Felix ElsnerFelix Elsner

Grundgesetz – Article 4: Freedom of Belief

Article 4 concerns freedom of religion and ideology.

It stipulates:

  1. Die Freiheit des Glaubens, des Gewissens und die Freiheit des religiösen und weltanschaulichen Bekenntnisses sind unverletzlich.
  2. Die ungestörte Religionsausübung wird gewährleistet.
  3. Niemand darf gegen sein Gewissen zum Kriegsdienst an der Waffe gezwungen werden. Das Nähere regelt ein Bundesgesetz.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

The freedom of faith, conscience, and the freedom of religious and ideological denomination are inviolable.

A very progressive and humble law, especially considering that it was ratified in 1949, which wasn’t exactly the swinging liberal sixties. The drafters, who must have been mostly of judeo-christian denomination, took even the fringes of society into their consideration. They could have relied on the implicit monopoly on power of their like-minded peers1, yet they put explicit clauses limiting that power into the law, including strong separation of church and state.

Paragraph 2 states:

The undisturbed practice of religion is being guaranteed.

Not only faith itself is being protected, but also practicing what one believes in. Erection of places of worship and the bounds of freedom of religion, including the extent to which one may force their child to observe a religious lifestyle are codified in subsequent articles.

Paragraph 3 states:

No one may be compelled to serve at arms against his conscience. A federal law governs the particulars.

This one is fairly obvious, given that a previous ban on German rearmament had failed. Prohibiting conscription is a simple deterrent. The case of a Spannungsfall or Verteidigungsfall is governed by another article.

In conclusion, the article finally translates the phrase “Die Gedanken sind frei” into law and sets the groundwork for allowing people to not only believe what they choose to, but also to practice their faith openly.

The commitment to freedom of ideology is astonishing, given that the cold war was heating up by the minute and the “threat of communism” was awarded a disproportionately high credibility. Perhaps it was assumed communist subversion would be treated as treason and not categorized as a “worldview-ly denomination“(literal translation), thus obviating any qualification of the law to only include social capitalism as allowed.

  1. Christian democrats had wielded near absolute power for years, both on politics and on morals 

Grundgesetz – Article 3: Equality

Article 3 concerns equality in front of the law.

It stipulates:

  1. Alle Menschen sind vor dem Gesetz gleich.
  2. Männer und Frauen sind gleichberechtigt. Der Staat fördert die tatsächliche Durchsetzung der Gleichberechtigung von Männern und Frauen und wirkt auf die Beseitigung bestehender Nachteile hin.
  3. Niemand darf wegen seines Geschlechts, seiner Abstammung, seiner Rasse, seiner Sprache, seiner Heimat und Herkunft, seines Glaubens, seiner religiösen oder politischen Anschauungen benachteiligt oder bevorzugt werden. Niemand darf wegen seiner Behinderung benachteiligt werden.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

All people are equal in front of the law.

The law is only occupied with a theoretical being. Whether people are or are not equal in actual life is of no concern. No one may be more equal than others.

Paragraph 2 states:

Men and women have equal rights. The state promotes the actual enforcement of the equality of men and women and works to eradicate existing disadvantages.

Eradicating existing injustices often involves creating a temporary state of other unjustness, swaying towards the other direction to counter a dangerous existing lean. Whether affirmative action can be construed from this is dubious.

Paragraph 3 states:

No one may be disadvantaged or favoured based on his gender, his heritage, his race, his language, his home and origin, his faith, his religious or political convictions. No one may be disadvantaged because of his disability.

A very abstract one. Again, high aspirations that are difficult to implement. This paragraph seems toothless as a piece of law, as it is bound to be pierced by subsequent articles on freedom of choice, freedom of religion, asylum law, and the factor that while the law may be blind, people are not. It should be understood purely concerning equality in front of the law, not as guidance in civil courts.

In conclusion, this article tries to reconcile the ways in which people are different with their treatment in front of the law.

Grundgesetz – Article 2: Personal Freedoms

Article 2 concerns personal freedoms.

It stipulates:

  1. Jeder hat das Recht auf die freie Entfaltung seiner Persönlichkeit, soweit er nicht die Rechte anderer verletzt und nicht gegen die verfassungsmäßige Ordnung oder das Sittengesetz verstößt.
  2. Jeder hat das Recht auf Leben und körperliche Unversehrtheit. Die Freiheit der Person ist unverletzlich. In diese Rechte darf nur auf Grund eines Gesetzes eingegriffen werden.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

Everyone has the right to free development of his personality, insofar as he does not violate the rights of others and as long as he is not in violation of the constitutional order or decency laws.

The state grants you the freedom to become whoever you want to be. That decency laws have a place in a law written in those times should surprise no one; it seems archaic still.

Paragraph 2 states:

Everyone has the right to life and freedom from bodily harm. The freedom of the person is inviolable. Only on the grounds of a law may there be interference with these rights

From the right to freedom from bodily harm arises the need for a protection force, a police if you will. We are still in first-principles territory. Applying these rights and ensuring they not be violated will be the task of the following articles

In conclusion, no one may be compelled to give up these rights, because they are by definition inviolable. A good litmus test for detecting true evil is propagation of the notion that human dignity has to be earned, that upkeep of basic rights should have to be a continuous process.

Once a society starts talking about privilege and handouts, they’re either on the brink of an all-out, total war, or just deeply infatuated with the notion that people they distrust are not to be considered people.

That is why this law is such a great one. It disabuses us from even entertaining such dehumanizing thoughts. Note the use of right in lieu of privilege.

Grundgesetz – Article 1: Human Dignity and Rights

Articles 1 through 19 concern the fundamental rights of every citizen.

Art. 1 concerns human dignity, human rights, and the binding nature of human rights.

It stipulates:

  1. Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt.
  2. Das Deutsche Volk bekennt sich darum zu unverletzlichen und unveräußerlichen Menschenrechten als Grundlage jeder menschlichen Gemeinschaft, des Friedens und der Gerechtigkeit in der Welt.
  3. Die nachfolgenden Grundrechte binden Gesetzgebung, vollziehende Gewalt und Rechtsprechung als unmittelbar geltendes Recht.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

The dignity of humankind is untouchable. To esteem and protect it is duty of all state power.

Coming out of the Second World War, the atrocities committed there let the drafters and signatories of the Grundgesetz place a high value on protecting the inviolableness of every single individual rather than nationalistic sentiment. Not liberty, but human dignity is the greatest good.

A piece of semantics: We’ll get to international law(‘Völkerrecht’) later, but “crimes against humanity” is not translated “Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit”, but rather “gegen die Menschheit”. Critics such as Hannah Arendth rightfully bemoan the degradation of the powerful language of “crimes against humanity itself” in the German version as “crimes against humaneness”; as if only proper etiquette was violated.

Paragraph 2 states:

The German people thus profess the infrangible and inalienable nature of human rights as basis of any human community, of peace, and of justice in the world.

The infrangibility and inalienability has limits in special circumstances, as laid out in art. 17a through 19 and art. 104, among others. Interesting is the inclusion of peace and justice around the world, if only as an observation as to effective guiding principles.

Paragraph 3 states:

The following basic rights bind legislation, executive power, and judicature as actual applicable law.

This paragraph translates the preceding two into justification for the following of the 18 articles concerning the Grundrechte.

In conclusion, Article 1 upholds humankind itself and stresses the duty of the German people to acknowledge and take responsibility for any action and inaction taken. The applicable reach of this law is local, the reach of responsibility bestowed upon the German people is global. The abstract concept of the dignity of man is set as the cornerstone of all justification of the Grundgesetz.

Grundgesetz – The Beginning

The Fundamental Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, also known as the “Grundgesetz”, is the constitution of this magnificent country of ours.

Leading up to the incoming election, this series will explore the articles of the Grundgesetz, one by one.

The author is a layman in legal matters but will try not to smother this fine piece of law.

The circumstances and intentions in crafting the Grundgesetz will be explored at length at a later time. This series will conclude with commentary and more background information. For now, on with the legalese.

“Yo Barry, you did it my nigga”

A throwback to better times: Larry Wilmore killing it at last year’s WHCA dinner.1

The nerve on this guy. Ruthless in spite of a tough audience, whom he’s got shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

Loved it back then, came back to my mind recently when thinking about journos sucking up to the big T. If only they had a shred of that bravery and total disregard for careerism.

It starts out innocent enough, well not really, Larry comes out of the gates storming with that “thugs” potshot, and then proceeds to lay into Obama, “not closing gitmo” & “raining bombs from long distances”.

The aside about Senate & House reps refusing to show up for work and get anything done has become all too real. I’ll have to admit I did not like him beating the already-dead Ted-Cruz-is-unlikeable horse and Obama’s ageing process wasn’t exactly fresh material. Media internals and the “Lemonade” fad rightfully bombed. Surprisingly, the C-SPAN-bashing still gets a few laughs every year.

Speaking of drones, Blitzer really can not take a joke, which is emblematic of the lack of self-reflection inherent in that crowd. No wonder that applause in the end started out way too polite.

Another sideswipe at the media moguls and their tendency to false equivocation(coverage of “all lives” dunces) landed hard with me; the “Panama Papers” one had me in stitches. He drove it home in the end (with an undeserved reconciliatory statement) so everyone could feel a little better and congratulate themselves.

Looking forward to this year’s dinner, and eager to know how the WHCA will cope with the move from the West Wing. Stay safe, yanks!

  1. Transcript here 


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