Uncivil Disobedience: Studies in Violence and Democratic Politics

Princeton University Press
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Uncivil Disobedience examines the roles violence and terrorism have played in the exercise of democratic ideals in America. Jennet Kirkpatrick explores how crowds, rallying behind the principle of popular sovereignty and desiring to make law conform to justice, can disdain law and engage in violence. She exposes the hazards of democracy that arise when citizens seek to control government directly, and demonstrates the importance of laws and institutions as limitations on the will of the people.

Kirkpatrick looks at some of the most explosive instances of uncivil disobedience in American history: the contemporary militia movement, Southern lynch mobs, frontier vigilantism, and militant abolitionism. She argues that the groups behind these violent episodes are often motivated by admirable democratic ideas of popular power and autonomy. Kirkpatrick shows how, in this respect, they are not so unlike the much-admired adherents of nonviolent civil disobedience, yet she reveals how those who engage in violent disobedience use these admirable democratic principles as a justification for terrorism and killing. She uses a "bottom-up" analysis of events to explain how this transformation takes place, paying close attention to what members of these groups do and how they think about the relationship between citizens and the law.



Uncivil Disobedience calls for a new vision of liberal democracy where the rule of the people and the rule of law are recognized as fundamental ideals, and where neither is triumphant or transcendent.

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About the author

Jennet Kirkpatrick is lecturer in political science at the University of Michigan.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Sep 2, 2008
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Pages
168
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ISBN
9781400828869
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Language
English
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Genres
History / General
History / United States / General
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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What are our responsibilities in the face of injustice? How far should we go to fight it? Many would argue that as long as a state is nearly just, citizens have a moral duty to obey the law. Proponents of civil disobedience generally hold that, given this moral duty, a person needs a solid justification to break the law. But activists from Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi to the Movement for Black Lives have long recognized that there are times when, rather than having a duty to obey the law, we have a duty to disobey it. Taking seriously the history of this activism, A Duty to Resist wrestles with the problem of political obligation in real world societies that harbor injustice. Candice Delmas argues that the duty of justice, the principle of fairness, the Samaritan duty, and political association impose responsibility to resist under conditions of injustice. We must expand political obligation to include a duty to resist unjust laws and social conditions even in legitimate states. For Delmas, this duty to resist demands principled disobedience, and such disobedience need not always be civil. At times, covert, violent, evasive, or offensive acts of lawbreaking can be justified, even required. Delmas defends the viability and necessity of illegal assistance to undocumented migrants, leaks of classified information, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, sabotage, armed self-defense, guerrilla art, and other modes of resistance. There are limits: principle alone does not justify law breaking. But uncivil disobedience can sometimes be not only permissible but required in the effort to resist injustice.
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