University Studies of the University of Nebraska


Date of this Version



University of Nebraska Studies : New Series no. 20


Published by The University at Lincoln


Surprisingly little has been written in critical analysis of German election systems. Herman Finer, Sigmund Neumann, and Carl Friedrich, among others, have dealt for the most part with political parties. James Pollock has written descriptions of election machinery and procedures. Ferdinand Hermens has produced the standard work on proportional representation, one confined in the section on Germany to its alleged role in the disintegration and collapse of the Weimar Republic. With the recent exception of Eugene Anderson's excellent analysis of Prussian politics, however, treatments of election systems have been for the most part unrelated to the context of German society and politics.

The following study deals with an election system undoubtedly the most controversial in German political history. It presents an analysis of proportional representation, or as commonly abbreviated, P. R., from the founding of the Second Reich through the first elections under the Weimar electoral law. Its purpose is to relate the development of P. R. to prevailing social and political conditions and attitudes, and in this manner to shed light on the nature of the Weimar heritage.

Simply stated, P. R. is a technique designed to mirror in the parliament the opinions and wishes of the voters (Chapter 1). Its theoreticians call for representation of voter preferences exactly in accordance with respective numerical strengths; and insofar as all voters theoretically have equal opportunities to achieve representation of their particular points of view, the system or technique is alleged to be the most democratic in existence. The idea of P. R. was first expounded in developed form by French Utopians and later incorporated in the programs of Marxian Revisionists throughout Europe. It became attractive to political liberals like John Stuart Mill concerned with the problem of the individual and his survival from the pressures of modern civilization toward "collective mediocrity." It assumed increasing significance to politicians of all persuasions in the conflicts arising out of industrialization between power elites and mass movements, between those who wished to preserve and those who wished to alter or abolish the existing order.