Updated: Mar 11, 2021
On 6th February 1919, pretty much exactly 100 years ago, the German National Assembly met for the first time in Weimar to give the young republic a constitution.
Knowing as we do that this constitution was not to last, some argue that this is not an anniversary to be celebrated. Weimar provided the immediate context to National Socialism and, in the opinion of many, its constitutional flaws – namely Article 48 - facilitated Hitler’s rise to power.
In an interview in the Tagesschau, historian Jörn Leonhard considers the achievements of this constitution and explains why even in 2019 our democracy is not unassailable. According to Leonhard, in spite of its flaws, the Weimar constitution should be celebrated for having created the framework for the new democracy and parliamentary system in Germany. Among its lasting achievements are the separation of powers, a commitment to fundamental rights and the welfare state.
Leonhard warns not to place too much trust in a constitution alone; in his words: ‘even the best constitution is useless if people turn away from democracy as a principle and lose confidence in it.’ (Original: Die beste Verfassung nutzt nichts, wenn sich Menschen von der Demokratie als Prinzip abwenden und das Vertrauen in sie verlieren.)
He insists that despite how successful the Basic Law has been in Germany since 1949, it remains essential for democracy to be constantly protected and never taken for granted.