How does BPD devalue

German conditions. A social studies

Manfred G. Schmidt

Manfred G. Schmidt, Professor of Political Science at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. Focus in research and teaching: democratic theories, social policy in historical and international comparison, political institutions and state activity in Germany.
Numerous book publications - most recently: The Political System of Germany (2nd edition 2011), Democracy Theories (5th edition 2010), Dictionary of Politics (3rd edition 2010), Social Policy in Germany - Historical Development and International Comparison (3rd edition . 2005).

Marked by memories of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic, the population was skeptical of democracy in the 1950s. This has changed fundamentally since then. For a long time, the vast majority have valued democracy as the best form of government. There are differences in the appreciation of democracy as a form of government between West and East Germany.

Reasons for the initial skepticism towards democracy

Anyone who was traumatized by the instability of the Weimar Republic and its collapse after only 14 years viewed the second attempt at democracy in Germany full of skepticism. And for those who saw the better state in the German Empire, democracy seemed to be a bad choice. A significant part of the population thought this was still the case in the 1950s. However, support for democracy increased to the extent that memories of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic gradually faded and the Federal Republic proved to be a politically stable community that also brought about a considerable increase in prosperity. But influential observers still rated this type of democracy acceptance as fragile.

Scientific doubts about democracy in Germany

According to the influential Civic Culture study by Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba (1963), the acceptance of democracy in Germany after 1949 was based on a "subject culture", a political culture that believes in authority and is primarily interested in output. This political culture does not yet correspond to the standard of "civil culture" that Almond and Verba saw most likely realized in Great Britain and the USA.

The book "Society and Democracy in Germany", published in 1965 by Ralf Dahrendorf (1929 - 2009), a well-known sociologist, also testified to deep doubts about the second German democracy. Deeply influenced by Anglo-Saxon liberalism, Dahrendorf saw the Federal Republic as a conflict-averse society that lacked the flexibility, openness and mobility of Anglo-American democracy. Dahrendorf also stayed at the distance to Germany later. Until recently, Germany was for him a country that lacked "the breath of freedom" - due to excessive "bureaucratic impositions," according to Dahrendorf in an interview published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on March 26, 2005.

The left’s criticism of democracy

Even the left did not hold back from criticizing the democracy of the Federal Republic: The democratic state primarily serves economic and military interests and is more and more entangled in "crises of crisis management" (Claus Offe) and in structural "legitimation problems" (Jürgen Habermas). Domestically, democracy had long since degenerated into an event in which parties fought for power that, as "commonplace parties" (Otto Kirchheimer), only differed from one another by their packaging. And in terms of foreign policy, the governments of the Federal Republic of Germany even made pacts with powers that were waging war against weaker states, such as the USA in Vietnam. Where should there be scope for the much-invoked freedom, equality, participation and participation of the citizens?

Huntington's benchmarks for successful democratic consolidation

Partisans of Western democracies, such as Samuel Huntington (1991), had occasionally raised critical questions about German democracy with their yardsticks. When is a democracy consolidated? According to Huntington, that was the case only after a democracy had survived two major changes in government without crises. Anyone who only interpreted the changes in the federal government in 1969 and 1982 as a major change in power in Germany could, using Huntington's rule of thumb, believe that democracy was only consolidated in this country after the 33rd year of its existence.

But that was a strange idea. The findings of the historical comparison spoke against them. He soon showed that Bonn is not Weimar. The more recent political cultural research had also shown that democracy was increasingly accepted as a form of government as a whole and as a constitution of the Federal Republic, long before 1982 (Fuchs 1989: 93 ff.). In addition, since the second half of the 1960s there have been increasing signs of an advance of participatory political culture in Germany. The considerable stability of governments and the entire system of government since the 1950s also indicated a consolidation of democracy rather than instability. The consolidation of democracy well before 1982 was also heralded by the greater acceptance of party competition (Fuchs 1989: 190) and the lack of noteworthy anti-system parties. And the fact that democracy had gained a foothold in this country long before 1982 was shown not only by the impressive number of changes of government in the federal states since the 1950s, but also by the change of government in the federal government in December 1966, when the SPD formed a grand coalition for the first time involved in the leadership of the federal government.

Germany's democracy in the judgment of its citizens

Last but not least, the population's approval of democracy had long since risen to higher levels than in the early 1950s. It stayed that way - with fluctuations - to this day.

The idea of ​​democracy is particularly popular. For a long time, the vast majority of citizens in Germany have valued democracy as the best form of government. For example, around 80% of those questioned in 2008 were either "very" or "fairly in favor of the idea of ​​democracy" (Niedermayer 2009: 386). The question of whether the democracy laid down in the Basic Law is the best of all forms of government is also answered in the affirmative by a considerable majority.

The appreciation of democracy as a form of government in West and East Germany (in%)
West GermanyEast Germany
"Democracy is the best form of government"8564
"There is another form of government that is better"622
"Democracy in Germany is the best form of government"8963
"There is another form of government that is better"312
"Satisfaction with the functioning of democracy in Germany"6133
Fuchs / Roller 2008: 397, 399. The details in the second and third lines are for 2005, those in the fourth and fifth for 2006/2007. The information in the last line is from 2006.

However, the functioning of democracy in Germany, its constitutional reality, is censored much more critically. In 2006 about 55% of all respondents in Germany were satisfied with the functioning of democracy - in West Germany it was 61%, in East Germany however only 33% (table). But in an international comparison, both values ​​are below average, in the case of East Germany even well below average.

East-West differences

Overall, the East German population is considerably more skeptical of democracy than the West German population. As already mentioned, this applies in particular to satisfaction with the way democracy works. Major east-west differences also characterize the assessment of democracy as the best form of government and the answers to the question of whether the democracy enshrined in the Basic Law is the best form of government in Germany. The greater skepticism towards democracy in East Germany has three main causes: First, many East German citizens believe that their interests in a unified Germany are not being properly used. Second, the appreciation of other models of order plays a role, especially the greater sympathy for the idea of ​​socialism. Thirdly, there is also the conviction that the best state system is one in which state services, in particular social policy, are expanded more strongly than in Germany.

More critics in the new federal states

In the survey research, a distinction is made between "anti-democrats", "system-critical democrats", "political-critical democrats" and "satisfied democrats" according to the type of democratic attitudes (Niedermayer 2009: 394). "Anti-democrats" (in the sense of principled opponents of democracy) are a small minority in East and West with three and six percent respectively. There are almost twice as many "system-critical democrats" in the East as in the West: 27% versus 15%. These are those citizens who value the idea of ​​democracy, but are neither satisfied with the way it actually works in Germany nor agree with the form of democracy stipulated in the Basic Law. Among the "politically critical democrats" who criticize constitutional reality but otherwise advocate democracy and the democracy enshrined in the Basic Law, the proportions in West and East are almost the same at 31 and 30%. Finally, the proportion of "satisfied democrats" in the West (42%) is noticeably higher than that in the East (26%) (Niedermayer 2009: 394): these are the citizens who are familiar with the idea of ​​democracy, its constitution-based form and its constitutional reality agree.

Are the east-west differences in attitudes towards democracy potentially endangering the system? The answer is "no" as long as the criticism of democracy does not translate into "anti-systemic collective behavior of broad sections of the population" (Niedermayer 2009: 397). And so far Germany is far from that.