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THE GERMAN OUTLOOK FOR PARLIAMENTARY
BY A. D. McLAREN
THE longer the present conflict lasts, the stronger grows the inclination to project the mind into the new world that is to follow it. Especially in regard to future political conditions in the German Empire, has speculation been rife since August 4, 1914. Will an extension of the principles of parliamentary government in Germany be one inevitable result of the upheaval? Many English writers and politicians answer this question confidently in the affirmative; and every protest against autocratic rule which appears in a section of the German press, every political 'crisis,' immediately becomes an incident on which they base conclusions confirming this view.
If few aspects of German life to-day appeal to the average Englishman's sympathies, this is particularly true of Germany's political system. That system has always been a puzzle to the English mind. The English people, retaining to the present day a sense of loyalty to their monarchy and their House of Lords, are, and have long been, active participants in the exercise of political power. Their attitude to these institutions is determined by their historical evolution. Yet their proneness to ignore historic factors when dealing with political conditions elsewhere constantly leads them to misinterpret surface indications and to see temporary issues in a false perspective. Over a hundred Socialists are elected to the Reichstag; a vote of
censure is passed on the military authorities for outrages on the civilian population; public meetings are held, demanding the reform of the Prussian House of Representatives on the occasion of every one of these events or agitations during the two years before the war, it was asserted here, with unlimited assurance, that the German people were determined to apply the brake to the Prussian 'machine,' and that the advent of responsible selfgovernment was at hand.
In order to arrive at an understanding of developments in German politics to-day, and to approach the question of the outlook for the future, one must have clear ideas concerning the nature of Germany's social and political structure, and, above all, concerning the attitude of Germans themselves to their government and to the problems of practical politics as they see them. I believe that we can best reach this end by considering (1) the leading characteristics of Prussia's state organization; (2) the main features of German federalism and their influence on the parliamentary régime; (3) the more significant of the recent political tendencies; and (4) the present political situation and its meaning.
Reams of formal disquisition on the theory of the state held by German philosophers and historians, or on the
German constitution, will not convey to the mind of the everyday Englishman or American a just appreciation of the political psychology of the German people. I often challenged Germans to a comparison between their own political system and that of Great Britain or the United States, on the ground either of material well-being or of intelligent interest in national affairs. The challenge was nearly always readily accepted. In the domestic sphere, they pointed to their social legislation and to the all-round improvement in the conditions of the laboring classes. In the sphere of foreign policy, they asked me to name any parallel to Germany's development from a 'geographical expression' to one of the greatest of European powers. The driving-power behind this development was the Prussian state.
Solidarity at home, 'real' politics abroad-if we once grasp the full meaning of this characteristically Prussian doctrine, we possess the key to the political situation in Germany. The German people is, more than any other in Europe, a Staatsvolk: that is to say, the German sees in the state the cause and reason of his own existence.
The type of the German state has been determined by the history, the race-characteristics, and the geographical situation of the people of Prussia. The German people became a nation through Prussia's kings, and the Prussian monarchy has never been superseded by the nation. This fact has brought the monarchy and the popular will, not into perfect accord, but to a common ground of national interests. Why, in 1918, does the German state reveal in clear outline the features of the original Prussian type, despite half a century of unparalleled progress in science, commerce, and industry? Because Germans were forced to stunt their political instincts in exchange for
the strength, security, and material advantages afforded by this type of state. They trace the lines of a close intimacy between their state's internal organization and its external gains.
In such a state, where organization rests upon military power and bureaucratic efficiency, the genius of the people will not find expression in political activities. What was the general impression left upon me by visits to the Reichstag, by attending political meetings, and observing the course of elections? That there was no one in public life playing a rôle analogous to that of British politicians. Not only did ministers and leaders of groups and parties, one and all, lack the qualities of the orator and the loyal coöperation of a real political party, but there was not behind them the support, through public opinion, of a people used to political thinking. It always struck me as highly significant that Germans themselves used the English term, 'self-government,' to express the form of activity embodied in the name.
The German state organization creates its own type of statesman. It produces masters of statecraft, like Bismarck, but it can never give birth to a statesman in the English sense of the word. Bethmann-Hollweg and Hertling rose to the chancellorship, not through a long career of parliamentary debate, but entirely by favor of the Emperor. They had rendered valuable services as officials, and officials they remained in 'political' life. Nor has Germany ever produced any popular political leader like John Bright, who sprang from the commercial middle class and represented a large section of it in thought and aspiration. August Bebel and other Socialists have been prominent figures in the public life of Germany, but their concern for politics has been centred in their economic theories.
The belief, widespread in England, that in Germany a man of commanding ability cannot rise from obscurity to high national appreciation, rests upon no solid foundation of fact. Though the claims of birth and family are, and always have been, of the utmost importance in the social and political life, yet in the past some of Germany's greatest sons have been of quite humble origin, and the same is true of many of the leading commercial magnates to-day. But they are excluded from the highest political office. That they should be driven to express their discontent by voting for Socialist candidates, with whose economic theories they are often in complete disagreement, is a proof that the German people lacks true political status.
This state organization also creates its own administrative machinery, which is a fixed trait in the social life, and as much a product of the Prussian spirit as the army. The system is reared on a foundation of bureaucratic efficiency, which strikes its roots into the national soil and leaves its impress on every man and woman. Its effect on character, national or individual, is an interesting study. In England one may say, speaking somewhat generally, that the character of the individual determines that of the state. In Germany the reverse is the case. A docile people, accustomed to control and regulation, not even half-conscious of the nightmare which weighs upon it, is an essential ingredient in the German political system; and the Beamtenschaft, the world of officialdom, is the mainspring of this control. We speak of the Kaiser, of the Chancellor, the Junkers, the police, and the military officers, as anti-liberal elements in the national life, but in reality the pressure upon the German people is exerted impersonally. These high personages and the mass of the people are all to
gether cogs in the machine. The best intelligence of the nation which has not been absorbed by the professions is concentrated in a few high officials, but their power is exercised through a vast army of mechanical drudges, thoroughly well-trained for their work, efficient instruments of routine and formalism, and above the very suspicion of corruption. cion of corruption. Germans do not feel the cramping influence of the system because it has become second nature to them. Their individuality has been merged in uniformity.
For good and for evil, in Germany there is no social aspect at all to politics. A parliamentary career is never the stepping-stone to social or professional advancement. The pursuit of public office, with its party spirit and its place-hunting, its 'nursing' of constituencies, its selection of candidates of small capacity simply because they contribute generously to party funds, is not free from repellent features. But if the German state system, and the spirit of organization which animates it, give a certain unity of purpose to the national will, they deaden the spirit of free personality, and they have been powerless to prevent the existence of those severe class-distinctions which impress outsiders as one of the ugliest features in the national life.
The constitution of the German Empire presents some interesting problems to the student of federal government. This union lacks the cardinal features of federalism in the United States, or Australia, or Switzerland. Three of the twenty-five states in the German federation are the free cities, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck. In the other twenty-two the monarchical principle of government prevails in the political organization, and the bureau
cratic in methods of administration. Some authorities even declare that the idea of monarchy cuts against the spirit of federalism. A stronger ground of protest against the application of the term to the German constitution is that here the monarchy is hereditary and is fixed in a single state.
In most cases in history an intense yearning for unity among members of the same racial or national stock, once realized, brings some measure of political liberty in its train. But in the case of the German states unity made little difference in this respect. Not only in political organization, but in aspiration, Germany is less liberal to-day than she was before political unity was achieved. A number of petty tyrannies, some of them less oppressive than others, were absorbed in one huge tyranny of higher efficiency. In order to effect a change in the direction of the democratization of Germany, new machinery is needed if the federal character of the constitution is to be maintained. Under existing conditions the fountain-head of the Empire's political energies issues neither from the German people nor from the German states collectively, save in so far as these happen to be in accord with the will of one state organized on the lines indicated in the first section of this paper. Any union tends to lose its federal character if one of the constituent states completely overshadows, not only any other state, but all the rest combined, in military power and economic resources. But in the German constitution an overwhelming preponderance of political power is actually conferred upon one state.
Hence the spirit of the German federation is the traditional spirit of the Prussian state. The executive power is wielded through agencies in which the Crown of Prussia plays an all-dominating part. Theoretically, it is true, the real sovereignty in the Empire is not
vested in the Kaiser but in the totality of the sovereigns represented in the Federal Council. This body preserves the historic remnant of German federalism, of particularism, but the presidency of the federation is assigned to the King of Prussia and is hereditary in the royal house of Prussia. He appoints (1) the Chancellor, who is the president of the Federal Council, and is responsible solely to his imperial master; and (2) the civil and military officials of the Empire. He has, further, the right of absolute veto over legislation appertaining to naval and military matters, and his control of the eighteen Prussian votes in the Federal Council enables him to block any effort to amend the constitution. Moreover, the principle of equal representation in the Council for each individual member of the federation is not recognized, Prussia controlling eighteen votes, Bavaria six, and seventeen of the other federal units having only one vote each.
The only body in the federal constitution exhibiting the semblance of democracy is the Reichstag. This assembly is popular and democratic in that it is elected on a free franchise of manhood suffrage and represents the whole Empire. The electorates are so delimited that a minority of votes may sometimes have a majority of seats; but Germany is not entirely singular in this respect. The Reichstag lacks the sense of political power, because it has no control over ministers, in regard either to their appointment or to their tenure of office. That is why it is so often referred to as a mere debating society.
Party government is impossible under the present political conditions. A glance at the composition of the Reichstag, at any time within the past decade, would have proved the truth of this statement. On the Right one sees a handful of Imperial Conservatives,
representing the landed aristocracy, from whose class, or caste, ministers and high officials are for the most part chosen. In the Centre-appropriately enough sit the members of a political party based upon religious confession. On the Left are the National Liberals, representing the industrial magnates, and the Social Democrats, representing the toiling masses in the large cities.
All these parties represent groups of interests. Neither the Chancellor nor any other minister is the leader of one of these groups, and he can never, like the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, rely upon a settled majority in the assembly. A Reichstag majority may be made up of Conservatives and Centre to-day, and a month hence it may consist of National Liberals and Conservatives, with the Centre in bitter opposition. The Chancellor placates this group, or intimidates that, organizing a temporary majority by undertaking to promote a particular
What one traced throughout the debates was the sense of impotence in the members, a recognition of the fact that events would move in their appointed course, independently of speeches and opinions of the day. The frequent references in this chamber an imperial assembly to the threeclass franchise in one of the constituent states, reflected the sinister light which Prussianism has cast over the whole political system.
The history of the various parties, but especially of the three large groups, the Social Democrats, the Centre, and the National Liberals, affords striking proof that the whole parliamentary life of Germany since the foundation of the Empire, has been passing through the formative period. The Socialists the largest group numerically have remained outside all the 'cap
italistic parties,' placing the classstruggle, not political democracy, in the forefront of their programme. Denouncing imperialism and colonial expansion, whenever a great opportunity has come to prove that their loyalty to their principles on this subject can bear the test, they have declared that national considerations required them to support the government for the time being. To-day the organization is broken into majority and minority subdivisions, and many of the Socialist newspapers assert that the party was really a greater influence in the national life in the days of persecution and exceptional laws, than in 1918, with the largest parliamentary following in the Empire. Since the war, the result of by-elections for the Reichstag, and of municipal elections in Saxony and elsewhere, shows some inclination on the part of the working-class popula tion to side with the minority against the imperialistic majority.
The Centre is another popular party, that is to say, it represents a section of the masses and not a privileged class. This party, numerically the largest after the Social Democrats, has always proclaimed quite frankly that it votes on the principle of support in return for concessions. Actuated by this motive, and acting upon it more consistently than any other group, it has for nearly fifteen years been the predominant parliamentary influence in the Reichstag, and upon its good offices both Bülow and Bethmann-Hollweg were frequently dependent for the passing of the army and navy estimates. Once bitterly assailed as hostile, both to Prussia and to the federal constitution, in 1918 the party gives the Empire a chancellor.
Shortly after the foundation of the Empire, the National Liberals seemed likely to exercise a real influence in shaping German politics in the direc