Historical Enquiry Essay

1066 words - 5 pages

The reasons for the rise of the Nazi Dictatorship of the 1930’s and 40’s have been a topic much debated upon by historians for decades. Arguably the most prominent theory is the idea of a “Sonderweg” or special path taken by Germany that “deviates from the normal path to modernity… the British way, the first and therefore classical model.” There is ample evidence of a “Sonderweg” throughout Wilhelmine/Bismarckian Germany, from the lack of a real democracy in 1871 to attempts to repress threats through policies such as Kulturkampf and the anti-Socialist laws. There is also evidence in Weimar Germany, such as the structural weaknesses of the constitution, for example proportional representation and Article 48. There is, however, evidence to suggest that Germany did not follow a special path to modernity – the evidence that Weimar did have support and that attempts to overthrow the government failed as well as the interpretation that the failure of Weimar was more due to the impact of WWI, Treaty of Versailles and the Depression than any innate longing for authoritarian government. This essay will consider both interpretations and will evaluate how valid each one is in the light of new evidence and research.

There is evidence during Bismarckian and Wilhelmine Germany for the existence of “Sonderweg”. Conveniently for Bismarck who was of a Prussian Junker background, according to the 1871 constitution the head of state was the King of Prussia which effectively made Prussia the leading state. There was a false sense of democracy instilled in the constitution that said that the Reichstag be elected by all German males over the age of 25. This, at first, gave the impression that Germany was more democratic than Britain at the time, however, “A majority in the Reichstag could do nothing against the Chancellor: if they voted against him, he did not resign, but dissolved the Reichstag.” These elements of the constitution proved the system to be more authoritarian than democratic as the Reichstag had no prerogative right to dismiss a tyrannical Chancellor and that the “universal” suffrage was a sham.

Another sign of a “Sonderweg” in Germany during Bismarck’s reign was his attempts to repress threats through force. “Bismarck always held that the best foundation for an alliance was to have a common enemy.” This was illustrated in his Kulturkampf policies in which he attempted to appeal to the Protestant population in the German Empire which made up 61% of the populous by restricting and persecuting the Catholic population. For example, in 1872, religious schools were forced to undergo official inspections carried out by the government and religious teachers were banned from government schools. Then in May 1873 when the May Laws were enacted, nearly half of all seminaries in Prussia closed as a result. Bismarck’s failed attempts to suppress the threat of the socialists through use of the anti-Socialist laws was another sign of a special German path....

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