Essay Paper on “Did Weimar Germany Fail? How and why?”
Of all liberal attempts at reconstruction, none began more hopefully nor ended more pathetically than the German republic. On paper—that is, in its constitution—it appeared to be one of the most advanced democratic nations of the times, but almost from the beginning it encountered die-hard opposition from both ends of the political spectrum. Its founders carried the onus of having accepted the Versailles treaty with the war guilt clause. It was overwhelmed by the worldwide depression, which struck Germany with greater severity than almost any other nation. The republic got off to a bad start. The provisional government declared an immediate end to martial law and the reestablishment of traditional civil liberties and set about preparing for an election for a constituent assembly. Before the election could take place the Sparticist uprising in Berlin showed that the forces of democracy would be opposed on the Left as well as the Right.
The government called on elements of the old imperial army to suppress the revolt and executed its leaders without trial, both of which were bad precedents for a new democracy. At the same time it went ahead with plans for the election, the freest and most democratic in Germany’s history.
The election gave the Social Democrats 163 of a total of 423 delegates to the assembly. They were the largest party but fell far short of an absolute majority. The Catholic Center party and the Democrats, the two other moderate groups, had as many delegates combined, while the Nationalists and other right-wing groups and the left-wing Independent Socialists had many fewer. The three moderate parties formed a coalition both to govern the country and to frame a new constitution. The assembly elected Friedrich Ebert first president of the German republic, with Philipp Scheidemann, also a Social Democrat, serving as chancellor.
At the beginning of February, 1919, the constituent assembly convened in Weimar, the city of Goethe and Schiller, in order to avoid intimidation by the army and the mobs of Berlin, still in a state of anarchy. Although the seat of government remained in Berlin, and the assembly itself moved there after a few months, the short-lived democracy to which it gave birth will forever be known as the Weimar Republic.
THE STRUCTURE OF GOVERNMENT
The constitution borrowed freely from American, British, French, and Swiss precedent and practice, but all of these democratic shoots were grafted onto a solidly Germanic trunk. Although the republic was federal in form, the states were clearly subservient to the central government, which had greater power in principle if not in fact than it had under the Second Reich. There were also fewer component states than in the Second Reich as a result of amalgamation. The president, elected for a seven-year term, was similar to an elective constitutional monarch, as in contemporary France, rather than being an active head of government, as in the United States…
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