In 1918, a revolution broke out in Germany, largely as a consequence of world war one. Initially revolution was instigated by the conservative ruling classes, although this revolution was soon to be followed by the revolution from below, which established German democracy. The end of revolution opened the gates to a new constitution, the Weimar Republic. However this was no ordinary time for Germany. War had been lost and German economy ruined.
Although the Weimar republic was the first democratic constitution to rise from the ashes of authoritarianism, instigating universal suffrage, giving Liberal freedoms to the people and concessions to the workers etc, it faced huge unpopularity from the German population. After facing attacks from the left and the right, many questioned whether the Weimar Republic was just a democratic experiment, weakened by being born at such a tumultuous time. The instability suffered by the Weimar Republic could have been partially the fault of the constitution itself.
However, when examining the degree to which this was the ultimate factor for instability, it is essential to asses other factors which I feel are more significantly responsible for its unstable nature. It is true to say that the Weimar constitution embodied many dangerous aspects which could go some way to explain its instability. For example, the system of proportional representation posed a problem to the constitution as what mattered was the total number of votes received by a party unlike the first past the post system in Britain today.
This meant there was never a majority government elected and a series of weak minority governments, which seriously weakened it’s survival, especially during this devastating time when Germany needed stronger governments. The failure to deal with the conservative elements in society, who remained in their influential positions, was down to the fact that the constitution was too democratic to deal with them. This flaw allowed the authoritarian tradition to undermine the democratic nature of the new republic from the beginning and could be seen as one of the back bone causes for instability in the Weimar Republic.
Although the problem with Article 48 of the constitution did not specifically affect Germany until 1928, it posed a great potential danger as it could have been abused easily by a president who favoured some form of authoritarian government over democracy, giving him the power to ignore the Reichstag. This would give the option to use doctorial powers, which creates instability, as it could have resulted in the untimely end to democracy and the Weimar Republic.
However there were also many positive aspects to this new constitution especially compared to the previous Authoritarian Reich. Power now came from the people, choosing the government and the chancellor as they were accountable to a Reichstag which was democratically elected. The constitution incorporated a system of checks and balances. The elected president could dismiss the chancellor and dissolve the Reichstag and the Supreme Court could reject laws deemed unconstitutional.
There was also a bill of rights guaranteeing civil liberties. Although I believe the constitution was a vast improvement on authoritarianism, I think the positive aspects only affect its stability to a certain degree and don’t out weigh the dangerous flaws which the constitution embodied. These flaws explain sufficiently, the back bone to the instability suffered by the Weimar Republic and can also be held accountable for many other attacks on the government in this time frame.
However to answer this question, I believe such flaws only played a minor role in these years of instability and would chose to look to other more significant factors to fully explain the unstable nature of the Weimar Republic by 1923. The first factor to look at when explaining this instability is the aftermath of WW1, as the consequence of German involvement meant the people suffered severe hardships, economic/military crisis and disintegrating civilian/military morale. After the abdication of the Kaiser caused by the violent revolution from below, Ebert declared a new republic state and two days after, an armistice was signed, ending WW1.
However the Stab in the Back Theory was created by General Ludendorff and served to shift the blame for military defeat to the Weimar Republic, accusing it of stabbing the army in the back. The motivation for such a theory being proposed undermined the validity of the theory itself. However the associations, it provoked, weakened the prospects of stability for the Weimar Republic as it was widely believed and reinforced, despite it’s falsity. Such problems which would lead to instability only seemed to be amplified by the signing of the Treaty Of Versailles.
It was a very harsh settlement; Germans lost territory, armed forces, industry and population, being forced to pay i?? 6. 6 million in reparations as well as accepting the guilt clause for starting the war. The people bitterly resented the Weimar Republic for signing which affected the stability of a new constitution which was unpopular with the people. The fact that the Weimar Republic was born out of such turmoil is very significant in relation to its stability and does not have close links with the nature of the constitution itself.
This goes to show that the problems in the constitution may well be a relatively insignificant in relation to other factors. Right and Left wing extremism is also to blame for the instability of the Weimar Republic. Left Wing extremism manifested itself through small scale strikes and demonstrations which although being crushed by the Weimar Republic, highlighted the fact that it had not been dealt with originally in the communist revolution and had been allowed to develop and question the stability of the Weimar Republic.
The right wing opposition was much more significant and manifested itself through the Kapp and Munich Putsch’s and political assassinations. The Kapp putsch of 1920 (attempt at a Right Wing revolution) failed due to a general strike in Berlin and failure to gain support of the Army but did not fail due to the strength of the Weimar Republic to over power it. On the contrary, the Weimar Republic had been very lucky and allowing such dangerous opposition to manifest itself highlighted the weakness of the Weimar Republic itself.
This could have been a lucky break for the Weimar Republic, or could have show loyalty to the democratic regime which might have made it a little more stable. Between 1919 and 1923, political assassinations were carried out by the left and right, who failed to be reprimanded fairly because of the right wing judges favouring the right and punishing the left. This emphasised the problems which stemmed from the failure of the constitution to remove the old elites.
Instability for democracy and popularity of extremism was shown in the 1920 elections, which was a huge threat to the stability of the Weimar Republic, partially reflecting the weakness of the constitution to be able to deal with such problems. Right wing extremism was also shown through the Munich Putsch of 1923, lead by Hitler, which went further to threaten the foot holds of democracy and the Weimar Republic but also failed to gain sufficient support. By 1923, Germany’s economy was in a terrible state, largely due to the after math of WW1 and reparations.
The government made the mistake in printing more and more money, decreasing the value of the mark, leading to hyperinflation. Life savings were wiped out and people lost faith in the mark, which became worthless. Instead of restabilising the German economy, the Weimar Republic made matters worse and became even more unpopular causing even greater instability by the end of 1923. Out of these other factors, I believe the most significant/destabilising factor was the repercussions of the constitution being born out of the turmoil of WW1.
This is because such significant problems like the Treaty of Versailles and Hyperinflation (both destabilising in themselves) can be linked to being a result of Germany’s defeat. Although one could argue that the constitution itself could partially be responsible for these factors as it failed to deal with them in a stabilising manner, the actual makeup of the constitution can not really account for the instability here as it was more the fault of this tumultuous time in German History.
I therefore believe that this factor is significantly more important than the constitution itself when explaining the instability. However left and right wing extremism is also a factor more significant than that of the constitution but can curiously be linked to it as the left believed it had not gone far enough and the right felt it had gone too far.
Maybe if the constitution had met a more happy medium it wouldn’t have been attacked so vigorously and may have been more stable. In conclusion I believe a full explanation for the Weimar Republic’s continuing instability can not be found in the constitution as it was only one of a number of factors but together with the more significant circumstantial factors, like the defeat in WW1, it helps to explain the back bone to some the instability it faced in the years 1919 to 1923.
The links the other factors do have to the constitution come back to how the Weimar Republic dealt with them, questioning whether a constitution, embodying measures to stabilize in the event of crisis would have survived to be more stable than the Weimar Republic. However despite its instability, the Weimar Republic had managed to survive by 1923, questioning how dangerously unstable it actually was.