Carl Schmitt on the Plebiscite and its Limits: A warning of the challenge of direct democracy to a representative system





Published date: 

六月, 2020


Shang-Ju Yang


As in Taiwan today, direct democratic institutions were also present during the Weimar Republic and enshrined in the Constitution. Similar to the founders of Taiwan’s constitution, the founders of the Weimar Constitution brought direct democratic elements into the Weimar Constitution mainly because they lacked confidence in the parliament and thought direct democratic elements could complement the representative system or act as a measure of checks and balances against the parliament. 
The German jurist Carl Schmitt has not only analyzed the legitimacy of parliamentarism, but has also provided a critique on direct democratic elements in the Weimar Constitution: the elements of direct democracy challenged parliamentarism and indirectly caused the collapse of the Weimar Republic. 
While Schmitt’s theoretical account of representative and direct democracy was widely adopted in the postwar period, his influence remains underestimated. Therefore, this article will first introduce the direct democratic elements in Weimar Germany and then move on to Schmitt’s analysis of the tension between representative and direct democracy. Lastly, based on Schmitt’s thought, this article will also reflect on the limitations and weaknesses of direct democracy.