Non-German historians since World war II have given little attention to German beyond a continuing focus on the dramatic events of the NAZI era. Much less examined is the less dramatic but utlimately more important and equally rapid transition of Germany into a modern parlimentarian democracy, the kind of democracy that linerals had dreamed of in 1848. In some ways the process was
simplified by the NAZIs who although opposed to democracy had gone a great way toward the breaking down of class barriers and weakening the power of the Prussian junkers. The Germans were not without a tradition of democracy and parlimentary politics. Hermany was until Weimar, however, an essentially authoritarian state and even during Weimar, German chancellors were forced to govern by emergency decree. Given the NAZIs success in dominating the German people and the thorouness of that domination, it seems perhaps surprising how readily the Germans adopted democracy. Perhaps the totality of the NAZI defeat and the spector of Soviet totalitarianism looming accross the border were major factors. What ever the reasons, the German took to political democracy and free-market economics. The results by all practical measures have been an overwealming success. Germany today is one of the most prosperous and democratic societies in the world. This transition is one of the most starling and important developments of the 20th century. It is interesting that today we scarcely given German democracy a thought it is such an accepted institution. It should be rembered, however, that in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century that the central issue in Europe was Germany and its role in Europe. Today it is assumed by many that German democracy was a national income. We do not accept this assumption at all and believe that the outcome could have been very different. The development of a democratic social culture in Germany is a process that we do not fully understand. Hopefully our German readers will provide some insights on just how Germany made the transitioin to liberal democracy.
Non-German historians since World war II have given little attention to German beyond a continuing focus on the dramatic events of the NAZI era. HBC has also given considerable attention to the NAZI era. This is in part because we consider it to have been the
world's most brutal totalitarian system. Some of our readers have taken issue with this. Many but not by any means all of those objectioins have come from German readers. A reader writes, "Assessing both historical and contemporary times, I see other totalitarian systems of similar brutality, hence I object to describing the NAZIs as the “the most brutal totalitarian system”. I think Stalin's rule for an example was more brutal. Allow me a counter-question: Are historians giving continuing focus – my emphasis is on “continuing” -, say, about the religious wars (in fact still continuing, e.g., in Ireland), the inquisition, the Napoleonic wars, the suppression of the Armenian people, of colonial wars in Africa, slavery and segregation in America, the suppression of native tribes (Indians) in South-America (Spanish and Portuguese) and North-America (USA), the circumcision of girls and the [? outlawry of mohammedan women]. Well, all is a matter of dimension. Some of these brutal situations are history, some are still ongoing." This is a fair question. We do believe that there was aspects of NAZI rule that was particularly heinous.
Much less examined is the less dramatic but utlimately more important and equally rapid transition of Germany into a modern parlimentarian democracy, the kind of democracy that linerals had dreamed of in 1848. A German reader writes, "Yes, this is an important point and one that I find American and British historians often ignore." In the early 20th century, the primary threat to democracy was the authritarian regime in Imperial Germany with its desire for imperail agrandizement. Democracy was even more threatened in the 1930s. Few observers looking at the world in 1940 could be optimistic about democracy. The world ballance of power had sung to the totalitarian powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union). Few looking at the world at that gtime could have invisioned that Germany would become a builwark of democracy in Europe and become a linchpin in the undermining of totalitarian rule in Europe.
The NAZIs in some ways simplified the process of democratizing Germany. The NAZIs while rejecting democracy had gone a great way toward the breaking down of class barriers and weakening the power of the Prussian junkers--two key elements in the success of German democracy. The central NAZI credo was "Ein volk, ein Reich, und ein Führer". The NAZIs gave considerable attention to creation a unified Volk. This was done in part by brutally repressing any political resistance to the regime. It was also done by reducing class barriers. Germann youth from working-class families during the Imperial era and even during the Weimar era had little opportunity for advanced education and to persue professional careers. The NAZIs changed this. This was in part accomplished by driving the Jews out of the schools and by reducing places for girls in secondary schools and university. It was also accomplished by lowering academic standards and increasing the importance of political loyalty. The NAZIs also undermined the Junker class which had dominated the Army, the most powerful institution in Germany. Gradually throughout the NAZI era, military leaders loyal to the NAZIs rose in importance in the Wehrmacht and by the end of the War the Junkers were no longer an important force in Germany. In a perverse way, World War II also brought Germans together. The Allied strategic bombing campaign and by 1994 the specter of Soviet victory served to being the German people together. This was no unlike the experience in other countries. The British people were brought together by the emense national effort to resist the NAZIs. This resulted after the War in the electoral victory of the Labour Party and programs to reduce social barriers and to create a more eqalitarian society. Change also occurred in America. Here both the results of President Roosevelt's New Deal and the War helped to reduce many social barriers and in this new ebvironment, the Civil Rights movement developed.
The Germans were not without a tradition of democracy and parlimentary politics. Germany under the Kaiser was an esentially authoritarian state. The Kaiser and Bismark managed to dominate the Reicvhstag. The Reichstag had the power of appropriations. The Kaiser had, however, the power to appoint the Chancellor (prime minister) and other ministers. Wihelm I's choice of OItto von Bismarck put a political genius in control of Germany who was able to consisrently outmaneuver the democratic forces. Wilhelm and Bismark's success in unifying Germany gave them enormous prestige (1871). The Kaiser also controlled the police and the army. There were political arrests ordered by Bismark, although nothing remotely resembling what occurred under the NAZIs. Even during Weimar, German chancellors were forced to govern by emergency decree, the same emergency decrees Hitler would use to seize control asfter he was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenberg. A German reader tells us, "Well, certainly the chancellors were forced to rely on emrrgency decrees. There were various reasons, some caused by the Versailles treaty, the global economy crisis, the separation of the social community in a right-wing (the Nazis) and a left-wing (the socialists/communists). Perhaps the Weimar chancellors were not the strongest people. They attempted to governn by compromise as is a part of democratic government." The fact that neither the Army or the two poweful political movements (the Communidts and the NAZIs were committed to democeacy, in the end resulted in the failure of the Weimar Republic.
Given the NAZIs success in dominating the German people and the thorouness of that domination, it seems perhaps surprising how readily the Germans adopted democracy. Perhaps the totality of the NAZI defeat and the spector of Soviet totalitarianism looming accross the border were major factors. A German reader writes, "American support for democracy after the War played a major role in the development of German democracy. Another important factor was American commitment to Berlin which many Germans saw as a symbol to resistance to Soviet totalitarianism". Another German reader writes, "In the late 40s - in my opinion – the support by the United States provided a very good platform for a democratic constitution (the “Grundgesetz”) and allowed the growth of the economy which was very important. The Western Allies did not force West Germany to pay reparations as the case after World War I The soviets in East Germany, in contrast extracted massive reprirations from East Germany."
What ever the reasons, the German took to political democracy and free-market economics. The results by all practical measures have been an overwealming success. Germany today is one of the most prosperous and democratic societies in the world. This transition is one of the most starling and important developments of the 20th century. It is interesting that today we scarcely given German democracy a thought it is such an accepted institution. It should be rembered, however, that in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century that the central issue in Europe was Germany and its role in Europe. Today it is assumed by many that German democracy was a natural outcome. We do not accept this assumption at all and believe that the outcome could have been very different.
A German reader believes major changes occurred in Germany in the late 20th century. He writes, "The 1968 student riots persued by the ultra-left-wing and secretly supported by the DDR - was a changing point. Just these persons are now members of our government in Berlin. Our present Foreifhn Minister is Joschka Fischer. He was active in organising riots in Frankfurt and throwing rocks at policemen. Economic success helped until the 1990s to hide the process to direct the country into an economically poor, left-oriented state (the situation in Western Germany now). Unification with East Germany was a challenge which was very expensive to improve Eastern Germany, but was not loved by the left-wing people. (I will not mention here in details the recently attempted move of the memorial day for liberation of East Germany by the present government)." This is an interesing concept. In watching the demonsrrations in Germany and other European countries opposing the Iraq War in 2002 HBC sensed that more was involved than opposition to the War. Undoubtedly the War was a major factor, we do not mean to deny that it was. The suspect, howsever, that another element was the lingering resentment of the European left who can not forgive America foe winning the Cold War. We say that because if war was the issue, where were the demonstations against Saddam Hussein when he invaded Iran and Kuwait and killed over a million people. Rather the demonstrations were aimed at President Bush. However one feels about President Bush it could not be said that he was responsible for the death of over a million people. In the neews repoets I monitored there were many effigeies targeting Bush, but none targetting Saddam."
A german reader writes us about Germany today. "Are we still prosperous? NO! Presently Germany is again beginning to separate in a middle-class wing and a left-wing with the left-wing parties (SPD, Green party and PDS – the latter during DDR-times the SED). The government in Berlin does not understand how to revive the flagging natioinal economy and, together with the unions, to remove some of the so-called social “achievements” (e.g., the number of holidays and early retirement plans financially supported by tax money etc.), and to lower the taxes (e.g., my bill for electrical energy at home gets an addition of more than 43 percent taxes!). This is a dangerous development (really right-wing people are waiting to get it as a chance for revival! This is a fascinating comment. It is interesting that not only in Germany, but throughout Europe there is nothing similar to the conservative movemnent which is emerging so dominant in American politics. This is a subject HBC has addressed in its essay on America and Europe.
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