This article examines how the Federal Republic of Germany responded to leftist political dissent, protest, and violence by constructing it as extremism and criminalizing forms of opposition and protest. This occurred during the outlawing of the Communist Party of Germany in the 1950s; during the political, juridical, and police campaign against the Red Army Faction in the 1970s; and during the state's repressive policing of antinuclear protest movements in the 1970s and 1980s. The German state confronted left dissent and violence by operating within the rule of law but developed a “militant” or “vigilant” democracy. In pushing the “defensive wall of the state forward,” to borrow a contemporary term, the state encroached on freedom of speech and the press, the right to organize and protest, and lawyer-client relations. Whether these measures were necessary to preserve and strengthen the Federal Republic's democratic order, or whether civil liberties survived despite them, remains a matter of debate. These earlier expansions of state power at the expense of civil liberties were one factor shaping Germany's more moderate response to the post-9/11 emergence of an international terrorist threat.

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