Is the spectre of Weimar still haunting?: 'Militant democracy' and party proscription in contemporary Germany

  • Franca Feisel Maastricht University
Keywords: Militant democracy, Germany, NPD, Constitutional Law, Party Proscription


The way in which democratic states react to political parties with anti-democratic goals is a subject of major interest and debate in the study of political extremism. Previous authors have coined the term ‘militant democracy’ for states that employ severe restrictions against extremist parties. In this regard, Germany is widely perceived as the prototype of a 'militant democracy'. The so-called ‘wehrhafte Demokratie’ scheme within the Basic Law consists of provisions such as Art. 21(2), providing the possibility of banning a party. However, recent developments in the German practice of party-banning challenge the outright classification of Germany as a ‘militant democracy’. Based on a case study of the failed attempt to ban the extreme-right party NPD, this study investigates the question as to what extent the ‘wehrhafte Demokratie’ scheme in Germany can still be characterised as militant in application. It claims that the 2017 judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court represents a paradigm shift in German party-banning, calling for a re-classification of Germany as an ‘immunised democracy’. The Court has moved towards a more cautious and restrictive interpretation of Art. 21(2), displaying an increasing trust in the German democratic system to contain its enemies without having to employ its sharpest legal weapons.

Author Biography

Franca Feisel, Maastricht University
Franca Feisel received a Bachelor degree in European Studies from Maastricht University in 2017. She is currently working as Junior Policy Advisor at Evonik Industries in Brussels.


Barry, B. (1989). Democracy, power, and justice: Essays in political theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (2014). Retrieved from

Bligh, G. (2013). Defending Democracy: New Understanding of the Party-Banning Phenomenon. Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 46(5), 1321-1380. Retrieved from

Bourne, A. (2012). The Proscription of Political Parties and Militant Democracy. Journal of Comparative Law, 7(1), 196-213. Retrieved from

Bundesrat (2014). Antrag nach Art. 21 Abs. 2 GG i.V.m. §§ 13 Nr. 2, 43 ff BVerfGG. Retrieved from;jsessionid=207B1D13D66C6674848D47C71CC5996D.1_cid382?nn=4352776

Capoccia, G. (2001). Defending democracy: Reactions to political extremism in inter-war Europe. European Journal of Political Research, 39(4), 431-460. doi:10.1023/A:1010886614303

Casal Bértoa, F. & Bourne, A. (2017). Prescribing democracy? Party proscription and party system stability in Germany, Spain and Turkey. European Journal of Political Research, 56(2), 440-465 doi:10.1111/1475-6765.12179.

Chalk, P. (1998). The Response to Terrorism as a Threat to Liberal Democracy. Australian Journal of Politics and History, 44(3), 373-388. doi:10.1111/1467-8497.00027

Cram, I. (2008). Constitutional responses to extremist political associations - ETA, Batasuna and democratic norms. Legal Studies, 28(1), 68-95. Retrieved from

Duch, R.M. & Gibson, J.L. (1992). "Putting Up With" Fascists in Western Europe: A Comparative, Cross-Level Analysis of Political Tolerance. The Western Political Quarterly, 45(1), 237-273. Retrieved from

Dülffer, J. (1992). Deutsche Geschichte 1933-1945. Führerglaube und Vernichtungskrieg. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

Finn, J. (2000). Electoral regimes and the proscription of anti‐democratic Parties. Terrorism and Political Violence, 12(3-4), 51-77. Retrieved from

Federal Constitutional Court [Bundesverfassungsgericht] (1952). Urteil in dem Verfahren über den Antrag der Bundesregierung auf Feststellung der Verfassungswidrigkeit der Sozialistischen Reichspartei. Retrieved from

Federal Constitutional Court [Bundesverfassungsgericht] (2017). Urteil des Zweiten Senats vom 17. Januar 2017. Retrieved from

Fox, G.; Nolte, G. (1995). Intolerant Democracies. Harvard International Law Journal, 36(1), 1-70. Retrieved from

Haupt, C. E. (2008). The Scope of Democratic Public Discourse: Defending Democracy, Tolerating Intolerance, and the Problem of Neo-Nazi Demonstrations in Germany. Florida Journal of International Law 20(2), 169-218. Retrieved from

Henkel, M., & Lembcke, O. (2001). Die Dilemmata des Parteiverbotes. Probleme der wehrhaften Demokratie im Umgang mit dem Rechtsextremismus. Zeitschrift Für Parlamentsfragen, 32(3), 572-587. Retrieved from

Issacharoff, S. (2007). Fragile Democracies. The Harvard Law Review Association, 120(6), 1405-1467. Retrieved from

Jesse, E. (2001). Soll die Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands verboten werden? Der Parteiverbotsantrag war unzweckmäßig, ein Parteiverbot ist rechtmäßig. Politische Vierteljahresschrift, 42(4), 683-697. doi:10.1007/s11615-001-0103-0

Kitschelt, H. (in collab. with Anthony McGann) (1995). The Radical Right in Western Europe: a Comparative Analysis. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Landau, D. (2013). Abusive Constitutionalism. U.C. Davis Law Review, 47(1), 189-260. Retrieved from

Loewenstein, K. (1938). Legislative Control of Political Extremism in European Democracies I. Columbia Law Review Association, 38(4), 591-622. Retrieved from

Michael, G. & Minkenberg, M. (2007). A Continuum for Responding to the Extreme Right: A Comparison between the United States and Germany. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30(12), 1109-1123. doi:10.1080/10576100701670961

Mill, J. (1962). Utilitarianism, liberty [and] representative government. London: Dent.

Miller, R. A. (2010). Balancing Security and Liberty in Germany. Journal of National Security Law & Policy, 4(2), 369-396. Retrieved from

Minkenberg, M. (2000). The Renewal of the Radical Right: Between Modernity and Anti‐modernity. Government and Opposition, 35(2), 170-188. doi:10.1111/1477-7053.00022

Minkenberg, M. (2006). Repression and reaction; militant democracy and the radical right in Germany and France. Patterns of Prejudice, 40(1), 25-44. Retrieved from

Monson, R. (1984). Political Toleration versus Militant Democracy: The Case of West Germany. German Studies Review, 7(2), 301-324. Retrieved from

Mudde, C. & Backes, U. (2000). Germany: Extremism without Successful Parties. Parliamentary Affairs, 53 (3), 457-468. Retrieved from

Pedahzur, A. (2001). Struggling with the Challenges of Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism within Democratic Boundaries: A Comparative Analysis. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 24(5), 339-359. doi:10.1080/105761001750434213

Pedahzur, A. (2004). The defending democracy and the extreme right - a comparative analysis. In Eatwell, R. & Mudde, C. (Eds.), Western democracies and the new extreme-right challenge. London: Routledge

Plattner, M.F. (1998). Liberalism and Democracy: Can't Have One without the Other. Foreign Affairs, 77(2), 171-180. Retrieved from

Popper, K. (1966). The open society and its enemies - Vol. 1, the spell of plato. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rawls, J. (2003). A Theory of Justice - Revised Edition. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Rummers, S. & Abts, K. (2010). Defending Democracy: The Concentric Containment of Political Extremism. Political Studies, 58 (4), 649-665. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.2009.00809.x

Sajo, A. (2006). From Militant Democracy to the Preventive State. Cardozo Law Review, 27(5), 2255-2294. Retrieved from

Schmitt, A. (2000). The Basic Law and the limits of toleration. German Politics, 9(3), 145-160. doi:10.1080/09644000008404611

Schumpeter, J. (1994). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. London: Routledge.

Democracy and Resentment