What are the earliest examples of democracy

German conditions. A social studies

Manfred G. Schmidt

Manfred G. Schmidt, Professor of Political Science at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. Focus in research and teaching: democratic theories, social policy in historical and international comparison, political institutions and state activity in Germany.
Numerous book publications - most recently: The Political System of Germany (2nd Edition 2011), Democracy Theories (5th Edition 2010), Dictionary of Politics (3rd Edition 2010), Social Policy in Germany - Historical Development and International Comparison (3rd Edition . 2005).

Germany has come a long way to democracy. More fundamental regime changes occurred on it than in other Western countries. A stable democracy has emerged in spite of the heavy inheritance burden. What are the reasons for the roots?

Germany has had a difficult road to democracy. More fundamental regime changes occurred on it than in other Western countries. The replacement of the constitutional monarchy by the Weimar Republic after the end of the First World War was the first attempt at democracy in Germany. But this was replaced by the National Socialist dictatorship after just 14 years - in 1933. Twelve years later the Nazi dictatorship collapsed. Now the occupation followed. The road forked in it for around four and a half decades: in the Soviet zone of occupation, the Soviet military administration, in association with the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), established a dictatorial socialism. In the western occupation zones, on the other hand, the ground was prepared for a federal constitutional democracy. This initially happened within the framework of a "liberalization dictatorship" (Lutz Niethammer) directed by the occupying powers, which was based politically on cooperation mainly with the Christian Democratic, Social Democratic and liberal parties in the West German states. With the state elections before 1949 and the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, the second transition to democracy began in Germany. It was initially restricted to the western part of the divided country. In its eastern part, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was founded in the same year. But this was under the sign of the construction of socialism, which on the one hand followed Soviet traditions, on the other hand it was based on communist and left-socialist concepts of the Weimar Republic. The division of Germany was ended 41 years later, in 1990, with the establishment of constitutional unity of Germany. This also meant the dissolution of the GDR. West and East Germany could now grow together in the constitutional guise of democracy according to the Federal Republican variant.

The democratic constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany

The democracy of the Federal Republic of Germany is based on a representative constitution with general, free and equal voting rights for men and women - since 1970 from the age of 18, previously from the age of 21. Their formation of political will is open to competition. In it, political parties play a constitutionally recognized role. This has become so important that many observers speak of a 'party democracy' or a 'party state' (see chapter "System of government" and chapter "Parties"). However, according to the Basic Law, the parties must ensure democracy within the party and give a public account of the origin of their finances and assets.

The democracy of the Federal Republic is embedded in a constitutional state with extensive protection of fundamental rights. In addition, their constitutional charter, the Basic Law, prescribes a republic and sets the course for a parliamentary system of government. In addition, the Basic Law requires a federal state and, in Article 24, declares the transfer of sovereign rights to international or supranational organizations to be permissible.

Representative instead of direct democracy

The constitutional political decisions for democracy in Germany also embody decisions against alternative models. The vote for the representative constitution, for example, reflects the position against direct democracy. At the time when the Basic Law was being discussed, this was widely regarded as a "bonus for every demagogue", as the first Federal President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Theodor Heuss put it. Direct democracy appeared to be particularly susceptible to disruption and threatening stability and was out of the question for these reasons alone - with a few exceptions, such as the case of the regional reorganization. The architects of the Basic Law hoped for stabilization from the representative constitution and the parliamentary system of government. This was supposed to prevent the semi-presidentialism, which arose in the Weimar Constitution by the politically influential and independently legitimized Reich President due to the direct election by the people.

The "militant democracy"

The self-defense instruments of democracy should also stabilize, above all the prohibition of anti-constitutional organizations and the curtailment of fundamental rights of constitutional opponents. The readiness for defense documented in it, the so-called "militant democracy", also distinguishes the Federal Republic from the Weimar Republic. This had maintained the utmost tolerance for opponents of democracy.

Requirements of the Basic Law for the state constitution

The Basic Law lays down principles which, on the one hand, give democracy a constitutional basis and, on the other hand, limit the scope of popular rule over the long term and pre-determine its direction of movement. The Basic Law does not provide for unrestricted rule by the people, but a constitutional democracy reminiscent of the teachings of the mixed constitution. The democratic process is curbed in particular by the rule of law, by the fundamental rights, then by the federal state, which supplements the constitutional separation of powers with a vertical one (between the federal government and the federal states), and by the transfer of sovereignty to international and supranational organizations. In addition, the Basic Law obliges democracy to follow a pro-welfare state course and prescribes the form of a republic for it. A monarchy would be inadmissible.

Measured against the most important political conflict resolution models, the Federal Republic of Germany is a hybrid of majority and concordance democracy. Majority democracy, in which conflicts are settled according to the majority principle, is primarily anchored in party competition and in elections. The concordance democracy, on the other hand, which regulates conflicts by negotiating compromises and, if necessary, with unanimity, comes into play in particular through the formation of wills in the federal-state relationship network. The democratic structures of concordance are strengthened by the approval hurdles for amendments to the Basic Law, which require a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag and Bundesrat.

Germany's democracy in international comparison

In the meantime, democracy has taken deep roots in Germany. In the west of the country it has remained the state constitution without interruption since 1949. At over 60, she has reached an age that is also remarkable in an international comparison. Democracy is younger in East Germany. As a result of the 40-year history of the GDR, democracy has only existed there since 1990. Today's Germany therefore includes a young democracy and a middle-aged democracy at the same time. All democracy measurements show that the democratic state constitution is firmly rooted overall in this country (Schmidt 2010: 392 - 398). An example is the Political Rights Scale of Freedom House, a US non-profit organization, which has been used since 1972 in its reports "Freedom in the World. The Annual Survey of Political Rights & Civil Liberties" on the state of political rights and informed about civil liberties in all sovereign states of the world. According to Freedom House, the Federal Republic of Germany is a state with the highest values ​​on the scale of political rights. The same applies to the civil liberties scale. Both scales show that the Federal Republic of Germany, judging by its constitution and constitutional reality, is an effective constitutional democracy.

The Federal Republic of Germany is one of the constitutional democracies that have remained politically and socially stable for several decades. This group only includes around three dozen countries: in addition to the North American and Western European countries, for example, Japan and Australia (Lijphart 1999). In the year it was founded, hardly anyone expected that the Federal Republic of Germany would belong to this exclusive club. The experiences with the first democracy, the Weimar Republic, seemed too unfavorable, the inherited burdens of the Nazi state too heavy, the legacy of the war too heavy, the economic base too narrow, the sovereignty too low and the domestic and foreign policy challenges of the new state still under the occupation statute.