Friday, March 23, 2012

March 23, 1933

The Enabling Act was passed by Germany's Reichstag and signed by President Paul von Hindenburg on 23 March 1933. The result of this act is that Adolph Hitler was established as Führer and given dictator powers.

Under the Act, the government had acquired the authority to pass laws without either parliamentary consent or control. Unprecedentedly, these laws could (with certain exceptions) even deviate from the Constitution. The Act effectively eliminated the Reichstag as active players in German politics, though the existence of the body, alongside that of the Reichsrat and of the office of President were protected under the Act (nonetheless, the two latter were abolished in April and August 1934, respectively). Together with the Reichstag Fire Decree, which curtailed basic civil liberties and transferred state powers to the Reich government, the Act transformed Hitler's government into a legal dictatorship.

The Act also effectively removed Presidential oversight, as Hindenburg's representative had stated that the aged president was withdrawing from day-to-day affairs of government and that presidential collaboration on the laws decreed as a result of the Enabling Act would not be required.

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Though the Act had formally given legislative powers to the government as a whole, these powers were for all intents and purposes exercised by Hitler himself; as Joseph Goebbels wrote shortly after the passage of the Enabling Act:

The authority of the Führer has now been wholly established. Votes are no longer taken. The Führer decides. All this is going much faster than we had dared to hope.[9]

The passage of the Enabling Act reduced the Reichstag to a mere stage for Hitler's speeches. It only met sporadically until the end of World War II, held no debates and enacted only a few laws. Within three months after the passage of the Enabling Act, all parties except the Nazi Party were banned or pressured into dissolving themselves, followed on July 14 by a law that formally made the Nazi Party the only legally permitted party in the country.

It’s hard to believe a legislative body would willingly give up its power to an executive, unless you’ve watched the workings of the Senate the last 3 years.

Sixty-seven years later to the day, another enabling act was passed in America.

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