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Theodor Barth on the Need for Left-Liberal Opposition to Bismarck (June 26, 1886)

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found such a place insofar as we have moved clearly into opposition. Apart from foreign policy, which is indeed removed from any serious public discussion in Germany at the moment – the skepticism regarding it being more private in nature – there is today really no single political question of significance upon which one can observe any agreement between the Radical Party and Prince Bismarck. The opposition of the Radicals is thus to be understood in the original meaning of the word as an opposition in principle, an opposition aimed not just against individual measures of the leading statesman but also against the objectives and methods that constitute the core of his politics.

In truly constitutional states, such an opposition in principle is the only kind admissible. Anyone not separated from the government by substantial differences of political principles supports the government without qualification. In Germany, politicians in general defend themselves against the suspicion of belonging to either a mere governmental party or a decidedly oppositional one. People chase after that droll ideal of a “purely objective consideration” of legislation. According to this method, the government is kept in the dark for as long as possible as to whether it can count on its proposals to be passed once they are introduced. The government, on the other hand, seems to believe that it would have something to lose if, while drawing up its proposals, it concerned itself with their fate in parliament. In the worst case, the statesman gets his “just desserts” for this approach; afterwards he has the reassuring feeling of having done his duty. Consequently, during every parliamentary session, we witness a curious spectacle: not only does the opposition challenge Prince Bismarck's important and, often, his not-so-important legislation, but Bismarck is frequently abandoned by his most zealous admirers. It is well known that with the current Spirits Tax Bill, not a single voice in the entire Reichstag has expressed support for the principle behind the government's draft legislation, let alone for the bill as a whole.

Such a state of affairs is just as demoralizing for the government as it is for the people's parliament.

A parliament, especially one constituted on the basis of universal, direct suffrage, is not a political jury that can pass its verdict from case to case in ever-changing constellations; rather, it is a power in its own right that can only be won over through consideration of those points of view that have gained ascendancy within it. This truth cannot be conjured out of existence, but the fact that some people persist in trying to ignore it contributes substantially to the dismal state of political affairs in the empire.

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