How democratic was Imperial Germany? How much power did the Reichstag actually have? How did the Imperial German government compare to other contemporary democracies?


The Reichstag was the Parliament of the German Empire from 1871- 1918. It had less force than government, but still was very powerful. The legislature was bicameral; the two houses were the Reichstag and Bundesrat. After the Parliament of United Kingdom, the Reichstag was one of the most progressive parliaments in Europe.

Members of the Reichstag were elected by general,universal and secret ballot. All men over 25 years were allowed to vote. The Reichstag didn't have official rights to assign or disband government, and Parliament was opened once each year by the emperor. The Reichstag had rights to co-decide about the empire's budget. In order to dissolve Parliament, the decision had to be confirmed by the Bundesrat and the emperor. Then the new Parliament had to be chosen within a 60-day period, which indicates the high level of democracy in Imperial Germany.

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    But ministers were answerable to the Emperor, served at his will and appointed by the Emperor, not responsible to parliament. The Government administration by ministers was pretty removed the Reichstag and not answerable to it. – pugsville Jun 10 '14 at 8:41
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    Do you mean the Parliament of the United Kingdom? The Parliament of England ceased to exist in 1707. – Steve Melnikoff Jun 10 '14 at 9:52
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    It's a good start but a deeper analysis is needed. +1 – Felix Goldberg Jun 10 '14 at 10:25
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    @fdb nice in theory, but in practice the Queen will appoint a cabinet consisting of the majority party in parliament as elected in the general election (she doesn't have to, but refusing to do so would likely mean new elections very quickly). – jwenting Jun 10 '14 at 12:37
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    The Ministers were not responsible to the Reichstag, (and military budgets were approved years in advance) The Reichstag votes had very very very little effect on policy, – pugsville Jun 13 '14 at 5:08

Just to stick to the comparison of Germany and Britain: The German empire and the British empire were both constitutional monarchies, with elected parliaments, legal opposition parties, relatively free press, etc. The German emperor probably intervened more in the running of the state than the British monarch. On the other hand, Britain had much more extensive colonies than Germany with the result that a very much larger portion of the subjects of the British empire were disenfranchised than was the case wth Germany.

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    "The German emperor probably intervened more" - that's a really serious understatement. – Felix Goldberg Jun 10 '14 at 18:12
  • Perhaps, but maybe you would like to reply to my second point. – fdb Jun 10 '14 at 19:30
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    The second point is not very relevant, I think. Nobody in the 19th century thought that native people in the colonies were somehow entitled to be part of the metropoly's body politic. Therefore, it makes little difference for the compariosn how many colonies a nation had - we are comparing the democraticness of the home governments, not their colonial policies. – Felix Goldberg Jun 11 '14 at 5:41
  • So maybe we should reformulate the question and ask just how "democratic" the British Empire, or France, or Netherlands actually were in the age of colonialism. – fdb Jun 11 '14 at 17:32
  • By the way, Germany introduced universal women’s suffrage in 1918. Britain did not give women the same voting rights as men until 1928. – fdb Jun 11 '14 at 17:44

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