Plebiscites and a Federal German myth


Germany has several myths about its history that are, well, historically incorrect.

One such example was the overestimation of the Marshall Plan.

Today is a good day to rip into one more.
I wrote yesterday about petitions "It's the closest thing to a federal plebiscite we got."

We don't have federal/nation-wide plebiscites in part because of a German Federal Republican myth:

The myth that plebiscites are evil because they (allegedly) helped to crash the Weimar Republic and helped Hitler.

I could be lazy and just point at an old newspaper article that already ripped this myth apart.
I'm not THAT lazy, so I'll provide a summary for those readers who cannot read German.

There were only seven nation-wide plebiscite attempts between 1919 and 1933.
(The so-called plebiscites during Hitler's reign were irrelevant propaganda tools, not plebiscites).

Of these seven attempted plebiscites were three ineligible because they were about finance policy, and only the president was authorized to launch a plebiscite on that topic. There was no vote on these three.

Another attempt was accepted, but not executed any more.

Three other plebiscites were executed, but all failed because they didn't reach 50% participation as required for becoming effective. The political strategy of the time exploited this rule by boycotting the plebiscites of political opponents.

There was not a single national plebiscite in the Weimar Republic that had any consequence.
The myth is simply nonsense.

- - - - -

There are in my opinion two reasons for why we don't get federal plebiscites:

1) The politicians don't want to lose their legislative monopoly.

2) Too many people are not really democratic-minded because they don't really trust the voter to vote responsibly in plebiscites. They prefer to have professional politicians and bureaucrats as a filter.

Sven Ortmann


  1. Warum ziert die Dienstflagge dieses posting? ;-)

  2. Das ist sachlich unbegründet.

    Ich mag sie einfach ästhetisch viel mehr, und all die Symbolbildchen dienen eh nur dazu, das Ganze angenehmer für's Auge und somit lesbarer zu machen.

  3. "The success of totalitarian movements among the masses meant the end of two illusions of democratically ruled countries in general and of European nation states and their party systems in particular. The first was that the people in its majority had taken an active part in government and that each individual was in sympathy with one’s own or somebody else’s party. On the contrary, the movements showed that the politically neutral and indifferent masses could easily be the majority in a democratically ruled county, that therefore a democracy could function according to rules which are actively recognized by only a minority. The second democratic illusion exploded by the totalitarian movements was that these politically indifferent masses did not matter ,that they were truly neutral . . . Now they made apparant what no other organ of public opinion had ever been able to show, namely that democratic government had rested as much on the silent approbation and tolerance of the indifferent and inarticulate sections of the people as on the articulate and visible institutions and organizations of the country. Thus when the totalitarian movements invaded Parliament with the contempt for parliamentary government, they merely appeared inconsistent: actually they succeeded in convincing people at large that majorities were spurious and did not necessarily correspond to the realities of the country, thereby undermining the self-respect and the confidence of governments which also believed in majority rule rather than in their constitutions."

    Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, P 312.