Being put into a solemn mood by Steyn's review of the Triumph of the Will, having watched that spectacle and read some German history, I started refreshing my knowledge of the era with some light reading about the Weimar Republic. TL;DR: The Weimar Republic was that troubled state of Germany after World War I but before the National Socialist Workers Party finagled a legalish takeover in 1933.

What does legalish mean though? How did a country with deeply troubled economics but with a republican / multi-party / civil-liberties type of government give way to the Nazi totalitarianism? Part of the problem was the weakness of the Weimar Constitution.

What's the purpose of a state's constitution? It's to give a broad outline of the form and powers of government, the freedom of individuals, etc. Let's label a strong constitution as one that stands the test of time: one whose offspring government form is stable. (By that definition, communist china's constitution is "strong".) Let's label a liberal constitution as one where the people stay free - one that resists totalitarianism by limiting government's powers.

It's not hard to think of a few strong liberal constitutions. But the Weimer one was particularly weak & un-liberal. Its amendment formula (Article 76, permitting 44% (⅔ of ⅔) of legislature - or 50% of voters in a plebiscite - is a very low bar. Its Article 48 permits the executive to suspend all civil rights in emergencies, as long as legislature doesn't vote to override it. So if someone manages to get a near-majority of the legislative branch and/or the ear of the executive, the constitution is kaput.

The un-liberal aspects of the Weimar Constitutions are also pretty clear. In every case where a civil right is identified, it is at the same time neutered by a phrase such as "... subject to the law". Consider:

Article 111 All Germans enjoy freedom to move and settle down. [...] Limitations require a Reich law.
Article 115 Every German's home is an asylum and inviolable. Exceptions are admissible only if based on a law.
Article 118 Every German is entitled, within the bounds set by general law, to express his opinion freely in word, writing, print, image or otherwise. [...]
Article 154 The right of inheritance is guaranteed accordling to civil law. The state's share in the inheritance is determined by the laws.

The effective protection of civil rights against intrusion by government (legislatively changeable "law") is zero. Even if the Nazis didn't manage to get Article 48 invoked to suppress civil rights, they could have passed a mere law to take them away.

Game over, 80 million dead.

By the way, Canada is only somewhat better along that liberal axis, since it is case law & politics rather than the constitution that limits governmental trespass on rights. A later Supreme Court could ditch the Oakes test, or the government could invoke the Notwithstanding Clause. It's one of those things that a tyrant could someday exploit, and make us curse Trudeau.