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A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil | Candice Delmas

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Candice Delmas, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Political Science

What are our responsibilities in the face of injustice? Many philosophers argue for what is called political obligation—the duty to obey the law of nearly just, legitimate states. Even proponents of civil disobedience generally hold that, given this moral duty, breaking the law requires justification. By contrast, activists from Henry David Thoreau to the Movement for Black Lives have long recognized a responsibility to resist injustice. Taking seriously this activism, this book wrestles with the problem of political obligation in real world societies that harbor injustice. It argues that the very grounds supporting a duty to obey the law—grounds such as the natural duty of justice, the principle of fairness, the Samaritan duty, and associative duties—also impose obligations of resistance under unjust social conditions. The work therefore expands political obligation to include a duty to resist injustice even in legitimate states, and further shows that under certain real-world conditions, this duty to resist demands principled disobedience. Against the mainstream in public, legal, and philosophical discourse, the book argues that such disobedience need not always be civil. Sometimes, covert, violent, evasive, or offensive acts of lawbreaking can be justified, even required. Illegal assistance to undocumented migrants, leaks of classified information, hacktivism sabotage, armed self-defense, guerrilla art, and other modes of resistance are viable and even necessary forms of resistance. There are limits: principle alone does not justify lawbreaking. But uncivil disobedience can sometimes be required in the effort to resist injustice.

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