When (if ever) is political violence justified? Most politics classes focus on ordinary politics – how interest groups and political parties struggle for power through political institutions. While there can be many disputes, in ordinary instances they are resolved non-violently, through debate, persuasion, bargaining, and voting. But there are also instances where political actors work outside normal institutions to bring about their desired political ends. Sometimes they use non-violent tactics, such as boycotts, sit-ins, and peaceful demonstrations. Sometimes groups have resorted to acts of violence such as rioting, terrorism, and armed insurrection. Usually, these extra-Parliamentary means of political action involve disobedience – the intentional disregard of political authority to bring about a desired political change,
This module considers why political actors have turned to disobedience, and what possible justifications there may be for breaking the law in order achieve one’s desired political outcome. If disobedience is never permitted, then what is to stop the state from oppressing its citizens? Conversely, if citizens are always permitted to disobey the state, then what prevents society from descending into chaos? This module explores the tricky normative questions that are raised by disobeying political authority. We will explore these issues through a combination of key texts in political theory on the justification of civil and uncivil disobedience, and an examination of the moral dilemmas raised through a set of historical cases.