Robin Celikates' Definition of Civil Disobedience. A Theoretical Foundation for the Activism of the Identitäre Bewegung?

Term Paper, 2018

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Robin Celikates´definition of civil disobedience and its difference to the liberal point of view
2.1 Appeal to the majority´s sense of justice
2.2 The question of non-violence
2.3 The relation between symbolic value and real confrontation
2.4 Fidelity to law

3. Identitäre Bewegung

4. Analysis of actions performed by the Identitäre Bewegung
4.1 Occupation of the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin
4.2 Blockade of the German Department of Justice
4.3 The case of militant actions in general

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

They are young, they present themselves in a well-educated and intellectual way through referring to literature and juristic paragraphs and they officially distance themselves from right-wing extremism, but mainly they are one thing: confrontational in a very present way.

The Identitäre Bewegung is a relatively new movement inspired by a similar development in France.

In the increasing immigration of refugees to Germany in 2015 the movement sees the initiation of unjust ruling and measures of the German government. Without regard for its citizens´ safety an unlimited as well as unregulated flood of strangers was granted entrance into the country (Identitäre Bewegung, 2018).

In their opinion the only possibility to antagonize the German state´s unjust actions are acts of civil disobedience. The Identitäre Bewegung is performing actions which aim at creating as much public attention as possible by being extreme and extraordinary. Examples are climbing the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin or trying to gain access to the German ministry of justice.

The theoretical framework viewed in this essay is the radical democratic take on civil disobedience as worded by Robin Celikates.

His theoretical approach and definition of civil disobedience will be contemplated in-depth before the Identitäre Bewegung, it´s origin and ideological position, will be generally defined.

The central question of this essay is if the actions performed by the Identitäre Bewegung to communicate an openly racist view of life can be seen as legitimate civil disobedience as defined by Celikates very broad and open take on civil disobedience in general.

This will be done by examining certain actions executed by the Identitäre Bewegung and questioning if Celikates´ definition would possibly qualify them as civil disobedience as a political practice.

2. Robin Celikates´definition of civil disobedience and its difference to the liberal point of view

Robin Celikates defines civil disobedience as a democratic practice in a much broader way than liberal theory and its representatives such as Rawls or Habermas. In the following section this definition and its theoretical differences compared to the liberal one will be explained in detail.

The aspects Celikates highlights in his take on civil disobedience are the appeal to the majority´s sense of justice, the question of non-violence, the relation between a symbolic value and an act of real confrontation as well as the fidelity to law of such acts.

2.1 Appeal to the majority´s sense of justice

While from the point of view of liberal theory an appeal to the majority´s sense of justice is a necessity for civil disobedience Celikates does not share this opinion.A society´s conception of what is just or unjust can be highly influenced and manipulated into a distorted perception by its government or the system in general. If such manipulation is the case, acts of civil disobedience are very much needed as counter actions to address such unjust conditions (Celikates, 2016a, p.984). Excluding those kinds of situations would therefor disqualify acts of civil disobedience where they are most important.

Another possibility which is overlooked in the liberal model is, that there are cases where the goal of civil disobedience isn´t even aiming at meeting the majority´s sense of justice as the participants of those acts are not expecting the society´s opinion on the topic to change, no matter what arguments are being brought up or what kind of actions are being taken to forward the subject into the public focus. An example for this, brought up by Celikates, would be the actions of civil disobedience taken by animal rights activists who don´t believe that the society will change its opinion on animal cruelty but act out of personal moral beliefs (Celikates, 2016, p.38).

2.2 The question of non-violence

A main aspect of concern for Celikates is the liberal necessity of non-violence when performing acts of civil disobedience. In his opinion it´s theoretically highly problematic to exclude violence from civil disobedience in general. It is often unclear what is exactly defined as violence and what is not. This often results in a very broad interpretation of acts which are classified as acts of violence. An example for this are various international court decisions which asses illegal trespassing of private property, damaging objects or the blocking of a street by activists as acts of violence (Celikates, 2016a, p.983). With the possibility to classify so many actions which aren´t directly threatening a person´s physical integrity as acts violent, Celikates doesn´t agree with a categorical exclusion of violence from civil disobedience.

He also points out, that by classifying a broad variety of actions as violent a government has the possibility to criminalize a lot of forms of political protest performed by the society, which could be a threat to the existing powers. This criminalization of acts of protest based on the necessity of non-violence can then be used to maintain a potentially unjust government by non-objectively declaring them as violent (Celikates, 2016a, p.984).

Celikates states that “as long as they are to some extent self-restrained and can also be seen as communicative effort” (Celikates, 2016a, p.984) potential acts of violence can be acts of civil disobedience.

Also civil disobedience should be distinguished from revolutionary riot and militant actions (Celikates, 2016a, p.986). Celikates states that both sides must not aim at destroying one another in a militant way (Celikates, 2010, p. 297).

2.3 The relation between symbolic value and real confrontation

The role of violence within civil disobedience leads to the tension between the symbolic value of such acts and an element of real confrontation as a part of them. While the liberal take on the topic defines civil disobedience as purely symbolic act Celikates claims that for an actual symbolic value to exist real life confrontation is a necessity. When the goal is to confront the authorities with a subject which has not been recognized by them yet the impact of the issue´s dramatization has to have a certain intensity. This sort of intensity will only be reached if the act of civil disobedience includes an element of real confrontation between the protagonists and the authorities. Therefor by missing this element of real confrontation the act of disobedience loses its symbolic value due to its dramatization being impactful enough (Celikates, 2016a, p.987f).

2.4 Fidelity to law

The liberal definition states that acts of civil disobedience have to take place within the set frame of existing law which is meant to theoretically clearly separate them from revolutions which turnover the existing system as a whole (Celikates, 2016, p.38).

Celikates take is that civil disobedience very well has the potential to overthrow an entire political system and therefor has potential revolutionary tendencies (Celikates, 2016, p.39).

In his opinion civil disobedience as defined from liberal point of view only is giving the authorities a hint towards existing problems within the system and giving them the possibility to adapt it in order to prevent disorder from occurring. Whereas Celikates´radical democratic definition of civil disobedience enables citizens as well as non-citizens to take actions against an unjust system when there are no legal ways left to address an issue (Celikates, 2016, p.40f).

The necessity for this broader arsenal of potential actions is based on the assumption that if the problem addressed is regarding the system itself it is unlikely that system recognizes itself as the problem and therefor won´t take actions (Celikates, 2016a, p.989).

This resulting denial of conflict by the system can even be considered potentially authoritarian (Celikates, 2010, p.275). Existing law can´t be viewed as completely separate from political conflict (Celikates, 2010, p.286) as well as a mature citizen can´t only be subject to the law Celikates, 2010, p.293).

The state and its laws aren´t neutral actors but part of an ongoing conflict of democratic evolvement (Celikates, 2010, p.275f) as democracy has to constantly enforced by the people against the state which, as an antagonist, tries to continuously constitute its power (Celikates, 2010, p. 298f). Security measurements taken by the government for example are also meant to reduce a society´s democratic freedom (Celikates, 2010, p.294f).

Summed up Celikates defines civil disobedience in a less constrained and more open way compared to the liberal model which makes it more adequate for the complex nature of civil disobedience (Celikates, 2016a, p.982). In its less restrictive and wider sense it is seen as an “intentionally unlawful and principled collective act of protest” (Celikates, 2016a, p.985) and as a sort of counter action against “forms of domination, exclusion, or marginalization” (Celikates, 2016a, p.986). In its radical democratic way civil disobedience is democratic practice used as a counterweight to the state and its government and as a tool to increase the democratic power and self-determination of the people to confront the vertical form of constituted power with the horizontal constituting power of the people (Celikates, 2016a, p.988f).

3. Identitäre Bewegung

The first appearance of this sort of movement was in the early 2000nds in France called Bloc Identitaire. While in France they were indirectly participating in elections through the support of right wing Parties such as the Front National only a small percentage of similar groups in Europe are interested in interacting with political parties in elections. Mainly such groups focus on metapolitical actions (Camus, 2017, p.233).

The Identitäre Bewegung itself defines their metapolitical nature as them not being a political party or state affiliated institution but a democratic protagonist engaging in opinion-making within the cultural-political form of social discourse (Identitäre Bewegung, 2018a).

The ethnical opinion is that every nation can only exist and develop itself in an ideal way if its citizens are based in their region of origin. Therefor multiculturalism supports criminality and loss of social orientation while also increasing the risk of ethnical war on European soil (Camus, 2017, p.237).

It positions itself against a multicultural society and open borders. The Identitäre Bewegung is very present on social media while also being very educated on its use to optimize the spreading of information and communication through those platforms (Camus, 2017, p.233).

Their strategy of communication and action has been named activism 2.0. This includes a dominant presence on social media with live broadcasting of actions on numerous platforms. They are also hosting interactive websites which provide users with alternative information in opposition to mainstream media. The mainly targeted age groups for the content are 18 to 24 year olds as well as 25 to 35 year olds (Camus, 2017, p.243f).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Robin Celikates' Definition of Civil Disobedience. A Theoretical Foundation for the Activism of the Identitäre Bewegung?
University of Hamburg  (Politikwissenschaft)
Civil Disobedience: Illegitimate Resistance or Justified Law-Breaking
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Civil Disobedience Robin Celikates IB Identitäre Bewegung
Quote paper
Felix Früh (Author), 2018, Robin Celikates' Definition of Civil Disobedience. A Theoretical Foundation for the Activism of the Identitäre Bewegung?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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