Introduction: Law and disobedience

Res Publica 10 (4):319-336 (2004)
Abstract
This essay considers some major questions raised by civil and other forms of conscientious disobedience. What distinguishes that form of dissent? Can we recognise the legitimacy of a political system yet defy its laws? Is disobeying a democratic decision especially or entirely unacceptable, or can disobedience be an instrument of democracy? If a regime recognises rights, how should we regard disobedience that appeals to those rights in challenging the regimes laws? How should reasons for obedience figure in our thinking about justified disobedience? The essay locates the contributions that make up this special issue of Res Publica within these debates about disobedience. It questions whether any general theory of justified disobedience can command agreement: the conditions that give rise to conscientious disobedience -- conflicting values and judgements -- seem to preclude consensus on when its use is justified.
Keywords authority  civil disobedience  conscientious objection  democracy  disobedience  justification  Hobbes  rights
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