Journal Article

Reason, Emotion, Pressure, Violence: Modes of Demonstration as Conceptions of Political Citizenship in 1960s West Germany

Michael L. Hughes

in German History

Volume 30, issue 2, pages 222-246
Published in print June 2012 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online June 2012 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Reason, Emotion, Pressure, Violence: Modes of Demonstration as Conceptions of Political Citizenship in 1960s West Germany

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Democratization has been a central topic in studies of recent German history, but what have democracy and democratic citizenship meant to Germans? Studying demonstrations can be illuminating here because choices about whether and how to demonstrate rest on demonstrators’ conceptions of appropriate democratic behaviour, while opponents’ and bystanders’ reactions reveal their conceptions as well. Looking at 1960s student demonstrations and reactions to them reveals that many West Germans rejected demonstrations because they believed that democracy meant electing one’s leaders and then staying quiet, simply allowing those leaders to lead. Most West Germans could accept demonstrations to the extent they contributed to reasoned discourse about public issues. Some West Germans could accept arational forms of demonstration (for example, ‘provocation’), though most found them too reminiscent of Nazi demagogy. A minority of West Germans accepted the right of demonstrators to ‘pressure’ policymakers through direct actions, as economic elites regularly exercised pressure through petitions, meetings and so on. Most West Germans, though, opposed pressure through demonstrations. A tiny minority argued for ‘force against things or persons’ (Gewalt gegen Sachen oder Personen), either to elicit rational discussion or even to ‘compel’ governments to act as demonstrators demanded. Most West Germans, however, found Gewalt particularly undemocratic, as a reminder of Nazi and Communist 1930s street battles and as a minority’s effort to impose its will on democratic majorities. Quietism, reason, provocation, pressure, compulsion: democracy and democratic citizenship turn out to have meant very different things to different West Germans in the 1960s.

Keywords: democratization; demonstrations; citizenship; 68ers; Außerparlamentarische Opposition; Gewalt

Journal Article.  13822 words. 

Subjects: European History

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