Historical Social Research

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Michael L. Hughes: Civil Disobedience in Transnational Perspective: American and West German Anti-Nuclear-Power Protesters, 1975-1982 [Abstract]

Transnational transfers are in practice transnational adaptations. Ideas and practices from one culture can only be implemented in another in the context of the target culture’s values, institutions, and history. So there is no reason to expect that Germans would or should have simply adopted the American nonviolent civil disobedience model – to the contrary. And when Germans did look to that model, they proved more open to violence against things and even against people than their American counterparts. And rather than accepting punishment for deliberately breaking the law as honorable result of a commitment to democratic governance, Germans rejected it as “criminalization” of dissent. Civil disobedience in the US developed amid a powerful religious basis and broad acceptance of the American system’s legitimacy. It developed in Germany amid a constitutional right to “resistance” and widespread doubts about the existing system’s legitimacy. Hence, many West German anti-nuclear protesters could find militant, perhaps violent, activism fully justified and could deny to the state they mistrusted any right to treat protesters as criminals, apparently no matter what laws they broke.

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