Parliamentary government emerged in Western Europe as the institutional design of nineteenth-century liberal thinkers. Since its establishment as the reigning form of government in Western democratic states, parliament has preoccupied political thinkers from many intellectual traditions, including those that are ideologically opposed.
The structure of parliamentary government is rooted in nineteenth-century liberal arguments and normative assumptions about the nature of politics. The parliamentary system is based on pluralism, compromise, and gradual reformism. In early twentieth-century Germany, some thinkers posited that parliament, as a form of government, had become outmoded and needed to be replaced by a modern alternative. In this thesis, I examine parliament as a theme and sinew that linked different ideological traditions together in the backdrop of the revolutionary environment of German politics and society in the immediate aftermath of the First World War.
The first chapter of the thesis outlines the tempered defense of parliamentary government in the thought of Max Weber. Weber’s account of parliamentary government is, according to contemporary standards, elitist and shot through with potentially authoritarian undertones. Certain of Max Weber’s assumptions and institutional designs were adopted by Carl Schmitt. The second chapter of this thesis examines Carl Schmitt’s critique of parliamentary government as an apolitical form. For Schmitt, parliament, by its very design as a pluralist plenum, evades the crucial decision that for Schmitt is the essence of politics. The third chapter outlines Georg Lukács’s revolutionary Marxist rejection of parliament as a sham and instrument of bourgeois oppression. To conclude, I turn to the thought of Franz Neumann, who began his career as a left-Schmittian who rejected pluralism and deliberation, and, after the Second World War, came to defend liberal institutions while at the same time providing a principled critique of them. Neumann’s mature account, I believe, may offer members of modern liberal democracies the tools to criticize the flaws of their government while at the same time defending the accomplishments of parliamentarism and civil liberty.