Germans - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Modern German voluntary associations, or Vereine, first appeared among the bourgeoisie during the Enlightenment but spread throughout the population as laws governing free assembly in the various German states were liberalized in the course of the nineteenth century. Prior to 1848, voluntary associations were typically both nationalist and republican in orientation. After the founding of the Reich, they split into politically opposed bourgeois, Catholic, and working-class blocs. Under the Third Reich, Germany's dense network of voluntary associations was co-opted by the Nazi party. East Germany's Socialist Unity party pursued a similar strategy but, again, with less success. The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany guarantees German citizens the right to free assembly, and voluntary associations are correspondingly numerous. Today, club life helps shape the local festive calendar and is an important constituent of local identities and status relations. Many local associations belong to umbrella organizations and thus help integrate members into social networks beyond the community.

Political Organization. The Federal Republic of Germany has succeeded in realizing many of the liberal reforms first proposed at the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848 and first attempted during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). Germany is now a parliamentary democracy, where public authority is divided among federal, state, and local governments. In federal elections held every four years, all citizens who are 18 or older are entitled to cast votes for candidates and parties, which form the Bundestag, or parliament, on the basis of vote distribution. The majority party or coalition then elects the head of the government. Similarly, states and local communities elect parliaments or councils and executives to govern in their constitutionally guaranteed spheres. Each state government also appoints three to five representatives to serve on the Bundesrat, or federal council, an upper house that must approve all legislation affecting the states. Germany's most important political parties are: the Christian Democratic Union and its corresponding Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union; the Social Democratic party; the Free Democratic party; the Greens; and the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to the East German Socialist Unity party. In the latter 1980s, the right-wing Republican party gained some seats in local and regional councils, but after the fall of the East German regime their constituency dwindled. The first free all-German national election since 1932 was held on 2 December 1990 and resulted in the confirmation of the ruling Christian Democratic/Free Democratic coalition.

Germany's free press produces hundreds of daily newspapers with a total circulation of 25 to 30 million. Post, telephone, and telegraph facilities are federally owned and managed. Radio and television stations are "corporations under public law," which are run by autonomous bodies and monitored by political parties in proportion to their representation in state and federal parliaments. These measures are intended to prevent the media from being manipulated for propaganda purposes, as they were by the Nazis and, with somewhat less success, by the former East German government. As of 1973, East Germans had legal access to West German television broadcasts, which contributed in no small measure to undermining the legitimacy of the Socialist regime.

Social Control. It has often been noted that German Society still retains a small-town ethos, which arose in the early modern period under conditions of political and economic particularism. Indeed, many Germans adhere to standards of Bürgerlichkeit, or civic morality, that lend a certain neatness and formality to behavior in everyday life. Public standards are further enforced by a strong emphasis on the rule of law. This is, perhaps, in part a legacy of Germany's bureaucratic tradition and in part a response to the criminal activities of the Hitler regime. Today, Germany is regulated by a larger body of legislation than exists in either Britain or France.

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