The Basic Law

The Basic Law


This year we celebrate the 70th birthday
of the German Basic Law, which came into force on 24th May 1949 — but only in the American, British and French zones
which formed the Federal Republic of Germany: the Soviet zone was the German Democratic
Republic (which wasn’t democratic), but it had its own constitution. And the Basic Law is a constitution. It’s not called a constitution,
but that is still what it is: there’s no law anywhere that says a constitution
must be called “The Constitution”, and this one happens to be called “The Basic Law
for the Federal Republic of Germany”. Even so, its name is a bit of a legal fudge. Back in 1949, the Parliamentary Council, the body
responsible for drafting the new constitution, was of the opinion that for certain legal purposes the new Federal Republic of Germany was actually
a continuation of the German Empire. And this posed a bit of a problem, because it meant, under the rules
of the German Empire, that the new constitution
would have to be accepted by a government that represented all Germans. And with so many of them
on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, that was not going to be possible. So instead, these new constitutional laws
were given the title “Basic Law”, a translation of
the Latin phrase “lex fundamentalis”, and everybody pretended that this
somehow made it okay. Article 146 states that this Basic Law
remains in force until such a time as the German nation
adopts a new constitution. Now that Germany has been reunified,
this has led to a conspiracy theory, according to which the Basic Law is not valid and Germany has reverted to
the pre-war constitution. This idea, of course, is complete ——–. The Basic Law has now been accepted by members of
the Bundestag representing all Germans, and that is all that is legally necessary. There was never a requirement for a referendum, and the reason it’s still called the Basic Law is
that there was no point in changing the name. It is the German constitution. The Basic Law was an important step for Germany, which was having to come to terms with
the destruction wrought by the Third Reich. It was important for the Basic Law
that it protected the rights of people, which the Nazis had simply ignored, and also it was important that
it couldn’t simply be bypassed. One of the important steps in the Nazis’ power-grab
was a misuse of an article in the old constitution. Under Article 48, the President was empowered to
issue emergency decrees without the consent of Parliament. By pressuring Hindenburg to issue such a decree, the Nazis were able to suspend
several very important constitutional rights. Unsurprisingly, therefore, this article is
nowhere to be found in the Basic Law, and it wasn’t until 1968 that the government was
given the power to declare a state of emergency. Additionally, the Basic Law includes
an “eternity clause”: Article 79 states that certain articles
can never be changed or abolished. This includes the first 20 articles,
which deal with basic human rights, and all articles governing the relationship
between the states and the federal government. In fact, not only can those articles
never be changed, but any new constitution that replaces
the Basic Law must have those articles in it, including the eternity clause itself. So as long as Germany continues to exist, so must those parts of the Basic Law. The Basic Law was finally agreed on 8th May 1949, and was then ratified by all
the West German states — except for one: Bavaria actually voted against the Basic Law, complaining that it gave
the federal government too much power. However, the Bavarian government also voted that if two thirds of the states ratified it, then Bavaria would accept it. And so, with just a bit of
reluctance on Bavaria’s part, the new Basic Law was signed on 23rd May and came into effect the following day,
70 years ago. Thanks for watching. If you’d like to
send me a postcard, here’s the address. And don’t forget to visit my website
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59 thoughts on “The Basic Law

  1. You made a mistake at around 3:40. Article 79 does not prevent the first 20 articles to be changed but only article 1 and article 20 themselves. Also it does not prevent change to all articles which legislate the relation between the federal government and the states, it only guarantees that Germany must always be a federal state and that the Länder must have some sort of legislative power. The relation between the Länder and the federal government has been changed many times, most recently there was a discussion about changing the basic law to allow for federal school funding for example.

  2. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt also ignored the U.S. Constitution during and after wartime.

  3. According the "Eternity Clause" Art. 79 III GG – that's a common misconception. It doesn't say, that Art. 1 TO 20 GG couldn't be abolished. It states, that the prinicples set in Art. 1 AND 20 GG mustn't be abolished. These are the following principals: The garantee of the human dignity (Art. 1 GG) and the garantee of the rule of law, democracy, federal structure and social welfare (Art. 20 GG). Of Course, Art. 1 GG is concretized by the Art. 2 to 19 GG, but as long as the principle keeps untouched, they can be changed and they have been changed.

  4. For Fairness said. This Sounds rather Stupid when Translated into English.

    The "Grundgesetz" being Translated into The "Basic Law" is somehow not really doing it Justice.

    The Biggest Problem is that there is alot of Confusions in the Translations here.
    The "Constitution" would actually be Translated as The "Verfassung"

    While the German word "Konstitution" usually referes to the physical state of a body or object etc.

    It would make sense to Simply Translate "Grundgesetz" as Constitution in English to avoid any Confusion here.

    Other Options would be to Translate by the meaning of the Wording in German.

    The German Word "Grund" is unfortunately widely used for alot of Different things.

    And Base is not such an Good Translation here.

    "Grund" in this case can refer to the Foundation of the Law for example.
    So calling it The "Foundation of Law" would fit the Intended meaning better.

    Another Option would be the Convey the Meaning of it being the most Importand Law standing at the Base of every Law.

    So The "Principle Law" would also work.

    The "Basic Law" just does not convey the Meaning of this properly….

  5. Somehow, the English translation of Grundgesetz, Basic Law, makes it sound less important. At least to my German ears, it does. I would call it "Fundamental Law" in English (inspired by the Latin "Lex Fundamentalis").

  6. Surprise! The basic law also includes an exception for Nazis, saying they're legally not protected by it. They really went out of their way to make the Basic Law as perfect as they could, huh?

    Edit: https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gg/englisch_gg.html#p0057

    Articles 9 & 21 covers nazi parties. Article 18 covers the nazis themselves. Article 20 even gives Germans the right to resist if nazis ever took over again. Nazis and their parties are illegal under german basic law.

  7. NO! the Basic Law isnT a constitution. Look here, attention to the used terms: Art 146 Dieses GRUNDGESETZ, das nach Vollendung der Einheit und Freiheit Deutschlands für das gesamte deutsche Volk gilt, verliert seine Gültigkeit an dem Tage, an dem eine VERFASSUNG in Kraft tritt, die von dem deutschen Volke in freier Entscheidung beschlossen worden ist.

    In short: This Basic Law (of the parlament) loose his value if the free german volk makes his own constitution. But the german volk isnT free, therefore we never get a constitution.

    We have to accept a Basic Law as a substitution. Im not a Reichsbürger, im a lawer.

  8. Very interesting and informative, thanks! Most of it I never knew before. And it clears up a question I've had forever: what was the difference between Grundgesetz and Verfassung, and why did Germany need both, or were they just synonyms? Well now I know. Thanks again.

  9. In my opinion, it should be translated as the "FUNDAMENTAL LAW". Gets the gravitas of the law across.

  10. but isnt it kinda problematic that art79 lacks self-protection? couldnt a substential enough ugly gov just vote art79 out and THEN start erasing the rest?

  11. Basic law?
    What a shit translation
    Foundation or Basis Law Would be more fitting
    This is not some basic bitch law
    its The very foundation of german law!

  12. Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and protect them is a duty of all state authority.
    ~ Article 1, Grundgesetz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

    This sentence alone makes me proud to be german 🙂

  13. Jedes Bundesland hat seine eigene Verfassung. Das Grundgesetz bietet quasi die Basis. In den Länderverfassungen darf alles drinstehen solange es nicht dem Grundgesetz widerspricht. Hessen hatte beispielsweise mal die Todesstrafe in der Verfassung. War obsolet, da im Grundgesetz die Todesstrafe abgeschafft war.

  14. Actually article 1-20 CAN be changed. But only in very limited ways, and keeping the spirit and meaning intact. That's why article 16 could be changed … several times.

  15. The Basic Law is for all intents and purposes a constitution. It doesn't really matter what it is named. I think them more interesting question is: Why did politicians believe in 1949 that it would be only normal to replace the Basic Law (that was voted into effect only by politicians and not by the german people) with a constitution that would be put to vote in front of the german people once reunification has been achieved? And why did the political class not want to have any of that once reunification was actually achieved? I personally believe that the reason for that is that the political parties have enourmous power all across german society, are the biggest benefactor of the current political system and are not interested in touching the status quo. Added to that are certain special interest groups (namely the christian churches or public broadcasting) who fear that they might not get too good of a deal if their outdated privilges are on the table all of a sudden.

  16. Mal abwarten wie "ewig" das Ding am Ende wirklich gegolten haben wird, das wissen wir ja erst nachher.

  17. Several other Constitutions in Germany were also called "Grundgesetz", the constitution of Hanover from 1833 for example.

  18. Either I slept through the lesson about unchangeable fundamental law, or I spottet a missunderstanding?
    They can be changed if need be but from my understanding the process is ridiculous, time consuming and a majority has to agree, as well as other institutions (?) and branches of government.

    Found it: https://www.bundestag.de/dokumente/parlamentsarchiv/datenhandbuch/13/kapitel-13-475960

  19. I knew that as soon as I scrolled down I would see numerous posts by those very very small but oh so very active (at least on the internet) conspiracy theorists. To any foreigner looking at this comment section: Don't even bother reading those comments. They are nuts and their claim is totally bonkers. There are numerous videos on youtube which debunk the conspiracy, but honestly, it is not even worth going into this matter. So, best ignore those little kings with keyboards (for some reason, most of them give themself the highest title) altogether. It is barely important enough to know that they exist and even that is debatable…… certainly more debatable than their ludicrous claim.

  20. The question whether the "Deutsches Reich" continued to exist after 1945 is quite complex. First of all on May 8th the German forces surrendered. That did not mean that the German state had ceased to exist. In summer 1945 the Allied Forces USA, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France declared that they would take over authority and responsibility over Germany as an entity. That was the so-called Potsdam Conference. And the Allied Forces never dissolved the German state as such. You can say that the "Reich" led a shadowy existence under Allied control from that monent on until October 3rd 1990 when the Treaty of German Unity put a final end to that decree that it was only the four Allies who had the right to decide on all questions that referred to Germany as an entity. After 1949 with the Federal Republic and the GDR having taken control over their parts of Germany the situation was basically as such: None of the two German states could speak for the other one on international matters. When e.g. the Federal Republic finally accepted the Oder-Neisse-Line as the border to Poland it had to be laid down in the treaty that the Federal Republic accepted that line as the western boundary of Poland. It would not have been possible to write that it was the eastern border of Germany, as this would have been at violation of the Potsdam principals. The Federal Republic did not have a border with Poland, the GDR was in between and the Federal Republic could not make any declaration about Germany as an entity.
    The other aspect is that Germany has always been a federal state. The smallest or lowest unit of German statehood is the municipality, then come the Landkreise (counties), the Länder and finally the nation. The first thing the Allies did in all their Zones of Occupation was to revive that principal after the one-party rule of the Nazis had been dissolved. Well, it was not for long that the Soviets saw to it that their Zone was again a one-party dictatorship, but even the GDR had its Länder under the early 1950s. The State of Prussia was dissolved and as that state had had provinces west and north of the river Elbe as well up to the French, Belgian and Dutch border, new Länder were shaped there: Lower Saxony, Northrhine-Westfalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Rhineland-Palatinate date from 1946 on, other Länder were more or less continuations of their forerunners that date back to the Middle Ages and the Holy Roman Empire, then Napoeon's Confederation of the Rhine, the German Federation from 1815/6, the "Reich" from 1871 and 1919 on. In all these municipalities and "Länder" German statehood continued to exist after the end of the war, German laws and regulations continued to be valid. People paid into the pension schemes that had been there since the 1880s and got their pensions from there when they retired. Step by step the Allies gave the Germany control over their country back and the three western powers signed a treaty that they would support the principal of German unification. Maggie Thatcher did not know about that, I believe, but there was way out of that in 1990. In return the Federal Republic became a motor for European unification and finally joined NATO in 1955.

  21. The Basic law is fairly simple to read but is a bit slow. Other governments have experimented with the Fortran law and even the C law which had a lot of squiggly lines. However the best law is of course the Python law which is relatively easy to read but when compiled is quite fast.

  22. After Gen Dwight D. Eisenhauer killed 1 million German POW's in his death camps that had surrendered to him, the Allied installed puppet government obeyed orders when writing the Grundgesetz.

  23. Fun fact, the very first sentence of article 1 of the Basic Law, "Human dignity is inviolable", also became the very first sentence of article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

  24. The heated debate on the emergency statelLaws of 1968 often misses out one point. These laws were a step towards full souvereignty of the Federal Republic over its internal matters. Until that date the three western Allied Forces had the right to intervene and suspend the Westgerman government in case of severe internal unrest.

  25. Übrigens heißen auch die Verfassungen Dänemarks und Ungarns "Grundgesetz". Und wer glaubt, dass eine Verfassung auch Verfassung heißen müsste, glaubt wahrscheinlich auch, dass Zitronenfalter Zitronen falten.

  26. The number of the Illuminati is 23.
    The Basic Law was signed on 23rd May 1949
    23 is, well, 23
    May is the 5th month and 5 is the cross sum of 23.
    And the cross sum of 1949 is 23.
    Illuminati confirmed 🙂

  27. As far as I am informed Germany does not have a constitution to be exact. The Grundgesetz acts as a replacement for the classic form of constitution, but can't call itself one. That is, because article 146 of the Grundgesetz states, that the Grundgesetz will become invalid by the day a proper constitution is released. Which was never done and not planned, since the Grundgesetz has all the content that a constitution needs to have. It is a highly discussed topic tho and I have heard many takes on this.

    (okay you stated it, should've waited a little hehe)

  28. I have a question about the basic law or rather its eternity clause my history teacher back then could never answer: What if the germans decided to create a new constitution and didn't include the first twenty Artikel or the "Ewigkeitsklausel", who would prosecute them? My former history teachers answer (some 10 to 15 years ago) was that that could never happened and shall not be discussed any further, which frankly is somewhat disappointing. I somehow can't imagine that other countries would declare wars or trade embargos against germany in case they decided to ditch them, much less so that everyone would even remember those clauses

  29. you made one mistake, which nerlay everyone makes. no, not the first 20 articles are immune from change. only aricle 1 and 20. article 2-19 can be changed.

  30. An “eternity clause” (purporting to protect important articles of the Basic Law from ever being changed or abolished) is of course a legal fiction. It’s surely more of an understandably earnest plea to the future German People and Bundestag/Parliament rather than something that could really serve to legally bind them forever to these provisions that they have imposed upon themselves.

    It is, after all, a basic principle of law that a sovereign entity cannot legislate to limit its own power to prevent itself from doing something in the future, even at a Constitutional level. The sovereign entity remains capable of using that same sovereign power to later change whatever it wants to change – it wouldn’t be sovereign otherwise. It could even abolish the whole constitution and make a new one. When you are Sovereign, what is done can be undone.

    That said, I am taking theory not practice! Having this sort of very fundamental clause in the Basic Law of course means that it’s very very unlikely that, politically or practically, the protected articles will ever be thoughtlessly swept aside.

  31. 4:25 this is a damn fine reason to feel patriotic about: We live in a country that has no legal base to strip its population off its fundamental rights – even if it were to replace the constitution. Even a theoretical third Reich reboot needs to feature these right which would make it impossible to exist. Well, unless of course someone simply doesn't care about it and both the state and the population let him get away – for which we have Article 20: The right to resist *by any means necessary.

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