Democratizing During Hard Times: Germany’s Transition to Democracy in the Wake of the First World War
34 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 27 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
The number of democracies in the international system nearly doubled in 1919 in the wake of the victory of the liberal great powers in the Great War. Nearly all of those new post-war democratic regimes had collapsed by the end of the 1930s. This paper seeks to understand the international politics of the post-World War I democratic transitions and the broader relationship between liberal power in the international system and waves of democratization. It develops a simple framework that distinguishes among cases based on the strength of local pro-democratic forces and of the international commitment to democracy promotion by the victorious powers. It focuses on the pivotal post-World War I case of Weimar Germany and argues that the victorious liberal powers made almost no explicit effort to promote democracy in Germany. Instead, Germany’s transition to democracy in 1918-1919 reflected the weakening of Germany’s authoritarian order through defeat in war and the contingent commitment to democracy by elements of the authoritarian regime in the somewhat mistaken hope that a republican Germany would earn a more lenient peace agreement than one governed by Kaiser Wilhelm. American and British commitment to sustaining democratic institutions in Germany offers part of the explanation for the international support in 1924-25 that helped usher in Weimar’s “golden age.” America and Britain’s inability to provide such support during the Great Depression helps explain the breakdown of the Weimar Republic.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation