sounds fair, but in practice it was a disaster it resulted in dozens of tiny parties, with no party strong enough to get a majority, and, therefore, no government to get its laws passed in the Reichstag. This was a major weakness of the Republic.
  • Article 48 - this said that, in an emergency, the president did not need the agreement of the Reichstag, but could issue decrees [Decrees: Laws passed by one minister in a parliament, which have not been approved by the majority parliament. ]. The problem with this was that it did not say what an emergency was, and in the end, it turned out to be a back door that Hitler used to take power legally.

Revision tip and answer preparation

Revision tip

Make sure that you learn the two great weaknesses of the Weimar Republic.

Answer preparation

As part of your revision, think about the arguments and facts you would use to explain:

  1. What the Weimar Constitution of 1919 said.
  2. How good the Weimar Constitution was.

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