Political Change: The Weimar constitution

The Weimar Republic was established as a representative democracy which aimed to give genuine power to all German adults. However, it had major flaws that contributed to its downfall in 1933-34.

Strengths and weaknesses of the new Weimar constitution

After decades of a weak Reichstag that was overruled by powerful unelected figures such as the Kaiser and the Chancellor, the new Weimar constitution promised to give Germany a government that truly represented the views of the whole country. The hope of a successful and representative democracy was undermined by two features of the constitution.

Strengths

A genuine democracy - Elections for parliament and the president took place every four years and all Germans over 20 could vote.

The power of the Reichstag - The Reichstag appointed the government and made all laws. Almost all political power was exercised by politicians in the Reichstag. Before 1918 the Kaiser and the military took most of the important decisions.

A Bill of Rights - This guaranteed every German citizen freedom of speech and religion, and equality under the law.

Weaknesses

Proportional representation - Each party got the same percentage of seats in parliament as the percentage of votes it received in an election. This meant there were lots of small parties in parliament making it difficult to pass laws and led to weak and often short-lived governments.

Article 48 - This gave the president the power to act without parliament’s approval in an emergency. However, it did not clearly define what an 'emergency' was, so the power was overused, which weakened Germans’ confidence in democracy.

A list of the strengths and weaknesses of the Weimar constiution