University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
To what extent was the effective government of Germany in the years 1919–33 handicapped by the nature of the Weimar Constitution? It is for certain that the Weimar Constitution had an impact in the effective government of Germany in the years of 1919-33. However, it can be argued from both sides whether this constitution had a negative or positive impact on the effective government. One could say that the constitution was a dominant factor in the ineffectiveness of the government, while on the other hand it could be argued that ineptness of the government is due to other external factors such as defeat and the depression A major flaw in the Weimar constitution was the proportional representation electoral system, which was an attempt to become more democratic. Democracy comes at the price of a strong government as it is usually difficult to form a stable government in a democracy. This can be manifested by the fact that in the mere period of 14 years, there were 21 different governments and 13 chancellors. This shows that the Weimar government lacked stability and strength which would make it almost impossible for the government to be effective and tackle the problems.
How could the government solve the difficult troubles that Germany was facing, when they could not even manage to cooperate and unite? Since, proportional representation is one of the fairest electoral systems, it was impossible to form a strong single party government who had a good hold in the Reichstag and only weak coalitions which could not agree upon a decision was formed. Weak coalitions meant ineffective and incompetent governments. On the other hand, it could be said that the Weimar governments were not as unstable as it is claimed to be. The Weimar constitution has produced effective and stable governments such as the grand coalition which was seen as a strong government and it stood for the longest amount of time. Also, despite the numerous changes in government, the base parties of the coalition has remained the same as the Z, DVP and DVP provide the foundation of the coalition most of the time. This exhibits stability among the governments as the coalitions do not go through drastic changes in the parties.
Therefore, it could be claimed that the Weimar constitution did not handicap the government from being effective. Fair representation of the votes meant that extremist parties thrived under the PR electoral system. Votes translated into fair representation of seats in the Reichstag which enabled the extremist parties such as the Nazi’s to have the majority of the seats from the July 1932 elections. This made it almost impossible for the government to be effective as they could not pass legislation through the Reichstag as they did not have the co-operation from the largest party. However, it could be argued that the rise of extremism was due to the Wall Street crash in 1929. There is a key correlation between the economic crisis and the successes of extremist parties. Indeed the Nazis only achieved 3% of the vote in 1928 yet in 1933 they received the majority of seats in the Reichstag from any lone party, over 200. If the depression had not occurred, then extremist parties would not have thrived electorally which in turn, would mean that the government would not have been handicapped in the Reichstag.
Hence it could be argued that the ineffectiveness of the government towards the late 1920s was due to an external factor as up until the depression, extremist parties were not a problem to the government. The Weimar constitution did not handicap the governments in the sense that it granted Article 48 which the president could use to pass through any decrees in an ‘emergency’. The governments used this to their favour and passed through many legislation and decrees. Since the chancellor had the support of the President as he was appointed by the President, the governments used Article 48 to be effective. This can be seen when Bruning used it to pass his finance bill in 1930, without him using the Article 48, he would not have been able to pass his finance bill or be effective. Henceforth it could be argued that the Weimar Constitution actually gave the governments a chance to be effective in a difficult situation.
On the other hand this constant use of the emergency presidential powers in 1930-33 led to the rise of Hitler as the chancellor which spelled doom for the Weimar government. This extensive use of the emergency presidential powers also displays the ineptness of the government as they could not do anything on their own and had to keep relying on Hindenburg. To avoid this constant use of the Article 48 and produce a truly strong government, Hitler was appointed as his party had a majority in the Reichstag and so the government would be able to pass legislation through their own strength. So, the Weimar constitution could even be credited with the fall of Weimar Republic along with the government as it was unable to produce a string of consistent strong and stable governments. In conclusion, I think that the Weimar constitution played a significant role in the handicapping of the governments as under the PR electoral system, it was impossible to produce a stable single party government.
The electoral system only produced coalitions with uncooperative parties which made dysfunctional governments. This meant they had to rely upon Article 48 too much which led to the rise of Hitler and end of the Weimar era. On the other hand, it could be claimed that the coalitions were not as unstable as they were claimed to be with the base parties almost always being the same. Also, I believe that the depression was the most imperative factor in the ineffectiveness of the government as their support was sapped by the extremist parties which led to the rise of Hitler and also it created an impossible situation to get out of for the governments. Without the depression, it is most likely that Hitler would not have risen to power.