The surprise victory of the militant Islamic group Hamas in recent Palestinian parliamentary elections is an ominous warning about the prospect of democratization that is either directly or, as in the Palestinian case, somewhat indirectly imposed from without.

Perhaps Ghazi al-Jawar, the former provisional president of Iraq, was correct when he warned about the possible emergence of an Iraqi Hitler; unlike in many other instances where Hitler’s name is invoked, the reference could be relevant in this case.  The democratization of Germany was not a policy that began in the wake of World War II; it had already begun during the last phase of World War I, when President Woodrow Wilson refused to negotiate a peace treaty with the German delegation as long as Germany was not a democratic state.  This position was somewhat strange, because the imperial constitution had been explicitly amended to require the government to be based on the rule of a majority of parliament, which had been elected by free and secret ballot (one man, one vote) since its inception in 1867.  Therefore, this amendment, which had been passed before the resumption of peace talks in 1918, made the German imperial constitution akin to the British parliamentary monarchy, which Wilson obviously considered to be democratic.  In the case of Germany, however, Wilson insisted on the dismantlement of the monarchy as precondition for peace talks.

This would be a revolution on par with the preceding development in Russia that had given Wilson his justification for entering the war, to “make the world safe for democracy.”  Before the first “liberal” phase of the Russian Revolution, this slogan would have been too preposterous a reason for an alliance with Czarist Russia against Germany or even the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Since Russia appeared to be a democracy, Wilson insisted that the Russian provisional government continue the war against Germany as a war for democracy, in strong opposition to the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of the Russian population.  This made it easy for the Russian communists to gain popular support, and the German government, imitating the revolutionizing policy of the West against the German imperial constitutional system, supported the Russian communists by bringing in Lenin from Switzerland.

Wilson’s insistence on the dismantlement of the monarchy gave the political left in Germany the audacity to defy the existing constitution and start the revolution, which resulted in the abdication of all German monarchs and the establishment of what became known as the Weimar Republic.  In view of the expectations created by President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the politicians who sought to establish the republican constitution received a majority of votes from the German populace.  And though this amounted to a democratic ratification of the republican constitution, it was in contravention to the rules required to amend the existing imperial constitution, which had its own democratic legitimacy.

In the beginning, this constitutional break was not taken too seriously, because the majority supported it.  One major reason for this was the shift of the primarily Catholic centrist party from monarchy to republic.  The centrist party held the balance between the right-wing parties—the Conservatives and National Liberals, who favored the imperial constitution—and the Social Democrats and the left-wing Liberals who favored a republican constitution.  For many of the Social Democrats, “republic” meant something akin to what became known as the Soviet system.  Accordingly, in both Germany and Russia, the Social Democrats split on the verge of the revolution, and the Communist Party emerged.

When it became obvious to the German public that the peace conditions would not live up to the expectations that Wilson’s points had created, rightly or wrongly, the formal majority that had allowed the passing of the republican constitution immediately dwindled and was never really reached again.  It became obvious that the amendment to the imperial constitution that Wilson had refused to accept was the most that Germany was able to offer at that time apart from foreign pressure and the threat of direct military intervention or invasion.  Thus, the republican constitution was overwhelmingly viewed as a product of foreign democratizing intervention, enabling a revolution that would not have taken place otherwise.  On the other hand, the fait accompli had been made, and it was no longer possible to return to the status quo ante.

Since the legitimacy of the republican constitution could not be found in the legality of its establishment, dubious arguments were advanced to justify the republic’s very existence.  Many were based on the “value philosophy” (materielle Werteethik), which held that a constitution, regardless of how it came into existence, was the expression of the values of a given people at a specific time.  This argument would have resonated with the people, perhaps, if Wilson’s assumption that the Germans had been suppressed by imperial rule had been true.  This, however, had not been the case.

There was indeed a constitutional difference between the parliamentary monarchy of Britain and the constitutional monarchy in Germany.  The head of the government in Britain was selected from the majority of the British parliament, whereas, in Germany, the chief of the government was the highest civil servant to be appointed at the monarch’s discretion.  Still, the German government needed a majority of parliament—which was democratically elected—to get its laws and budgets passed.  This mechanism could very well, at a later stage, have led to something more resembling the British situation.  The British parliamentary monarchy itself had been the product of practical evolution and not of design.  This evolution did not occur in Germany, because the political parties in parliament were too resentful of one another to agree on the principle that the majority party should hold the chancellorship; instead, they preferred the government of a high-ranking civil servant who was considered politically neutral.  It is also true that the military had a certain extraconstitutional status, since it swore allegiance only to the monarch, who, himself, had to take the oath to preserve the constitution.

Those shortcomings of the German situation (when compared with England), did not justify, in the eyes of the majority of Germans from the 1920’s onward, the illegality of the revolution, despite whatever minor political freedoms it may have gained them.  Rather, this illegality remained a major shock for a people who had been considered the most legally minded and law-abiding of the pre-war period.  Thus, the “value” argument in favor of the republican constitution was not really convincing, and, more importantly, it created legitimacy and even legality on condition: If such “values” justified one revolution, then they could also justify the next revolution, whose gains would ultimately justify this illegal act.  Many, therefore, believed that the events of 1918-19 were not a real revolution, or that the revolution must be brought to its logical conclusion.  This deeply held emotion—fostered by the democratizing slogans of the victorious powers, which swept away any consideration of a restoration of the old constitution or a reversal of the events of 1918—anticipated a democratic dictatorship: All powers had to be conferred upon a people’s government that would fulfill the promise of democratic ideology.  Correspondingly, Germany only narrowly escaped the Russian development, where the liberal phase of the revolution that was so much appreciated by President Wilson was transformed into a communist system.  What was averted in Germany in the 1920’s by a near civil war came, finally, in the 1930’s—not as a communist regime, but as National Socialism.

Hitler knew very well that his rise to power would only be possible in the framework of democracy.  He acknowledged the democratic revolution of 1918.  His harsh criticism against the people who conducted it (“Novemberverbrecher”) only meant that the revolution failed in his eyes to take advantage of its full potential by inciting a levée en masse and continuing the war.  Although he initially deceived certain right-wing circles into thinking that the kaiser might return to office, once in power, Hitler made it unambiguously clear that the removal of the monarchy was positive, and several leading figures who supported the kaiser were murdered in 1934, under the guise of the quelling of the so-called Röhm uprising.  When Hitler visited Mussolini in 1938, he became aware of the restraint that the Italian monarchy, together with the military and the Church, had on fascist rule, and, with high appreciation for the removal of the German monarchy, he increased the pension entitlements of former Social Democratic secretaries of state who conducted the revolution in 1918.  Hitler considered this revolution to have reached its ultimate completion in his own revolution of 1933-34, which established the power of the people by giving all powers to a leader who was determined to enforce and execute the people’s undivided will.

This development demonstrates the unfolding of the democratic ideal, which cannot escape, given certain conditions, its inherent Jacobin possibility.  Such a development is likely to occur whenever democracy is, or is thought to be, the result of foreign intervention in a place where democracy itself is cherished as an abstract idea.  The democratic system, thus established, will be suspected of having been introduced as an instrument of the democratizing power.  This logic leads more or less cogently to totalitarianism, which is not the opposite of democracy but its ultimate Jacobin manifestation.  Thus, Wilson’s policy of making the world safe for democracy paved the way not only for Lenin in Russia (in this case, with some help from Germany) but for Hitler in Germany.  This was certainly an unintended consequence, but not an entirely unlikely one.  Such a development would have been less likely had the republic not been conceived as the result of foreign intervention.  In all likelihood, a democratic system, even a republic, would have developed on its own in Germany as a result of a lost war that would have, in turn, raised the question of constitutional legitimacy.  A republic so established would have had a more stable foundation, since it would have been conceived as a solution for the failed legitimacy of the monarchy.  A democracy developed in such context would not have been so easily challenged by measuring it against the utopian insinuations of the democratic ideal, which abhors the fetters of a constitutional order.

Those who seek to spread democracy to other countries by military force are not friends of democracy, since they do not really believe that democracy is a good concept.  Otherwise, they would have confidence that this order will develop on its own.  Instead of “Western-style democracy,” the seeds of totalitarianism are being planted—which, of course, will justify future wars for democracy.