Climate activists block a street in Hamburg
Climate policy protest is also expressed in public space. But being right does not always mean having the law on your side. About dealing with civil disobedience in a constitutional state. A guest post.
SRoad blockades, trees being squatted, artworks in museums smeared, sticking to picture frames and streets, trespassing into security areas at airports: climate policy protests are expressed in this way almost every day. Many react to this with displeasure. A former federal minister recently called for the activists to simply be “locked up”. Sympathizers, on the other hand, speak of acts of civil disobedience that are part and parcel of a developed and stable democratic culture and must be endured. But what exactly does civil disobedience mean and what significance does it have in law? Is it a criminal offense or is it legally justified and therefore not punishable? How has the legal system dealt with comparable phenomena so far?
As is so often the case with terms impregnated with politics, the history of ideas and social philosophy, there is no irrefutable and universally shared definition. In 1983, Jürgen Habermas, for example, described civil disobedience as a morally justified protest in the form of a public act, which includes the intentional violation of legal norms, but which is not intended to revoke legal obedience in general. From this point of view, civil disobedience does not come without costs for the individual. He demands the willingness to stand up for the legal consequences of the violation of norms as a test of the seriousness and as a consequent escalation of the form of protest, because the punishment in turn enables a moral scandal. From this perspective, breaking the rules has only symbolic meaning and is limited to non-violent means.