Civil Disobedience and Social Power: Reflections on Habermas

Contemporary Political Theory 7 (1):72-89 (2008)
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Abstract

In this article, I assess Jürgen Habermas’s defence of civil disobedience as ’the guardian of legitimacy’ in democratic societies. I suggest that, despite its appeal, the defence as it stands is incomplete. The problem relates to his account of the justification of this mode of protest. Although Habermas wants to defend civil disobedience as a response to inadequacies in deliberative democratic procedures, he does not provide us with a clear and compelling account of these inadequacies. In order to provide such an account, I examine the various ways in which the illegitimate circulation of social power can distort democratic processes. Civil disobedience can be seen as a legitimate response to inequalities in social power, a defence that builds on the strengths of Habermas’s approach while transcending its limitations. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

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