23 May 2018

Crossing the Rubicon

Violence seems to have become a pervasive feature of our times. From terrorism in Europe to frequent mass shootings in the US, to political violence, there is a widespread sense of things slipping away, of extreme attitudes breaking out into the open. While criminality per se does not necessarily suggest a weakening of law and institutions, the current spread of violence is cause for concern. Escalating acts of violence and the diminishing response from society (and in some cases the authorities themselves) risk undoing the fabric of democracy itself. Greece presents a good example of this dynamic.

On Monday 21st of May a group of Greek anarchists (that go by the name of Rubicon) attacked the Athens courthouse where the Council of State (the supreme administrative court of Greece) sits. They caused some physical damage. This follows attacks on a notary’s office (18 May), the home of the Austrian ambassador (13 May), the British Council (26 April), the French embassy (22 April). The list goes on. So pervasive is the activity of this group of disruptors that it has become the background to a new normality in Greece. Why is this important? Is it not disingenuous to list mildly disruptive actions of a small group in a small country alongside Islamic terrorism and the pervasive murderous violence that plagues America? Rubicon is a good illustration of the disease of our times, precisely because it is the mundane background noise to the horror show that 24-hour news channels are pouring into our homes. Rubicon is emblematic of the retreat of the rule of law, not only in Greece, but everywhere.

What do we mean by ‘the rule of law’? In a 2008 novel Tony Parsons using the voice of one of his characters offers the following definition of the rule of law:

‘The rule of law means that the law applies to everyone in equal measure. Where the rule of law does not apply, legal solutions are imperfect. The rule of law is the root and branch of democracy’

Perhaps the most widely used definition of the concept in Anglo-American common law tradition is that offered by Dicey who described the rule of law as prohibiting punishment without prior laws which are applied equally to all by regular courts. Building on Dicey, the rule of law has come commonly to be regarded as a system in which laws are clearly communicated to the public, have clear meanings and are applied equally to all, governor and governed, pretty much as the idealistic lawyer in Parson’s novel suggests. The idea of the rule of law has also come to be seen as encompassing fair and competent law enforcement and the independent and impartial administration of justice, so that even the government itself can be held to account when it acts above the law. As a result, the concept of the rule of law is regarded as making possible the individual rights, which are the bedrock of modern democracy.

Rubicon is not a terrorist group, it is not a political party, it is not a group of vigilante Robin Hoods. It is the symptom of a disease. The disease is the brutalisation of a frustrated, enraged society that hates everyone and also hates itself. It is the outcome of years of online and media rage against elites, foreigners, manipulators, deceivers, enemies within and without. It spawns from the same political ground that gave birth to Trumpism, to Brexit, that fuels the rise of populism across the west. Crucially, Rubicon, in its self-proclaimed role as defender of the people, carrier of the truth and all-round avenger of ‘evil’ suggests a deconstruction of the rule of law itself. Rubicon serves punishment without laws, without process, without a chance to respond. Rubicon is above the law, and untouched by the law; as the Greek authorities have been singularly disinterested and unable to deal with the wave of violence it has unleashed.

Rubicon attacks the individual rights, property and sense of self that are key to a law governed state. It is no exaggeration to say that the state machine itself is so undermined by the same socio-political dynamic that created Rubicon that the Greek PM himself is unable to respond to expressions of political violence, even when they make headlines. Responding to a (non Rubicon) violent attack on the Mayor of Thessaloniki (Greece’s second largest city), the PM tweeted that the attackers weren’t frustrated citizens, as if frustration legitimates or excuses political violence.

Political violence is not new, politically motivated terrorism is not new either. What is new is the unwillingness of the ‘system’ to respond, the banality of violence and the growing belief that someone needs to do something against those shadowy others that oppress us. Coarseness in political life leads to the withering of democracy. Greece is not the only example. Fascism does not arrive in stomping boots. It creeps in and, one day, it is already there.

SUGGESTED CITATION  Glinavos, Ioannis: Crossing the Rubicon, VerfBlog, 2018/5/23, https://verfassungsblog.de/crossing-the-rubicon/, DOI: 10.17176/20180523-082538-0.


  1. H.R. Wed 23 May 2018 at 12:42 - Reply

    When you look back in German history, fascism did arrive in stomping boops. Everyone was aware since the so called Munich Putsch, that the Nazis would use everything they could to get into power.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beer_Hall_Putsch Many killings of political opponents made this very clear too, like the ones of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
    Although often proclaimed, it is not true, that fascism does not arrive in storming boots. In contrast, it is difficult to ignore those stormtroopers, they are openly pursuing the delibalisation of democracies everywhere in Europe. in Germany alone, how can you ignore, when the AfD calls for fending of refugees at the German border with guns? How can you ignore, when they call the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin a “Memorial of disgrace”? Also, I find it hard to understand why this article is tagged with “anarchism” and “fascism”. I recomend reading this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism

  2. Brandenburger Sun 27 May 2018 at 04:42 - Reply

    A description of the AfD as a new version of the NSDAP is hopelessly inadequate. The AfD has by and large the political stance of the CDU 10 – 20 years back. Was the CDU a Nazi party as well?

    Close to every country is defending its borders with the threat to use weapons. So all of them are Nazis as well or are they behaving absolutely normal?

    The non-AfD publication SPIEGEL titled a report years ago about the Holocaust Memorial “Vom Mahnmal zum Wahnmal”. Are they Nazis too?

  3. H. R. Tue 29 May 2018 at 13:56 - Reply

    Dear brandenburger,

    what a pain it must have been to write in a different tongue then German! To answer your questions: Yes, the CDU was in parts a Nazi Party as well, although it has ever since incorporated a much broader political spectrum within its electorate as well as in the party itself then the AfD does. Just recently it was discovered, that your beloved Helmut Kohl donated to SS-veterans, see: http://www.spiegel.de/einestages/helmut-kohl-spendete-an-waffen-ss-veteranen-a-1191268.html there are many more examples. And yes, when you look back at the political stance the CDU took in the 80s and 90s against refugees, that was in parts as racist as the stance the AfD takes today. Maybe you should use your spare time next weekend to look up “Faschismus” in your Brockhaus that will most probably decorate your bookshelf. You will discover, that one aspect of fascism is the extreme devaluation of a group of people (refugees) and on the other hand a superelevation of the group, fascists belong to.
    It is ridiculous to compare the use of weapons in a military conflict with the use of weapons against refugees crossing the German border. They do not pose a military threat, they seek shelter from war or a future for themselves or their kids that has some perspective. That there is no perspective for those people in their native countries, that there is war in large regions of this world, is caused by an unjust economic trade order, that benefits the rich states and exploits the poor and weak. And this has a historic line that goes straight back to the days we Europeans used to rule the world: With fire and sword we came across those native people in Asia, Africa, America. We exploited those countries, destroyed their culture and economies. Today, this goes on and we make living conditions even worse through climate change. Only ignorant conservatives cannot face these facts and continue to believe that somehow God has made them so special, they can rule the world.
    I don’t know the article in the SPIEGEL you are referring to, and how convenient for you, that you didn’t offer a link to the article so we can see the context, the heading will be put into. My guess is though, that the article is referring to the extremely difficult planning process, the memorial went through. And that it is not offering the opinion you were hoping for.

  4. Brandenburger Thu 31 May 2018 at 05:26 - Reply

    I have no pain but only pleasure writing English. And I don’t have a Brockhaus as well as not even a gold-framed picture of Helmut Kohl and non of any other German leader. So please spare us your prejudices. Otherwise one could think that you practice a “devaluation of a group of people”,

    So the allies fought the second world war just to put a Nazi-party back into power a few years later? A very creative view of post-war history that is unfortunately not shared by any serious historian.

    Have there been former Nazis in the CDU? Certainly there have been. There were even former SS-members in the SPD! Remember Nobel prize winner Günter Grass, a good friend of Willy Brandt. Probably, the SPD was a Nazi party, too? But Günter never fired a shot. He just reloaded the tank gun. So he must have been the only decent SS-soldier.

    Just for the record: I did nowhere refer to the use of weapons at war time as you falsely indicate. I referred to the threat to use weapons to defend borders in peace time against illegal migrants, which the overwhelming majority of countries do without being lead by the AfD.

    Under international law a person that travels across several safe countries that have signed the GFK is no longer a refugee but an illegal migrant. And nowhere does international law command giving shelter to an unlimited number of illegal migrants, particularly when they pose a security threat, which illegal migrants without passports from terror zones have proven to be – remember Paris?

    Your narrative of the bad Europeans that ruined the planet and continue to do so is just one thing: silly. Have you ever considered the Osman Empire and its colonisation of south eastern Europe? People in that region have reasons for resisting mass immigration of mostly muslim men. They had that before.
    But now the moral superior Nazi grandchildren lecture them about “humanitarianism” just two decades after they got rid of communist rule.

    May the Good Lord allow for some self reflection better sooner than later …

  5. H. R. Thu 31 May 2018 at 17:05 - Reply

    This is the problem with you conservatives: You don‘t have a set of values to base your arguments upon. What you do is, always compare to someone else who also did this or that. The set of values you believe you have are really just empty shells that have to be filled with real values: For example occidental Christian culture. What is worth conserving in this? A lot! But what is truly Christian about it?

    I was talking about the obvious racism within the AfD and you try to defend it with a comparison to the CDU. I say: Yes, the CDU was racist too, and you say: But the SPD! Now let me tell you: Yes the SPD too, but comparing one thing to another is not an argument that will let you discover the nature of – in this case racism. Yes, we live in a racist society, and especially we Germans suffer from that. There are many studies, especially the so called “Mitte Studie” https://www.boell.de/…/buch_mitte_studie_uni_leipzig_2016.p… What will happen now probably is, before you read the scientific approach and the arguments of this study, is you will call it “biased”. That is, because conservatives tend to do away with social studies about our society. As this article suggests by its heading https://www.cicero.de/…/konservative-sind-die-wahren-…/49056 , conservatives are the ones who have the power in most senior political and economic posts. This success makes you believe, the way you live, the way the society is, is good. There is no need to change. And for you, there is no need to understand, what mechanisms lie beyond the surface of your success – and other peoples suffering. Or what creates racism. It is a very complex interaction of the forces of capitalism (a word, that most probably is a “Kampfbegriff” to you, not a scientific category) and nations states. There is no need, to understand, because you govern this society, through its administration and its courts and if necessary with violent force against thos who try to change things. That was the case in 68 and it is the case now, e.g. in Hamburg. If you’re a legal person, please read “Furchtbare Juristen”, by Ingo Müller and you will see, that yes indeed, the allies put Nazis back in power.

    I would like to recommend Michael Haneke’s “Das weiße Band” to you, maybe it will tell you something. It is a story of how an authoritarian society with the help of the church could also become a society of murderers and war criminals, citing Goethe and listening to Bach.

    You don’t like to be lectured from the grandchildren of these people? You don’t like their moral superiority? No, you would rather like to enjoy deutschland deutschland über alles without those discords from the progressive people.

    Progressive people, thats the real enemy of conservatives: They try to understand and from this understanding, they trace for example the universal human rights. Understanding societies and the world, at least as good as we can, gives us the opportunity to see ourselves, humans, in refugees, not some Africans or Arabs. It gives us the opportunity to learn from history: We can see, that those poor people coming had bad faith, to be born in countries we suppress economically or through military, some of them for hundreds of years by now.

    And by the way: There are no “illegal immigrants”. Please read Mr. Thyms article on this topic on this blog. Immigrants are less criminal then economically comparable groups within our society. And we have our own terrorists we should focus on, the NSU for example. But probably it won’t change your fetish, as Mr. Steinbeis called it.

  6. Brandenburger Thu 31 May 2018 at 23:24 - Reply