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THE PRUSSIAN THEORY OF GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL scientists make a sharp distinction between the terms “State” and “Government.” A State is a group of individuals viewed as a politically organized unit. In the eyes of the law it appears as a corporate being possessing supreme authority and issuing commands in the form of laws addressed to those over whom it claims authority. A Government is the machinery or complexus of organs through which this state-being formulates, expresses, and enforces its will.
In my preceding paper " I dealt wholly with the Prussian conception of the State and had nothing to say regarding Prussian conceptions of Government. In this paper I shall have little to say regarding the Prussian theory of the State and shall devote myself almost wholly to a consideration of the Prussian governmental system. Of this system, however, I shall speak of but one of its features, namely, its strong monarchical character. In result there should appear what justification there is for the demand of the United States and of the Entente Powers for a modification of the Prussian system.
I have referred to the Prussian Government as a strong monarchy. This it is not merely because of the constitutional status of the King as technically determined by Prussian public law, but by reason of the active personal part he is allowed and, indeed, expected, to play in the operation of the government.
As regards his constitutional status, there is a unanimity of opinion on the part of German publicists that he is to be regarded as the fountain and source of all law and of all political authority. The existence of a written constitution is not inconsistent with this theory, for the constitution itself is viewed as the product of the King's will and therefore as containing only self-set limitations which he has the
legal power to annul by an exercise of the same sovereign authority which supported their original establishment. As typical of this view we may cite the following statement of the acknowledged leading commentator on German constitutional law, Dr. Paul Laband. In his Staatsrecht des deutschen Reichs he says: “There is no will in the State superior to that of the sovereign, and it is from that will that both the Constitution and laws draw their binding force.”
From this principle as a premise, it is held that the part played by the parliament in the law-making process is simply that of expressing an opinion as to what the contents of a law shall be. To the opinion, thus expressed, the King gives legal effect by promulgating it as a law. The real legislative organ is thus declared to be the King. It is by an exercise of his will that the breath of legal life is breathed into the parliamentary propositions that are submitted to him.
The constitutional status thus ascribed to the Prussian King stands in sharp contrast to that given the British or Belgian King, and, it does not need to be said, it is antithetical to that of chief executive in the French and American republics. In a republic the constitutional principle is fundamental that all powers of the government are derived by grant from the people. This premise is not necessarily inconsistent with the idea of monarchy, and, in fact, the doctrine is accepted in the constitutional system of Belgium. Thus the Belgian constitution adopted in 1831 declares that “all powers emanate from the people”; that “they shall be exercised in the manner established by the constitution,” and that the executive powers vested in the King shall be “subject to the regulations of the constitution.” Contrasted with these provisions of the Belgian constitution is the phraseology of the preamble of the Prussian constitution, which reads: “We, Frederick William, by the Grace of God, King of Prussia, etc., etc., make known, etc."
In Great Britain, if we have regard only to legal theory as distinct from actual practice, the Crown is viewed as the organ of government in which sovereignty inheres. It will be observed that I here use the term “Crown” as the name of an office or organ of the government and not the term “King” or “Monarch"; for, since 1688, the constitutional principle has been established that the people through
their representatives in Parliament may determine who shall be entitled to occupy the throne. Thus King George of England lays no claim to other than a parliamentary title. And, furthermore, it is recognized as a matter of constitutional practice that the representatives of the people may withdraw from the Crown any of the independent or so-called prerogative rights which it still has, and that, even as to the rights still retained, they must in every case, in practice, be exercised at the direction of the King's Ministers, who are held politically responsible to Parliament for the directions which they may give.
In effect, then, so far as the substance is concerned, the Government of Great Britain is as subject to the popular will as are the Governments of the Republics of France and the United States. There are, indeed, not a few who assert that through the operation of her system of cabinet control the British Government is more responsive to the will of the people than is the Government of the United States.
In Italy also the parliamentary system has developed which brings the control of the acts of the King under the control of his Ministers, who are responsible to the elected representatives of the people.
In sharp contrast with what exists in Great Britain or in Belgium and Italy, we find it accepted in Prussia as right and proper that the King should exercise a personal influence that in many matters is decisive. I am here, of course, speaking of the King of Prussia. As ex officio German Emperor, he is not vested with independent powers nor supposed to exert a personal control in imperial affairs. This monarchical authority in the Empire is constitutionally possessed by the Bundesrath, which represents the governments of the individual States. But, inasmuch as the voice of the Prussian delegation is, in practice, controlling in the Bundesrath, and this delegation is subject to the control of the King of Prussia, it necessarily follows that the Emperor, exercising his powers as Prussian King, is able to exert a powerful influence in the Imperial Government. In other words, the dissatisfaction in Germany, which at times has been intense, with certain utterances and activities of the present Kaiser has not been because he has exerted a personal influence, but because he has exercised it outside of the channels constitutionally provided.
This relationship in which the King stands to his popularly elected legislative chambers interprets many features of German public life which seem strange to English and American observers. It explains, in the first place, the fact that it is considered a moral and wholly justifiable practice for the King and his personal advisers — "the Government” as they are called — to control, so far as they are able, not only the elections of members to the representative body, but by rewards and other forms of political pressure to influence the votes of the representatives after their election. It explains, furthermore, the policy of the “Government” in playing off one party or faction against another, and thus, through the bloc system, obtaining a majority vote in favor of action which the Government desires. It explains also the fact that not even the first steps have been taken in Germany in the development of responsible parliamentary government whether of the English or of the French type. It is indeed recognized by all German publicists that such a system is absolutely incompatible with the German conception of monarchical power.
The monarchical conception in Germany explains, still further, the right which is freely exercised by the “Government" of dissolving the elected chamber whenever other methods of obtaining its support for a government measure have failed; and, it may be said, so powerful is the official influence that may be exerted in the ensuing election that in all cases the result has been that the newly chosen chamber has been of the desired political complexion. Von Bülow, in his Imperial Germany, complains that the Germans lack political ability, by which, as he explains, they show a disposition to form a multitude of minor parties based not on broad public principles but upon narrow, particularistic, and personal interests. It would seem, however, that this failure of two or more strong political parties to develop has been due in no small measure to the attitude which the “Government” assumes towards all political parties. The one strong political party — the Social Democrats - which has been formed in German imperial politics, is strong in numbers rather than in influence, and, moreover, occupies a very particular position, for, as Von Bülow frankly says, it has, from the viewpoint of the “Government,” no right to exist. He flatly stigmatizes its members as enemies of the German State - enemies
for the overthrow of whom any means, including force when possible, may rightfully be employed. As to the reasons why the Social Democrats are held in such peculiar detestation by the “Government," shortly stated, it may be said that it is not so much their legislative program which is disapproved of as it is that their fundamental political doctrines are in conflict with the monarchical conception of the Empire and of Prussia. This is made abundantly clear by reading between the lines of Von Bülow's book.
Finally, it may be said that the monarchical conception in Germany explains the open and avowed measures which are taken by the ruling authorities to control the formation and expression of a popular opinion with regard to matters of public policy. Not only is there kept a strict control over unofficial expressions in the press, as the numerous prosecutions for lèse majesté testify, but, and more especially, governmentally inspired articles are constantly published in the leading newspapers in order that the people shall be led to take a favorable view regarding public policies which are approved by the “Government.
In summary, then, we may ask: Just what is the part played, according to Prussian ideas, by the elected representatives of the people in the Diet? Their function is a fourfold one: (1) They constitute an avenue of information through which the “Government" - the King and his advisers — may learn regarding the economic and social conditions of the people and of their desires; (2) they constitute an organ of advice, – that is, the representatives, individually, or through their collective wisdom, give what amounts to advice to those in authority; (3) they criticize the acts of the Government, - bring its acts, or many of them at least, to the bar of public opinion; (4) they have a veto power over the matters enumerated in the constitution. This veto they can exercise by refusing, by a majority vote, to approve legislative propositions laid before them by the King. But, even in this negative sense, it is to be observed that they can not prevent the execution of any laws already enacted by refusing to approve the necessary appropriations. If these appropriations are not made by the chambers, the King is generally conceded to have the constitutional
· These statements are discreetly omitted by the former Chancellor from the second edition of his work issued since the beginning of the war.