When decrying democracy, a line often heard is that Hitler was elected democratically. While that is true, many who say it may not understand how Hitler democratically came to power. Hitler was not elected chancellor by the German people, and in 1932 when his name was on the ballot for president, he lost to WW I general, Paul Hindenburg.
Hitler came to power through the mechanisms of parliamentary democracy. Prior to the Nazi Party’s passage of the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933 — obviating the need for parliament — the Nazis only ever received a plurality of German votes, never a majority.
For people used to a two-party system, where one party clearly receives a majority of votes to propel them into power, this can be confusing.
Here’s how it works: Votes are cast for a party list or your district’s representative. If a party gains a majority, that party’s leader becomes head of state. If no party receives a majority, the horse-trading commences. Israel is a great example of messy coalition politics in action.
In the case of Hitler, he became chancellor largely due to the failure of center-left parties to establish a coalition strong enough to counterbalance the growing right-wing political cadre in Weimar Germany. Hitler and the Nazis also did their fair share of politicking, most notably with Chancellor Franz von Papen of the Centre Party, who negotiated with Hitler, thinking he could control him.
The positive side to parliamentary politics is that when it functions well, it can force healthy compromise. The question is whether the cost of the game can be too high. Again, one need not look further than the recent uproar over Otzma Yehudit in Israel to see how difficult answering that question can be.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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