Originally Posted by Opinion
"Democracy" has become something like a buzzword in the last decades, and everybody defines it differently. I don't want to go into detail, but our Western conception of government entails a lot of different constituents, such as universal suffrage, parliamentarism, the rule of law, and human and civil rights. Thus, our form of government not only relies on the rule of the majority.
Germany immediately before WWI was a strange country. Most historians think that it was a very advanced society with a backward system of government. Yes, there was universal male suffrage, but the power of the parliament was restricted - not only by the emperor, but also by a class of public servants. There were many inofficial circles of power which had no base in the constitution.
On the other hand, I would not describe the German Empire as autocracy - there were many democratic elements in the society, and the development was clearly towards a government in the Western style. A big obstacle to parliamentarism and democracy was the military, which had special powers. Maybe it was not so much the military itself, but the idealistic perception of the military by civil society. A good depiction of this attitude can be found in Heinrich Mann's novel Der Untertan
(The Loyal Subject). In my opinion, even that would have been overcome, if it was not for the catastrophe of WWI.
Many years back at school, I was given a rather negative depiction of the German Empire in history lessons. Of course, this is in part justified due to the mentioned problems. On the other hand, many fascinating developments took place in Germany at that time, e.g. industrialization, transformation of society with increasing social mobility, rise of academic research in many different fields, and a flourishing culture.
I don't know enough about Great Britain at that time to draw a serious comparison. I would guess that in many respects, German society was more mobile and flexible, whereas Britain in essence was still more of a class society. But Britain's system of government was certainly superior; not necessarily because it was more "democratic", but because it had matured over such a long time, and it was respected by all parts of society. However, I don't believe in the depiction of WWI as a fight between modern Western democracy and backward German autocracy, a conception which usually comes to mind at some point when comparing Britain and Germany before 1914.