Democracy is the form of government when the individual rights of people are preserved and people participate themselves in the political life of the country through the universal suffrage. Democracy guarantees social justice, legal and social equality. Before the First World War the governments of European countries claimed that the war was necessary for the protection of their territories from the external enemies and that the war will not be dangerous for the democracy. In reality, only several center countries (France, England, and Holland) managed to preserve democratic institutions, while others (Italy, Germany, and Balkans) lost them.
Despite slight differences, the reasons of democracy failure were common for all countries. From the 1919 the Europe experienced the difficulties of the “Great Depression” in economy caused by the war. The rate of inflation increased, production was decreased because of the resource crisis, and the number of unemployed grew up significantly. Governments had huge external debts, which they planned to repay through increased taxes and issuance of additional state obligations and paper money. Thus, the whole burden of the economic crisis lay on the shoulders of the common masses and the middle class.
Because of the hardships resulting from lack of resources to existence, people became frustrated and disillusioned. In Germany, Italy and some Balkan countries people lost their faith in the adequacy of their rulers’ and governments’ policies, and started believing that their countries need to establish more authoritarian regimes in order to overcome their problems. Another main reason of the democracy fail was the humiliating effect of the First World War. Germany that had lost in it faced the necessity to pay out impossibly high reparations to the winning-countries.
It had to give much of its territory to France, Switzerland, England and some others. In addition, Germany was forced to reduce the number of its army and armament. German population could not put up with the fact that it was left on the mercy of its enemies, while before the WWI it has been one of the leading industrial powers of the world. Moreover, the Germans, who strongly believed in the supremacy and special destiny of their nation, were propagandizing and glorifying militarism as the means of achieving the “place in the sun”. The similar situation prevailed in Italy, which was also humbled by the results of the War.
Italy, though being poorer than other European countries, incurred large costs and experienced huge losses. That is why it expected to receive considerable remuneration for its contribution to the victory of Entente. In fact the Italians got less than they expected during the division of the profits after the fighting. This gave the impact towards the development of illiberal nationalism and hatred towards the rival countries. The establishment of the authoritarian regimes in Germany and Italy would never have been possible without the after – war increased class conflict.
The wealthy classes wanted to maintain the control over their property, economy and government control. Workers’ agitation and social mobility at the same time grew to maturity. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia promoted the incipience of the socialist movement throughout the Europe, and imposed a serious threat to the rich classes. Less-privileged classes fought for the expansion of the suffrage, gaining more places in the government and other rewards for their great participation in the war.
In such circumstances the democracy was not possible to survive because it grounds on the principle of national unification and understanding. The most suitable solution for these problems in imperialists’ opinion was the establishment of the totalitarian regime. Meanwhile the democracy managed to survive in such countries as England, Holland and France. These countries were economically and socially more stable. They always distinguished by the reformist ideology of people and mutual cooperation between different classes, bourgeoisie tried to support the working class, who had not an idea to change the government they had.
Furthermore, England and France being the winners did not experience the humiliating effects of the First World War, which gave the rise to the nationalism in Germany and Italy. Thus, democracy failed in Italy and Germany due to the economic problems within the countries, class fight and the effects of the World War. However, the democratic institutions managed to survive in France and England because of the countries’ relative economic and social stability. The paper is based on the material from the lecture notes and Western Civilizations, 13-th edition, 2-volume book.