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How Far Do You Agree That Germany Was a Parliamentary Democracy by 1914?

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Submitted By rorybutler
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How far do you agree that Germany was a parliamentary democracy by 1914?

During the first fourteen years of the 20th century, Germany's political system went through radical modernisation, adopting many features that are commonly associated with parliamentary democracies.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica definition of a parliamentary democracy is a form of government in which the party (or a coalition of parties) with the greatest representation in the parliament (legislature) forms the government, its leader becoming the prime minister or chancellor. Executive functions are exercised by members of the parliament appointed by the prime minister to the cabinet. The parties in minority serve in opposition to the majority and have the duty to challenge it regularly. The prime minister may be removed from power whenever he loses the confidence of a majority of the ruling party or of the parliament. This form of governance originated in Britain and spread across the globe.
Parliamentary democracy is different to direct democracy in that the former is a system in which citizens vote for representatives (politicians) to make decisions on their behalf, whereas in a direct democracy policy initiatives and laws would be decided on via votes/referendums involving eligible and willing to vote.
Arguably the most notable condition present in the German political system in 1914 that supports the notion of Germany being a democracy was universal male suffrage, which had been upheld since Otto Von Bismark introduced it in 1871. Through this system of voting, all males over the age of 25 could vote in elections for the Imperial Parliament (Reichstag), in secret ballots which ensured protection from persecution and intimidation. The ability of people from all classes to vote in elections is a hallmark of parliamentary democracy, allowing for all social classes to be represented in parliament and is therefore a very strong indicator that Germany was a parliamentary democracy in 1914.
However, the Zabern Affair in 1913 can be used as evidence that Germany was far from democratic at this time as autocratic nature of the political system came to light when the Reichstag’s vote of no confidence was simply ignored by the chancellor, as by law he answered only to the Kaiser. The affair demonstrated that government officials could get away with violations of law so long as they had the approval of the Kaiser, and the voice of the Reichstag was shown to be effectively irrelevant.
As well as being politically weak, the Reichstag can be argued to have simply been a useful façade used by the German elite to present the illusion of democracy and thereby diffuse revolutionary tendencies within the population. This is clearly shown by the fact that the Kaiser still retained the ability by law to dissolve the Reichstag whenever he deemed it necessary.
Despite this, though, there is evidence that the Kaiser did not have total control over Germany in 1914 as high status figured were able to influence policy. For example, Admiral Von Tirpitz had a key role in pushing for the first and second Navy Laws, the Navy Law in 1900 proposing the construction of 38 new battleships. Though not making Germany particularly democratic, evidence of people in the German elite influencing policy demonstrates that Germany was not a total autocracy in 1914.

Overall, I would say that although appearing to have some elements resembling parliamentary democracy, these were merely for show and manipulated by the German political elite including the Kaiser, who by law still had the authority to rule as an autocrat.

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