Reassessing Presidents and Prime Ministers in North America, Europe and Japan
Edited by Ludger Helms
Chapter 6: Revisiting the German Chancellorship: Leadership Weakness and Democratic Autocracy in the Federal Republic
Ludger Helms Exploring manifestations of poor leadership and bad governance in post-war Germany may appear to be a far-fetched idea. Like few other countries in the Western world, the Federal Republic has been considered a major, if unlikely, success story – not only in terms of political stability but also in terms of policy performance, including, in particular, economic growth and public welfare. Paradoxically, the ‘German miracle’ was to a large extent the result of German political history before 1945, or what the actors in charge after World War II made of it. Indeed, as Manfred G. Schmidt has suggested, Germany’s way of dealing with its own past has been very much an exercise in ‘learning from catastrophes’ (Schmidt 1989). The German constitution-makers of the early post-war period, and the Allied powers supporting them, took the lessons that the conflict-ridden Weimar Republic (1919–33) and the ensuing Nazi regime (1933–45) had taught them, seriously. They designed a constitution that would contain numerous institutional safeguards against any form of political tyranny and unfettered majority rule, including a federal order, an independent central bank, a constitutional court as well as a powerful second chamber. These constitutional choices were accompanied by fortunate developments at the level of interest groups and the party system. Especially the emergence of two major people’s parties, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, was to become the political bedrock of German postwar democracy. These favourable political and institutional patterns combined with a particular set of ideas and traditions (such...
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