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France and Germany: Their Catalyst to Lasting Democracy

France and Germany are established democracies of Europe today and are based on similar forms of democratic governments.  France and Germany were both thrust into forming a democracy through violent conflict. France democracy journey was a transition through revolution versus Germany who suddenly forced to create a democratic government after being defeated in World War II.  This paper will compare the how the two nation-states became democracies as a result of a violent conflict and why the conflicts needed to happen for a stable democratic government to be born out of it.

France’s journey to form a stable democratic government started with the French Revolution of 1789 and led to the abolishment of the French monarchy.  In 1792, the First Republic of France is created and the National Convention, France’s Parliament, comes into existence.  This republic is short lived when in 1793 the Committee of Public Safety, under the control of Maximilien Robespierre, institutes the “Reign of Terror”.

Robespierre was a follower of Rousseau.  Rousseau was determined to “force men to be free.” (Roskin 81) The “Reign of Terror” not only eliminated those who supported the old monarchy but eliminated those who had been part of the Revolution.  Robespierre executed people who he deemed a threat to his ideals and power.  The democracy of France was on paper only but the government that existed in France from 1793-1794 was controlled by one man, Robespierre.  The people of France had no real representation in the government, which is an element of a true democracy.

In 1794, Robespierre is overthrown and executed.  France revises its constitution to separate the governmental power and add the Directory (executive branch) which is chosen by the legislative branch (Council of Five Hundred/Council of Ancients). In this attempt to for a stable democracy, France is still in major turmoil and the only stable entity is the army.  This leads to Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s military leader, overthrowing the weak democratic government and, through plebiscites, was appointed Consul over France in 1799.  Napoleon would later crown himself emperor of the French Empire.  Napoleon was exiled in 1814 and 1815 and monarchy is re-introduced to the throne during the “Bourbon Restoration” as part of the government structure.

The Second Republic of France was brief.   In 1848, after the February Revolution, Louis Napoleon is elected as president in France. Louis Napoleon was able to use plebiscites in 1852, turn France into the Second Empire and himself Emperor.  This Second Empire continued until 1870, when France loses a war with Prussia.  This leads to the Third Republic of France.

The Third Republic of France is referred to as accidental. In 1871, a new National Assembly is elected under the leadership of Adolphe Thiers. (BUF) France is still split, Paris specifically, and the Commune of Paris is created as the government in Paris. Paris refuses to recognized Thiers’ regime. Government troops are sent to Paris, at the direction of Thiers, and “the Commune is defeated.” (BUF) The Third Republic continues in France until World War II, when France is invaded by Germany. This led to the Fourth Republic and the current stable democracy of France today.

Democracy peaked it head into Germany after WW1 when the Weimar Republic was formed, and a constitution was created. The problem with the Weimar Republic was that it was very unstable.  It created a government that was opposed by 25% of the Germans, supported by 25% of Germans.  The other 50% were along for the ride.  It also sought legitimacy that was never really given by the people.  With this form of democracy, lacking support by the people, it was very unstable.  In addition, the Great Depression starting in 1929 decreased the people’s trust in the government. Democracy died with the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler.

The true democratic government of German did not actually come to form until the end of the Cold War and the reunification of German in the 1990-1991.  Their democracy came from occupation after WW2 and reunification in 1991, when the whole of German was once again together.  During West Germany’s US/Britain occupation/oversite, 1945-1991, West Germany formed a democratic government.  This government did not represent all of Germany, specifically the people of East Germany.  This however gave West Germany a chance to form a stable democracy and economy before it absorbed East Germany when the Cold War ended.  By having a strong democracy in place in West Germany, the reunification of East Germany was made much easier and accepted by all German people.

The real catalyst in both France and Germany forming stable democratic governments that still exist today was World War II.  France did attempt to form a democratic government three times but were not successful prior to Forth Republic.  France first attempt was initiated by the French Revolution of 1789.  France had additional “revolutions” that seemed to re-introduce the concept of democracy in the Second Republic and Third Republic.  These attempts lead to weak governments and until the Third Republic, they were very short lived. It was the conclusion of World War II and influence by its allies, Great Britain and USA, that paved the road to success of a stable democracy in France.

Germany attempted democracy once after World War I but was not successful.  It was not supported by the people of Germany.  There was no revolution by the people in Germany to change the government, like in France.  Again, the main catalyst for this change in Germany was World War II.  Germany was broken, both its people and borders, after World War II.  The people of Germany were not ready to except a democratic government until the conclusion of World War II.

In conclusion, France and Germany have stable democracies.  World War II is the reason for that democratic government stability in both countries.  Without the historic outcome of World War II, France may still be struggling to establish a stable democracy and Germany may still be under a dictatorship.

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