About this topic
Summary The label civil disobedience encompasses acts of law-defiance which are deemed to be compatible with core principles of a liberal democracy, e.g. a commitment to the rule of law. Civil disobedience is usually considered a justifiable form of illegal conduct, aiming to further dialogue in society around issues of justice. The debate on civil disobedience concerns, among other issues, whether civil disobedience must be nonviolent and/or imply a willing submission to the legal punishment, and the appropriate legal response to this form of illegal conduct. 
Key works Rawls 2009 and Raz 1979 set the foundations for early debates on the topic. More recently, Brownlee 2012, Delmas 2018, Moraro 2019 have reassessed and restated some of the core issues, highlighting the limitations of the Rawlsian model.
Introductions The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page on Civil Disobedience compiled by Brownlee & Delmas 2021. For a more recent introduction, see Delmas 2016
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300 found
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  1. Three questions for liberals.Richard Pettigrew - manuscript
    In this paper, I ask three questions of the liberal. In each, I fill in philosophical detail around a certain sort of complaint raised in current public debates about their position. In the first, I probe the limits of the liberal's tolerance for civil disobedience; in the second, I ask how the liberal can adjudicate the most divisive moral disputes of the age; and, in the third, I suggest the liberal faces a problem when there is substantial disagreement about the (...)
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  2. The Epistemic Dimensions of Civil Disobedience.Alexander Bryan - forthcoming - Journal of Political Philosophy.
  3. Just Disobedience: An Answer to the Question,“Is It Ever Just to Disobey a Law?”.Mike Cameron - forthcoming - Canadian Undergraduate Philosophy Journal Revue Canadienne de Philosophie Étudiante.
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  4. Violence Against Persons, Political Commitment, and Civil Disobedience: A Reply to Adams.Thomas Carnes - forthcoming - Res Publica:1-7.
  5. Suicide as Protest.Antti Kauppinen - forthcoming - In Michael Cholbi & Paolo Stellino (eds.), Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Suicide. Oxford University Press.
    While suicide is typically associated with personal despair, people do sometimes kill themselves in the hope or expectation that their death will advance a political cause by way of its impact on the conscience of others, or in extreme cases simply as an expression of protest against a status quo felt to be unjust. Paradigm cases of such protest suicide may be public acts of self-immolation. This chapter distinguishes between instrumental and expressive protest suicide, examines the possible motivations behind them, (...)
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  6. Clarifying our duties to resist.Chong-Ming Lim - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 1.
    According to a prominent argument, citizens in unjust societies have a duty to resist injustice. The moral and political principles that ground the duty to obey the law in just or nearly just conditions, also ground the duty to resist in unjust conditions. This argument is often applied to a variety of unjust conditions. In this essay, I critically examine this argument, focusing on conditions involving institutionally entrenched and socially normalised injustice. In such conditions, the issue of citizens’ duties to (...)
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  7. Criminalising (cubes of) truth: animal advocacy, civil disobedience, and the politics of sight.Serrin Rutledge-Prior - forthcoming - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy:1-25.
    Should animal advocates be allowed to publicly display graphic footage of how animals live (and die) in industrial animal use facilities? Cube of truth (‘cube’) demonstrations are a form of animal advocacy aimed at informing the public about the realities of animals’ experiences in places such as slaughterhouses, feedlots, and research facilities, by showing footage of mostly lawful practices within these workplaces. Activists engaging in cube-style protests have recently been targeted by law enforcement agencies in two Australian states on the (...)
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  8. The Logic of Kingian Nonviolence: A Synthetic Reading of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Political Thought.Nicholas Buck - 2024 - Journal of Religious Ethics 52 (1):26-49.
    Approaching Martin Luther King Jr. as a constructive political theorist, I present a synthetic view of his thought that is able to make cogent and compelling sense of prominent concepts and lines of reasoning in his writings. I contend that King's political thought, which is grounded in his moral, metaphysical, and theological convictions, is best understood as structurally teleological and oriented to the construction of an inclusive, democratic community as its end. To make this case and fill out the picture (...)
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  9. Privileged Citizens and the Right to Riot.Thomas Carnes - 2024 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 26 (3):633-640.
    Avia Pasternak’s account of permissible political rioting includes a constraint that insists only oppressed citizens, and not privileged citizens, are permitted to riot when rioting is justified. This discussion note argues that Pasternak’s account, with which I largely agree, should be expanded to admit the permissibility of privileged citizens rioting alongside and in solidarity with oppressed citizens. The permissibility of privileged citizens participating in riots when rioting is justified is grounded in the notions that it is sometimes necessary, in accordance (...)
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  10. Civil Disobedience: A Phenomenological Approach.Steffen Herrmann - 2024 - Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 55 (1):61-76.
    In this paper, I discuss three objections against climate activism often voiced in the public, namely that their practices of civil disobedience are ultimately insincere, illegal, and ineffective. The main part of my paper focuses on this last point. This is because this objection points us to a deeper conceptual problem of political protest: if one of the conditions for the success of civil disobedience is that political demands must have been first voiced via democratic channels of opinion-formation, then why (...)
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  11. Can Climate Civil Disobedience be Justified?Douglas Bamford - 2023 - Think 22 (64):65-70.
    Some people have engaged in acts of civil disobedience to protest against the climate policies of their governments and corporations. This article argues that these disobedient actions are justified at present since governments fail to do all they reasonably can to respond to this pressing issue.
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  12. Learning from the Streets? Civil Disobedience in Theory and Practice.Robin Celikates - 2023 - In Dimitrios Karmis & Jocelyn Maclure (eds.), Civic Freedom in an Age of Diversity: The Public Philosophy of James Tully. McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 103-122.
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  13. Environmental Activism and the Fairness of Costs Argument for Uncivil Disobedience.Ten-Herng Lai & Chong-Ming Lim - 2023 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 9 (3):490-509.
    Social movements often impose nontrivial costs on others against their wills. Civil disobedience is no exception. How can social movements in general, and civil disobedience in particular, be justifiable despite this apparent wrong-making feature? We examine an intuitively plausible account—it is fair that everyone should bear the burdens of tackling injustice. We extend this fairness-based argument for civil disobedience to defend some acts of uncivil disobedience. Focusing on uncivil environmental activism—such as ecotage (sabotage with the aim of protecting the environment)—we (...)
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  14. Seeing like an activist: Civil disobedience and the civil rights movement.Janosch Prinz - 2023 - Contemporary Political Theory 22 (1):38-41.
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  15. A Right to Break the Law? On the Political Function and Moral Grounds of Civil Disobedience.Johan Andreas Trovik - 2023 - Res Publica 29 (3):385-403.
    Do citizens of liberal democratic states have a moral right to engage in civil disobedience? Famously, Joseph Raz argued that they do not. In this article, I defend his argument against some recent challenges, but show how it is tied to a particular model of civil disobedience. On this model, the purpose of civil disobedience is to protest and prevent particularly egregious violations of justice. A moral right to civil disobedience can be grounded on a different model, where the function (...)
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  16. On Covert Civil Disobedience and Animal Rescue.Daniel Weltman - 2023 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 25 (2).
    Tony Milligan argues that some forms of covert non-human animal rescue, wherein activists anonymously and illegally free non-human animals from confinement, should be understood as acts of civil disobedience. However, most traditional understandings of civil disobedience require that the civil disobedient act publicly rather than covertly. Thus Milligan’s proposal is that we revise our understanding of civil disobedience to allow for covert in addition to public disobedience. I argue we should not. Milligan cannot justify using paradigm cases to expand the (...)
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  17. Nonviolent Protesters and Provocations to Violence.Shawn Kaplan - 2022 - Washington University Review of Philosophy 2:170-187.
    In this paper, I examine the ethics of nonviolent protest when a violent response is either foreseen or intended. One central concern is whether protesters, who foresee a violent response but persist, are provoking the violence and whether they are culpable for any eventual harms. A second concern is whether it is permissible to publicize the violent response for political advantage. I begin by distinguishing between two senses of the term provoke: a normative sense where a provocateur knowingly imposes an (...)
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  18. Anonymity, fidelity to law, and digital Civil disobedience.Wulf Loh - 2022 - Philosophy and Social Criticism (4):448-476.
    Making use of the liberal concept of civil disobedience, this paper assesses, under which circumstances instances of illegal digital protest—called “hacktivism”—can be justified vis-à-vis the pro t...
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  19. Unruly kids? Conceptualizing and defending youth disobedience.Nikolas Mattheis - 2022 - European Journal of Political Theory 21 (3):466-490.
    Taking the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement as its starting point, this article conceptualizes and defends youth disobedience, understood as principled disobedience by legal minors. The article first argues that the school strike for climate can be viewed as civil disobedience. Then, the article distinguishes between various forms of youth disobedience. Building on the democratic rationale for civil disobedience, the remainder of the article argues that there is a special justification for youth disobedience. To show this, it argues that children are (...)
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  20. Civil disobedience as a non-violence possibility: a philosophical reflection.Cacilda Jandira Corrêa Mezzomo & Marcelo Larger Carneiro - 2022 - Kant E-Prints 16 (3):35-59.
    In this article, we will discuss Civil Disobedience as a tool for non-violent protests. We will analyze the ideas from Thoreau to Kant, including the thoughts of Gandhi and Dworkin, verifying the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of their arguments in the political world. With regard to Dworkin and Gandhi, both inspired by Thoreau's thought, civil disobedience to norms provided a change in the political scenario, capable of effecting a mediation of conflicts through non-violence. Kant's perspective, in turn, presents the hypothesis (...)
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  21. “Gandhi’s Encounter with the British Suffrage Movement: Lessons Learned".Gail M. Presbey - 2022 - In Veena Howard & Falon Kartch (eds.), Gandhi's Global Legacy: Moral Methods and Modern Challenges. Lexington Books / Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 87-106.
    Most accounts of the influences on Gandhi's philosophy and tactics of nonviolent action do not give enough credit to the role that women in the British suffrage movement played in inspiring and guiding him. The article explains how, despite his specifically mentioning on occasion that he is NOT copying their tactics, he actually does repeat many of them in his 1913 satyagraha campaign in South Africa. And on many occasions he does credit them with inspiring him and his movement. In (...)
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  22. Rescue Missions in the Mediterranean and the Legitimacy of the EU’s Border Regime.Hallvard Sandven & Antoinette Scherz - 2022 - Res Publica (4):1-20.
    In the last seven years, close to twenty thousand people have died trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Rescue missions by private actors and NGOs have increased because both national measures and measures by the EU’s border control agency, Frontex, are often deemed insufficient. However, such independent rescue missions face increasing persecution from national governments, Italy being one example. This raises the question of how potential migrants and dissenting citizens should act towards the EU border regime. In (...)
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  23. Why not uncivil disobedience?William E. Scheuerman - 2022 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 25 (7):980-999.
    An impressive body of recent literature posits that traditional notions of civil disobedience prevent us from properly considering potentially legitimate types of ‘uncivil’ political lawbreaking. When might uncivil (covert, legally evasive, morally offensive and potentially violent) lawbreaking prove normatively acceptable? If justifiable, what conditions should its practitioners be reasonably expected to meet? Despite some important insights, defenders of uncivil disobedience rely on a narrow and sometimes misleading view of civil disobedience, as previously practiced and theorized. Notwithstanding legitimate skepticism about Rawlsian (...)
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  24. Vigilantism and Political Vision.Susanna Siegel - 2022 - Washington University Review of Philosophy 2:1-42.
    Vigilantism, commonly glossed as “taking the law into one’s own hands,” has been analyzed differently in studies of comparative politics, ethnography, history, and legal theory, but has attracted little attention from philosophers. What can “taking the law into one’s hands” amount to? How does vigilantism relate to mobs, protests, and self-defense? I distinguish between several categories of vigilantism, identify the questions they are most useful for addressing, and offer an analysis on which vigilantism is a kind of political initiative done (...)
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  25. Piero Moraro, Civil Disobedience: A Philosophical Overview.William Smith - 2022 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 16 (3):651-656.
    Piero Moraro offers an illuminating and insightful survey of the philosophical literature on civil disobedience, illustrating how the conversation has evolved since the debates triggered by the social movements of the 1960s. The principal value of the book is that it showcases the multifaceted complexion of the emerging philosophical terrain, thus correcting the erroneous but still common perception that civil disobedience is a mere adjunct to interminable debates about the duty to obey. The book also offers original contributions to the (...)
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  26. On Radical Genealogies of Civil Disobedience.Eraldo Souza dos Santos - 2022 - (des)Troços 4 (1):1-8.
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  27. Seeing Civil Disobedience Like a State. [REVIEW]Eraldo Souza dos Santos - 2022 - The Philosopher 110 (1).
    Review Essay on "Seeing Like an Activist: Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement," by Erin Pineda (2021).
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  28. Covert Animal Rescue: Civil Disobedience or Subrevolution?Daniel Weltman - 2022 - Environmental Ethics 44 (1):61-83.
    We should conceive of illegal covert animal rescue as acts of “subrevolution” rather than as civil disobedience. Subrevolutions are revolutions that aim to overthrow some part of the government rather than the entire government. This framework better captures the relevant values than the opposing suggestion that we treat illegal covert animal rescue as civil disobedience. If animals have rights like the right not to be unjustly imprisoned and mistreated, then it does not make sense that an instance of animal rescue (...)
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  29. Whistleblowing, or the Resistance to Institutional Wrongdoing from Within.Michele Bocchiola & Emanuela Ceva - 2021 - The Harvard Review of Philosophy 28:53-70.
    The article discusses the resort to whistleblowing as a form of resistance to institutional wrongdoing that comes from within an institution. The resort to whistleblowing can take either an individual or an institutional form. As an individual act of resistance, whistleblowing has often been presented as a last resort against institutional wrongdoing whose justification draws on normative arguments for civil disobedience. The institutional form we present in this article shows a nontrivial sense in which a “normalized resort” to whistleblowing can (...)
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  30. Civil disobedience.Kimberley Brownlee & Candice Delmas - 2021 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  31. Youth Movements, Civil Disobedience, and the Skandalon of the Ecological Crisis.Nuno Pereira Castanheira - 2021 - Veritas – Revista de Filosofia da Pucrs 65 (3):e38231.
    The ecological crisis is endangering life on Earth as we know it, giving rise to multiple protests, strikes and marches around the world, most of them lead by children and teenagers. The aim of this paper is to argue for the legitimacy of the presence of children and teenagers in political life in the current state of the ecological crisis through a seemingly paradoxical kind of participation: civil disobedience, i.e. refusal to participate. The paper will start by addressing the need (...)
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  32. Christian Bioethics and the Partisan Commitments of Secular Bioethicists: Epistemic Injustice, Moral Distress, Civil Disobedience.Mark J. Cherry - 2021 - Christian Bioethics 27 (2):123-139.
    Secular bioethicists do not speak from a place of distinction, but from within particular culturally, socially, and historically conditioned standpoints. As partisans of moral and ideological agendas, they bring their own biases, prejudices, and worldviews to their roles as ethical consultants, social advocates, and academics, attempting rhetorically to sway others and shift policy to a preferred point of view. Their pronouncements represent just one voice among others, even when delivered with strident rhetoric, in an educated and knowing tone, from within (...)
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  33. Cosmopolitan disobedience.Steve Cooke - 2021 - Journal of International Political Theory 17 (3):222-239.
    Increasingly, protests occur across borders and are carried out by non-nationals. Many of these protests include elements that break the laws of their host country and are aimed at issues of global concern. Despite the increasing frequency of transnational protest, little ethical consideration has been given to it. This article provides a cosmopolitan justification for transnational disobedience on behalf of self and others. The article argues that individuals may be justified in illegally protesting in other states, and that in some (...)
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  34. Civil Disobedience in Times of Pandemic: Clarifying Rights and Duties.Yoann Della Croce & Ophelia Nicole-Berva - 2021 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 17 (1):155-174.
    This paper seeks to investigate and assess a particular form of relationship between the State and its citizens in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely that of obedience to the law and its related right of protest through civil disobedience. We do so by conducting an analysis and normative evaluation of two cases of disobedience to the law: (1) healthcare professionals refusing to attend work as a protest against unsafe working conditions, and (2) citizens who use public demonstration and (...)
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  35. In Such Ways as Promise Some Success.William A. Edmundson - 2021 - The Harvard Review of Philosophy 28:1-22.
    This year is the centenary of the birth of philosopher John Rawls and the semi-centenary of his monumental A Theory of Justice. This essay explores the differences between political opposition and political resistance as reflected in his work. Rawls is remembered for the careful conditions he imposed in the Vietnam-War era upon justifiable civil disobedience in “nearly just” societies. It is less well known that he came to regard the United States as a fundamentally unjust society. The nation has shown (...)
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  36. Thoreau and the Idea of John Brown: The Radicalization of Transcendental Politics.Ilkin Huseynli - 2021 - The Pluralist 16 (3):112-125.
    Henry David Thoreau’s defense of John Brown has been interpreted as an inconsistency in his political philosophy. Since Thoreau was best known for his commitment to civil disobedience, his critics argued that his support for Brown constitutes a break in Thoreau’s political thought. However, I argue that "A Plea for John Brown" should be seen as a radicalization of Thoreau’s transcendental politics rather than an inconsistency in his writings. To understand this decade-long process of radicalization requires an analysis of Thoreau’s (...)
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  37. The Philosophy of Protest: Fighting for Justice without Going to War.Jennifer Kling & Megan Mitchell - 2021 - New York: Rowman & Littlefield International.
    Rather than looking at protest in the ideal case, this book looks at how protest is actually practiced and argues that suitably constrained violent political protest is sometimes justified.
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  38. Kant and the Problem of Unequal Enforcement of Law.Daniel Koltonski - 2021 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 20 (2):188-210.
    Kant infamously opposes not only revolution but also any resistance or disobedience by citizens that aims to compel states to reform themselves. This paper argues that, in fact, the Kantian account of the legitimate state has the resources for a distinctive justification of principled disobedience, including even violent or destructive resistance, that applies to citizens of contemporary Western democracies. When a state fails to enforce the law equally, this lack of equal enforcement can deprive some citizens of the equal assurance (...)
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  39. Differentiating Disobedients.Chong-Ming Lim - 2021 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 20 (2).
    Conscientious disobedients often face the demand to differentiate themselves from criminals whose law-breaking actions are not undergirded by conscientious convictions. In public and philosophical discourse, conscientious disobedients are often criticised on the basis that their actions render them no different from criminals. I provide a qualified defence of disobedients in this essay. I argue that the differentiation demand can be satisfied even by disobedients who engage in what are typically regarded as radical acts of disobedience. In practical terms, this means (...)
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  40. Henry David Thoreau: Civil Disobedience.David Lombard, Robert Clark & Cristina Sandru - 2021 - The Literary Encyclopedia.
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  41. Violence, communication, and civil disobedience.Andreas Marcou - 2021 - Jurisprudence 12 (4):491-511.
    The proliferation of civil disobedience in recent times has prompted questions about violence and justified resistance. Non-violence has traditionally been associated with civil disobedience. If ci...
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  42. Beyond Civil Disobedience: Social Nullification and Black Citizenship.Charles F. Peterson - 2021 - Springer Verlag.
    This book interrogates the nature and state of African American citizenship through the prism of Social Contract Theory. Challenging the United States’ commitment to African American citizenship, this book explores the idea of Social Nullification, the decision to reject, revoke and re-define the social contract with a state and society. Charles F. Peterson surveys the history of Social Contract Theory, examines Nullification as political and legal theory, argues public policy as a measure of the state’s commitment to the contractarian relationship (...)
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  43. The Cambridge Companion to Civil Disobedience.William E. Scheuerman (ed.) - 2021 - Cambridge University Press.
    The theory and practice of civil disobedience has once again taken on import, given recent events. Considering widespread dissatisfaction with normal political mechanisms, even in well-established liberal democracies, civil disobedience remains hugely important, as a growing number of individuals and groups pursue political action. 'Digital disobedients', Black Lives Matter protestors, Extinction Rebellion climate change activists, Hong Kong activists resisting the PRC's authoritarian clampdown…all have practiced civil disobedience. In this Companion, an interdisciplinary group of scholars reconsiders civil disobedience from many perspectives. (...)
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  44. Politically Motivated Property Damage.William E. Scheuerman - 2021 - The Harvard Review of Philosophy 28:89-106.
    Can politically inspired property damage or destruction be justified? This question is hardly of mere academic interest, in light of recent political protests in Hong Kong, the USA, and elsewhere. Against some contemporary writers, I argue that placing property damage under an open-ended rubric of uncivil disobedience does not generate the necessary conceptual and normative distinctions. Drawing on Martin Luther King, Jr., I instead argue that property damage should not be equated or conflated with violence against persons; it also takes (...)
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  45. Civil disobedience outside of the liberal democratic framework: The case of Sudan.Yeelen Badona Monteiro - 2020 - South African Journal of Philosophy 39 (4):376-386.
    Civil disobedience is a form of protest consisting in an act contrary to law, whose aim is to bring about a change in laws or policies deemed unjust. In the traditional Western philosophical debate, civil disobedience was mainly discussed and justified within the boundaries of a democratic regime. John Rawls’ theory of civil disobedience is explicitly based on this liberal assumption. He conceptualises civil disobedience as a public, nonviolent, conscientious and political breach of the law, only appropriate to nearly just (...)
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  46. Theorizing the Politics of Protest: Contemporary Debates on Civil Disobedience.Çiğdem Çıdam, William E. Scheuerman, Candice Delmas, Erin R. Pineda, Robin Celikates & Alexander Livingston - 2020 - Contemporary Political Theory 19 (3):513-546.
  47. Of Rebels and Disobedients: Reflections on Arendt, Race, Lawbreaking.Ayça Çubukçu - 2020 - Law and Critique 32 (1):33-50.
    Hannah Arendt valued the unprecedented, the unexpected, and the new, yet in essays crafted at the end of the rebellious 1960s, struggled to square this valuation with a palpable desire for law and order. She lamented that criminality had overtaken American life, accused the police of not arresting enough criminals, and charged ‘the Negro community’ with standing behind what she named black violence. At once, she praised ‘the white rebels’ of the student movement in the United States for their courageous (...)
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  48. Book Review: Civil Disobedience. [REVIEW]Gabriel Busch de Brito - 2020 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 47 (7):873-876.
    Philosophy & Social Criticism, Ahead of Print.
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  49. Linguistic Disobedience.David Miguel Gray & Benjamin Lennertz - 2020 - Philosophers' Imprint 20 (21):1-16.
    There has recently been a flurry of activity in the philosophy of language on how to best account for the unique features of epithets. One of these features is that epithets can be appropriated (that is, the offense-grounding potential of a term can be removed). We argue that attempts to appropriate an epithet fundamentally involve a violation of language-governing rules. We suggest that the other conditions that make something an attempt at appropriation are the same conditions that characterize acts of (...)
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  50. Gendered dissent in the Arab uprising: The challenges and the gains.Sherine Hafez - 2020 - European Journal of Women's Studies 27 (4):348-361.
    The events that followed the revolution of 25 January 2011 demonstrated the tenacity and resilience of gendered dissent and its centrality to collective action and civil disobedience, thus enriching the transnational feminist archive with the experiences and praxis of gendered revolutionary action. Paying particular attention to women’s activism during the uprisings in Egypt, this article focuses on the broader themes of gendered political resistance and the intersections of gender ideology, state policing, Islamism and militarism with protest and collective action. The (...)
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