The Influence of Previous German Leadership on Its Modern Political Culture


Many people view Germany as a country that is very violent and impulsive, and there are many reasons for this. When people think of Germany they often think of WWI and WWII and how they played critical roles as the Axis in both major wars. Others think of the harshness of the language and believe that the harshness in it reflects the personality of the people. What people do not think about is that Germany currently has one of the fairest democratic political systems in the world. Germany has not been the most peaceful, or the most honorable, country in Europe; however, it had to get to the political state that it is currently in some manner. The best way to figure out the way in which Deutschland turned out to be in the political state in which it is now is to look toward its past.

*a picture of modern day Germany

962-early 19th Century: Heiliges Römisches Reich


The Holy Roman Empire, known to the people from that time as The Holy Roman Empire of the German People, was founded in 962 and lasted to 1806; however, it needs to be said that it was neither Roman or an Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was the official, papal authorized, successor to the Roman Empire after its fall in 476. The Holy Roman Empire was “Holy” in the sense that it was sanctioned by the pope and took on the ways of the Catholic Church (back then it was known only as the Church because there were no branches). The Holy Roman Empire was ruled through a Feudal system of government. A Feudal kingdom is best described as a single king that rules over all of the land, but since the land is so vast he delegates power to certain chosen people to act as dukes and duchesses in their territories. Therefore, the king rules the kingdom, the dukes pay tribute to the king, and the peasants pay tribute to the dukes. The dukes and duchesses also have the power to set their own laws in their own territories and also often waged war for land rights among themselves.

The first “King of the Romans” was actually not a king of the Holy Roman Empire but one of the most recent leaders predating it: Charlemagne. Charlemagne conquered most of the land that became the Holy Roman Empire from the Saxons and other dynasties surrounding his kingdom. He was the king that brought the Germanic people that he conquered under papal authority. This ultimately gave rise to the Holy Roman Empire because it gave all of the people of his conquered lands (who all had different languages, cultures, and laws) one common factor, their religion. However, forcing the religion among so many different groups of people would lead to varieties of interpretations of the religion (which occurs after the Bible is translated and after Martin Luther begins the movement).

It is after the coronation of Otto the Great in 962, German rulers begin to show evidence of what their priorities were. During Charlemagne's time the Germanic lands were split into 3 governing kingdoms which were ruled by the King of the Romans: The Kingdom of Germany, Italy, and France. The problem was with the Kingdom of Italy, which was naturally divided by mountainous terrain. This was cause for constant invasion and the King of the Romans, as well as his vassals, always put the priority on protecting, and reconquering, his lands rather than focusing on the political aspect of governance.

It was during the reign of Henry IV that relationships between the king and the pope got problematic. The King of the Romans, at the time Henry IV, took it upon himself to be called the head of the Church, the Pope had problems with this for obvious reasons. They both threatened excommunication against each other; however, when the Pope excommunicated Henry IV he all but lost his power over the people and it wasn't until his son, Henry V, was crowned that relations between the kingdom and the papacy began to mend. It is obvious that one person cannot be judged for the entirety of the empire; however, Henry IV followed the example of all of his predecessors and Otto the Great: keeping control of his territories. The papacy claimed rights to parts of Italy, as it is where the Pope resided, which resulting in distrust and conflict between the ruling of the Pope and Henry V. Henry V cared little about his status in the Church as long as his land remained his own. He recanted his behavior towards the Pope in hopes to regain favor among his subjects; however, he nor the crown received this favor until his son was named king.

*a picture of a 962 Holy Roman Empire

30 Years War

A major event that influenced the leadership of the fiefdoms was the 30 years war. This had no major influence on the general politics of this era; however, the war caused a need to repair the structure of the German governance and its surrounding territories. Due to the lack of a “King of the Romans” to guide the Dukes, and Duchesses, during this time they gained superior power over their own land, weakening the authority of the king. This lead to future changes in governance that helped bring about the unification of the Germanic lands into a unified Germany.

The Frankfurt Assembly and German Unification

Frankfurt Assembly

In 1776 the United States had their Revolutionary War, which overthrew British rule in the Americas; however, this was not the only reaction that was brought about by that accomplishment. The US victory led to the French revolution which ended in successfully overthrowing King Louis Phillipe in 1848. Many oppressed Germanic peasants saw the two victorious revolutions and realized it was their turn to rise up against their rulers. These rulers of the fiefdoms realized that they were soon going to be overthrown and agreed to their subjects that they would hold a national assembly to discuss the constitutional form of a united Germany, individual rights, and economic order. The assembly soon turned to factions against each other for power; however, the more conservative leaders were the ones truly gaining power behind the scenes. Eventually the assembly decided that “there should be a united, federal Germany (excluding Austria) with universal male suffrage, organized as a constitutional monarchy under an Emperor (”. However, without support of the more powerful factions, such as Prussia, the assembly was disbanded without achieving any of the goals it wished to. However, even with the disbandment of the assembly, the Feudal system of governance was abolished and the revolutionaries colors remained: Red, Gold, and Black, which can now be seen on the modern day German flag.

German Unification

(Selections from the Department of State)

“Under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Prussia defeated Austria (1866) and France (1870) in wars that paved the way for the formation of the German Empire under Emperor Wilhelm I in 1871. Germany became a federal state, with foreign and military policy determined at the national level, but many other policies remained the purview of the states. Internally, Bismarck waged a struggle against Catholicism, which he viewed as an agent of Austria and tried to both co-opt and repress the emerging socialist movement by passing the age's most progressive social insurance and worker protection legislation while clamping down on Socialist activities. Emperor William II disagreed vehemently with Bismarck, firing him in 1890. Wilhelm II had global aspirations for Germany, including acquisition of overseas colonies. His dynamic expansion of military power and confrontational foreign policies contributed to tensions on the continent. The fragile European balance of power, which Bismarck had helped to create, broke down in 1914. World War I and its aftermath, including the Treaty of Versailles, ended the German Empire (”

Modern Day German Politics

WWII Imperialism

After WWI Germany was weak and looked for ways to become strong again. They looked towards the past and realized that Germany's greatest moments were times in which they conquered and reclaimed their own lands. During WWII Hitler blamed the Jews for WWI; however, he conquered Poland, Austria, France, and other countries to try to recreate the former Germany's glory in a creation of a Third Reich. This movement was ultimately destroyed in Germany's defeat in WWII, as well as Germany's thirst through land superiority.

Political System

After WWII Germany looked towards the past and realized that the Feudal system was what kept it together for the longest period of time. This brought about discussion for a new democratic system of government. Under the Feudal system the king had all of the power over the people and his vassals had power as long as they pledged loyalty and currency to him. However, to prevent another crazed ruler like Wilhelm or Hitler, German assembly decided to have a leader but gave more power to the representatives of the districts (who represent the Dukes and Duchesses). Even more so, they implemented the Mixed Proportional political system. This gives each political party a say in parliament (Diet) proportionally to the votes of all of the people (if 25% of the people vote republican then 25% of parliament will be republican as well). Due to the fact that there is a proportional system the political parties are not restricted to only two parties, like in the US. This allows the “Third Parties” to have a say in parliament, which typically does not happen in the US as well.

Political Party's

There are 5 major political parties in Germany: The Christian Social Union, Social Democratic Party, Free Democratic Party, The Left, and the Greens. The current Chancellor is also the leader of the Christian Social Union, which holds strong Catholic and protestant ties. The fact that the CSU is the dominant political party for many years is not coincidence. Almost all of Germany is some sort of christian, and there are strong ties between the church and previous successful German leadership.


“Background Note: Germany.” U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>. (notes)

“Historical Time Line of Charlemagne.” Historical Time Line of Charlemagne. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>. (notes)

“Holy Roman Empire.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>. (picture only)

“Medieval Civilization: Lecture Notes.” Medieval Civilization: Lecture Notes. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>. (pictures and notes)

“Military.” Holy Roman Empire. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>. (notes)

ger/101/2012/fall/matt_stocheski.txt · Last modified: 2012/09/28 00:24 by msstochelski
Except where otherwise noted, content on this wiki is licensed under the following license: CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Recent changes RSS feed Donate Powered by PHP Valid XHTML 1.0 Valid CSS Driven by DokuWiki