Features of a paradigm case of civil disobedience

Res Publica 10 (4):337-351 (2004)
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The purpose of this paper is not to define civil disobedience, but to identify a paradigm case of civil disobedience and the features exemplified in it. After noting the benefits of this methodological approach, the paper proceeds with an examination of two key, interconnected features: conscientiousness and communication. First, a link is made between the conscientious aspect of civil disobedience and moral consistency; a civil disobedient demonstrates a conscientious commitment to certain values through her willingness to condemn, and to dissociate herself from, governmental decisions that violate those values. A parallel is then drawn between the communicative aspect of civil disobedience and the communicative aspect of lawful punishment by the state. Both practices are associated with an aim to demonstrate protest against certain types of conduct and an aim to bring about a change in that conduct. In paradigm situations, a civil disobedient aims to lead policymakers not only to reform existing law, but also to internalise her objections so as to produce a lasting change in the law. Having such aims places some constraints upon the modes of communication that she reasonably may use to achieve these aims. This paper concludes by considering three controversial modes of communication -- coercion, publicity and violence.



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Kimberley Brownlee
University of British Columbia

Citations of this work

The Ethics of Government Whistleblowing.Candice Delmas - 2015 - Social Theory and Practice 41 (1):77-105.
Civil Disobedience.Candice Delmas - 2016 - Philosophy Compass 11 (11):681-691.
Unruly kids? Conceptualizing and defending youth disobedience.Nikolas Mattheis - 2022 - European Journal of Political Theory 21 (3):466-490.

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References found in this work

The Expressive Function of Punishment.Joel Feinberg - 1965 - The Monist 49 (3):397-423.
Defining civil disobedience.Brian Smart - 1978 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 21 (1-4):249 – 269.

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