Thursday, December 11, 2003

I've been thinking about metioning this for some time. Now I will.

You may have noticed that the Bushies have, from time to time, offered post WW2 Germany and Japan as examples of how the US can build a democracy in Iraq. Critics have argued that Germany, at least, had experience with democracy before the war, but they usually only mention the Weimar era. I can't speak to Japan (although I'm fairly sure they had a parliament of sorts as well), but . . .

In Bismarck's Germany, beginning in 1870-71, "universal, equal, direct, and secret [male] suffrage was introduced at the outset." (Wolfgang Mommsen, *Imperial Germany* 1995, p 61). This was hardly a model of democracy, mind you, but there were political parties (the Socialists were outlawed for a time) and there was debate and the German Empire was not a dictatorship. In other words, several generations of German citizens (including loads of "non Germans" like Poles and Danes and German Jews) experienced democratic institutions before the rise of Hitler. And even before the founding of the Empire, there were similar institutions in Prussia (before and after it took the Rheinland) and places like Hamburg. Large swathes of what became Germany took the lessons of the French Revolution to heart in the early 19th century, and some parts of it were even toying with forms of democracy back in the 18th century. And, of course, there were Enlightenment thinkers of German origin, as well.

My point is that if you are going to criticize Bush on this point (and I'm all for it), go deeper than just Weimar.


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