Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In the constitution of 1949 Germany ensured that chancellors could not endow themselves with additional powers, eliminating the chance of a repeat of Hitler's 1933 episode.

What were these steps?

share|improve this question
This is covered in some detail here. –  coleopterist Nov 28 '12 at 16:40

4 Answers 4

I can offer some points of the constitution that I remebember beeing implemented esp. as a safeguard:

  • "Human dignity shall be inviolable" (1.1 here) - is the first article, and is meant as a safeguard against legal torture, inhuman punishment and the like

  • No use of the army in the interior

  • Separation of police and secret services
  • "The privacy of correspondence, posts and telecommunications shall be inviolable." (10.1 here) The last three have been softened up in the last ten years.

  • The right to armed resistance against anyone trying to abolish said constitution

Additionally, some of the individual states have articles in their respective constitutions that call for the state to appropriate key industries (coal, steel) - this, because everyone including conservatives thought back then that de-monopolization would be an important part of preventing a new rise of something like tha Nazi-party.

While not a safeguard against a new dictatorship, it is often stated that article 16 was written in response to Nazi-fascism - the right to political asylum, as a lot of people had cause to flee from germany. This practically abolished in the early 90ties.

Also, it is hard but possible to illegalize a political party, in such a case it must be proven that said party is aggresivly fighting against the constitution.

Note on the other hand, that in Germany it is unconstitutional to deliver a German citizen to the law enforcement of another country. This protects Nazi War-criminals from prosecution to this day.

share|improve this answer
I didn't quite get the bit about monopolies. How's nationalization better a safeguard against dictatorship than private ownership? –  Felix Goldberg Jan 28 '13 at 15:19
at the same time German law makes it nearly impossible for people to legally own the weapons that would make that armed resistance possible... –  jwenting Jan 29 '13 at 7:10
@FelixGoldberg it isn't, but in the misguided ideas about Nazism that have been central to all history books since WW2 it was portrayed as being a "military industrial complex" and the ultimate capitalist system, so ensuring state control over private ownership in that light makes sense, when in reality it only brings another form of dictatorship, communism, closer. –  jwenting Jan 29 '13 at 7:12
Well, the Nazi party profited greatly from large induustrial donors in it's early years, and german industry profited greatly from the war and from forced labour. There were also calls to split up the largest companies in steel and coal without nationalization. –  mart Jan 29 '13 at 8:58
@mart: I can understand the splitting part, but nationalization as a safeguard against tyranny is, to put it bluntly, ridiculous. I find it hard to credit that wherever nationalization took place, it was for this purpose, materially or ostensibly. Do you have a source for this? –  Felix Goldberg Jan 29 '13 at 10:03

There are several safeguards against the Chancellor - or any other part of the government - acquiring too great powers.

mart already mentioned Article 1, ang Gangnus mentioned the direct applicability, namely, Article 3. The core meaning of the first articles is:

  1. Human dignity is inviolable. The state should do everything in its power to honor and protect it.
  2. The German people sees the human rights as the basis for society, peace, and justice.
  3. All rights declared in the constitution are binding for all branches (legislative, executive, judicative) as directly applicable law.

In the following articles, many rights are spelled out which make it very difficult to install a dictatorship (personal freedom, no discrimination because of race, gender, beliefs etc., freedom of speech, right of assembly, privacy of personal communication, freedom of movement, no forced labor, protection of one's home and property, citizenship can't be revoked).

These basic rights are protected by the Ewigkeitsklausel ("Eternity clause"), which means they cannot be altered or suspended. A good overview on that can be found on Wikipedia: Eternity clause (Germany)

Other parts of the constitution spell out the power-sharing between the central government (Bund) and the federal states (Länder). The states can block many federal laws.

So, the Grundgesetz (the constitution) seems pretty solid and safe in this regard.

However, the Grundgesetz ("Basic law") was originally only meant as a temporary solution. Thus, it includes this:

Article 146: "This Basic Law, which since the achievement of the unity and freedom of Germany applies to the entire German people, shall cease to apply on the day on which a constitution freely adopted by the German people takes effect."

This article would allow to adpot a new constitution without any of the safeguards if the German people could be brain-washed enough to "freely" adopt it.

The German Grundgesetz can be read in English here.

share|improve this answer

I think the main piece of news was the direct applicability of the constitution. Especially human rights.

But really, we can't say how constitution or some laws could not endure, but even merely influence the possibility of dictatorship in Germany in 1945-1989. Because only in 1989 did Germany become a sovereign state. Before that it was under strict control.

share|improve this answer
1. What does "the direct applicability of the constitution" mean? 2. Germany was not under strict control after 1949 or so (apart from some technicalities in Berlin). –  Felix Goldberg Nov 29 '12 at 14:08
Which exactly restrictions were in place on Germany after 1949? (Apart from some minor quirks like Lufthansa not able to fly to West Berlin). –  Felix Goldberg Dec 29 '12 at 12:28
Arguably Germany is still under control. –  Anixx Dec 29 '12 at 15:00
@FelixGoldberg: You forget the Besatzungsstatut. And I must mention Bad Aibling Station. –  Martin Schröder Jan 14 '13 at 19:56
@FelixGoldberg: Bad Aibling was in effect US territory: AFAIK even members of the German parliament were barred from entry in the 1980s. And there was still the Alliiertes Vorbehaltsrecht: Germany was not sovereign on it's own unification. –  Martin Schröder Jan 14 '13 at 20:43

The only true defence or safeguard against any sort of authoritarianism is the vigilance of the citizenry: the refusal of the citizenry to either advocate, or submit to, arbitrary measures.

Great Britain has no constitution, and the U.S.S.R. had a wonderful constitution - the non-existence of one and the existence of the other had absolutely no effect on the actual wielding of power, and the use or abuse of power by the state..

A people always gets the government it deserves - sooner rather than later.

A written constitution is simply the citizenry's (written) consensus on the process of governance; it possesses no inherent value beyond an unwritten consensus on the process of governance, except so far as a written record helps to avoid misunderstanding and clarify intent.

As such, a constitution either written or unwritten has no inherent enforceability beyond the willingness of the citizenry to risk life, limb, and freedom to enforce it.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.