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Theodor Heuss, "Democracy and Parliamentarism: Their History, Their Enemies, and Their Future" (1928)

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One can find the embodiment of this way of thinking both in Russian bolshevism and Italian fascism. Reference has frequently been made to their intellectual historical context: they can be traced back to Marx’s counterpart in the First International, Mikhail Bakunin, to the antiparliamentary mutation of French syndicalism, which had systematized the lessons of the action directe, the extraparliamentary methods of proletarian class struggle. The particular historical situation as well as the nature of those decisively involved made it possible for the inheritors to appear as exponents of opposed tendencies, one focusing on the state and the other on the economy. They did in fact become that to a certain extent, though in assessing their worth one must not neglect completely the common source of their fundamental view. Whether Lenin or Mussolini, the political accomplishment in its uniqueness is significant enough—but the theoretical music that accompanied it, which they composed themselves or had composed, is equally paltry. The Lenin legend, done up brilliantly in propagandistic terms, might do justice to the tactician, but his theoretical writings are more clever than profound. And Mussolini’s pronouncement that he embodies a new concept of the state is simply a rhetorical lantern he flashes along his path, which, however, errs in the direction of the trivial wherever it does not apply strictly to the particular situation he has created in contemporary Italy.

The dictatorship of the proletariat remains, in intellectual terms, an artificial construction laid over the domination of a party machine in order to mask it; but the construction is too transparent and soon the question assumes its proper form: Who has the dictatorship over the proletariat? Then it is no longer a theoretical affair but a personal one: To what extent can intellect, will, the power of suggestion, and disposal over a military apparatus be regarded as a substitute for the legitimacy of dynastic absolutism? To try to make of Caesar and Napoleon a systematic method of state formation and political guidance represents a supreme misunderstanding of history and politics; the failed Napoleons lurking like apparitions and slowly gathering dust on the edges of the postrevolutionary years offer distressing documentation. The state must under no circumstances fail to appreciate what dangers can arise from the romanticism of illegitimacy—we have, after all, a few experiments behind us. Nor will it be overlooked how injurious the intellectual disavowal of the inner binding force of majority-based laws and ordinances is to the necessary growth of free and secure sentiment in the nation. That is the concern of politics and education. But in principle the antithesis to its democratic existence has worn thin; it has not succeeded in expounding a clear concept of a legitimate state. The mistakes and defects of difficult, unromantic, and unillusioned politics alone are insufficient to nurture it as a force of its own.

When democracy entered into the history of our epoch, it proclaimed, via the fiction of natural right, the right of the dominated to participate in the exercise of power and to possess it. The internal problematic of state formation seemed to be its essential focus. But the course of things soon enough shifted the emphasis. Now the securing of individual rights, which taken together would result in collective rights, no longer demanded an answer; rather, this collectivity presented itself as a greater and comprehensive individual right; in the struggles of democracy for political legitimacy the nation-state was born. It is absolutely inconceivable without democracy. There have always been peoples, but democracy opened their mouths so that they could find and form the essence of their political consciousness. The idea of the nation-state grew out of democracy—it was the great leitmotif of European history in the nineteenth century.

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