A superb new book on the duty of resistance

by Chris Bertram on October 31, 2018

Candice Delmas, A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Political obligation has always been a somewhat unsatisfactory topic in political philosophy, as has, relatedly, civil disobedience. The “standard view” of civil disobedience, to be found in Rawls, presupposes that we live in a nearly just society in which some serious violations of the basic liberties yet occur and conceives of civil disobedience as a deliberate act of public lawbreaking, nonviolent in character, which aims to communicate a sense of grave wrong to our fellow citizens. To demonstrate their fidelity to law, civil disobedients are willing to accept the consequences of their actions and to take their punishment. When Rawls first wrote about civil disobedience, in 1964, parts of the US were openly and flagrantly engaged in the violent subordination of their black population, so it was quite a stretch for him to think of that society as “nearly just”. But perhaps its injustice impinged less obviously on a white professor at an elite university in Massachusetts than it did on poor blacks in the deep South.

The problems with the standard account hardly stop there. Civil disobedience thus conceived is awfully narrow. In truth, the range of actions which amount to resistance to the state and to unjust societies is extremely broad, running from ordinary political opposition, through civil disobedience to disobedience that is rather uncivil, through sabotage, hacktivism, leaking, whistle-blowing, carrying out Samaritan assistance in defiance of laws that prohibit it, striking, occupation, violent resistance, violent revolution, and, ultimately, terrorism. For the non-ideal world in which we actually live and where we are nowhere close to a “nearly just” society, we need a better theory, one which tells us whether Black Lives Matter activists are justified or whether antifa can punch Richard Spencer. Moreover, we need a theory that tells us not only what we may do but also what we are obliged to do: when is standing by in the face of injustice simply not morally permissible.

Step forward Candice Delmas with her superb and challenging book The Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil (Oxford University Press). Delmas points out the manifold shortcomings of the standard account and how it is often derived from taking the particular tactics of the civil rights movement and turning pragmatic choices into moral principles. Lots of acts of resistance against unjust societies, in order to be effective, far from being communicative, need to be covert. Non-violence may be an effective strategy, but sometimes those resisting state injustice have a right to defend themselves.

The argumentative strategy of Delmas’s book is to take the principal grounds adduced by theorists of political obligation and to turn them round into reasons for resistance under non-ideal conditions. Moreover, those reasons will not merely ground a permission to resist but an obligation to do so. She gives four main grounds, though I wonder whether five would have been better: the natural duty of justice, obligations of fairness, Samaritan duties and, finally, associative duties and dignity.

Perhaps the most popular account of political obligation these days in the so-called “natural duty” account favoured (inter alia) by Rawls himself. This holds that we have a natural duty, that is a pre-institutional duty grounded in our moral personality, to comply with just institutions and to put in place such institutions when they do not exist (at least if we can do so without bearing unreasonable costs). For Delmas this puts each of us under a duty in societies where institutions are seriously unjust to reform or replace those institutions.

The second set of theories consists of accounts based on fairness: where a fair scheme of co-operation is in place from which we benefit, we have a duty to play our part, bear a fair share of the costs and, basically not free ride. The flip-side for Delmas is that when we participate in a flagrantly unfair scheme, such as an extortion racket, we are doing something that we shouldn’t and we are under an obligation not to benefit from that unfairness and to work for rectification on behalf of the victims. A co-operative scheme that leaves some of its participants crushed at the bottom, dominated, abused and denied fair opportunities, such as the ghetto poor in large US cities are is an unfair scheme. They have the right to resist, and unjust beneficiaries have a duty to assist them.

Some political philosophers, such as Kit Wellman, have argued that our obligation to obey flows from positive Samaritan duties: the state rescues us all from a perilous state of nature and we all have a duty to assist in that act of collective assistance. But actual states both condemn some people to acute poverty and danger and actually ban their citizens from performing their Samaritan duties towards people in grave peril such as migrants in the Arizona desert or the Mediterranean. Our duties of assistance both to the victims of structural injustice and to vulnerable people like undocumented migrants requires us to disobey and resist the state’s law.

The fourth ground on which Delmas makes her case is based on associative theories of obligations according to which one has a duty to obey as a function of membership. I found this hardest to get a grip on as a general proposition, but there seem to be two related but different sorts of case. The first is where people are denied a membership status to which they are entitled, or where the reality of their social and economic position means that they are de facto denied that standing. Trump’s efforts to deny birthright citizenship to the children of undocumented migrants together with the continued exclusion of DREAMers from US citizenship would seem to be obviously relevant cases, but so are examples where people are deprived of effective citizenship because of poverty and racial stigmatization, such as the ghetto poor and the victims of felony voting bans. But these offences against equal dignity ought to also make us think of a second category where the denial of status is not a member of membership of an association but rather of our common humanity. Here, people have a right to stand up for their dignity as an affirmation of who they are, that they are people, that they should not be treated thus. So perhaps this points to five rather than four grounds of resistance.

Delmas’s view is a very demanding one. In non-ideal circumstances we have duties on multiple grounds to stand with and for our fellow citizens and human beings against oppression and injustice. As people who are often beneficiaries of that injustice, as most Crooked Timber readers are, it looks as if a lot is expected of us. Sometimes the duty will be imperfect, so we can pick our moments and our causes, but at other times, as when we witness racial abuse on public transport, we have obligations to act there and then if we can do so without serious costs and dangers.

And violence? Is it OK to punch Richard Spencer in the head? Delmas gives a slightly hedged answer to this one. Antifa violence in self-defence, and to defend others in grave danger is justified, in Charlottesville and elsewhere. But punching Nazis who are merely talking to a camera probably normally crosses a threshold (though flour and eggs would probably have been ok).

{ 61 comments }

1

Hidari 10.31.18 at 3:41 pm

Strangely enough, the link I was looking at immediately before I clicked on the OP, was this:

https://www.thecanary.co/opinion/2018/10/30/our-time-is-up-weve-got-nothing-left-but-rebellion/

It would be interesting to see a philosopher’s view on whether or not civil disobedience was necessary, and to what extent, to prevent actions that will lead to the end of our species.

2

ccc 10.31.18 at 4:07 pm

Quoting Delmas p77-78

“We also need to carve out another category involving grave injustice but not public denial of citizens’ free and equal status. … wrongs to nonmembers. Such indignities may also be inflicted on nonhuman animals …”

“Deliberative inertia, a concept I borrow from Smith, designates breakdowns of public deliberation that occur when certain agendas and discussions are blocked from or fail to surface in the public sphere.”

I submit that Crooked Timber is stuck in a 15 year long deliberative inertia on the interests and rights of the approximately 56 billion non-human animals that humans every year rear, forcibly confine, violently harm and kill to eat.

During the time the Crooked Timber writers has been bloggin’ away prolifically about any number of topic – high and low, acutely serious and less so – approximately 840 billion of them have been snuffed out.

Meanwhile, the philosophical case against human on animal exploitation has grown. So has the grassroot animal rights movement. And political and legal action for animals. Major figures in political philosophy like Martha Nussbaum and Will Kymlicka now write extensively on animal rights and animals in political theory.

But on this site it is as if nothing of that happened. Here concerns over fairness, compassion, non-domination and how systems of power leads to harm is recognized with regard to humans. But non-humans? Systematically ignored. Made invisible.

So I woe, but do let me know, what disobedience will get this through to you?

3

SamChevre 10.31.18 at 4:38 pm

Typo note:
The flip-side for Delmas is that when we participate in a flagrantly fair scheme, such as an extortion racket,

Should be “flagrantly UNfair”

[Thanks! Fixed. CB]

4

Ebenezer Scrooge 10.31.18 at 4:52 pm

Two points:
As far as the Nazi-punching goes, it is important to remember that we hung Julius Streicher for nothing but speech acts.
I have no idea who Candice Delmas is, but “Delmas” is a French name. The French have a very different attitude toward civil disobedience than we do.

5

Chris Bertram 10.31.18 at 5:04 pm

Candice Delmas is indeed French, but I’ve no idea what nationality “we” are Ebenezer. Here at CT we have several.

6

eg 10.31.18 at 5:31 pm

To the last line, from our Quebecois friends, I give you Les Entartistes …

https://www.entartistes.ca/

7

Ebenezer Scrooge 10.31.18 at 6:31 pm

@5: I stand chastened and corrected. I meant “American”–maybe “Anglosphere” is also correct?

8

Patrick 10.31.18 at 8:12 pm

I know you’re just polishing your bona fides for an audience, but your dig at Rawls seems uncalled for.

1) He addresses civil rights issues rather specifically when discussing civil disobedience,

2) his definition of “nearly just” includes a measure of substantial injustice, and

3) that aspect of framework is intended to discuss when going past civil disobedience is appropriate, and Rawls considers consequences, harm, and likelihood of success to be morally relevant, so its hard to argue his classification was wrong unless you’re willing to take the much more controversial and difficult to support stance that going past civil disobedience would have been productive.

9

nastywoman 10.31.18 at 8:13 pm

…”it looks as if a lot is expected of us” – especially since finding out how difficult it seems to be for a lot of US in Trumpists times to identify the ”right -(or wrong?) type” of resistance to ”oppression and injustice”?

Like all these people – who said and say they got ”oppressed” by some ”Neoliberal Elites” and that’s why they had – absolutely HAD and HAVE -(like a ph) to follow the absolutely worst crazy a…holes around –
and all of it – utmost absurd – also in the name of ”resistance”?

So we need to resist a ”resistance” which believes the only way to resist -(them Power-Elites-Neoliberals-etc-etc is to turn into crazy a…holes ourselves?

Just… joking? –
”BUT!” – as probably Von Clownstick would like to ”BUT!” – aren’t there – supposedly – already some ”mighty” world wide ”rebellions” going on? –
I read and see it every day – from a lot of simplistic ”rebellions of stupid” UP to revolting ”sick rebellions” like the “incel rebellion” where involuntarily celibate men really seem to believe that they have to ”resist” women? -(or not?)

And unrelated ”BUT!” related – even ”Nazis” try to resist every effort to resist hate speech – and so let’s blame all of it on this ”thesis” that people’s disgust with the corruption of the elites and crazy a…holes have NO other possibility as to to turn into even crazier a…holes themselves.

This is NOT true!

They ALL could (have) resist(ed) and found ”LOVE” instead.
(perhaps with the exception of Von Clownstick?)

10

Ogden Wernstrom 10.31.18 at 8:34 pm

ccc 10.31.18 at 4:07 pm, in part:

I submit that Crooked Timber is stuck in a 15 year long deliberative inertia on the interests and rights of the approximately 56 billion non-human animals that humans every year rear, forcibly confine, violently harm and kill to eat.

Good news: With a few notable exceptions, those who regularly comment here at CT have gone vegan – and we are selecting foods grown with high-enough levels of pesticides to make certain that no creature will ever have lived in our food – nearly-eliminating the consumption of multicellular organisms, and getting us so very close to 100% veganism.

That was low-hanging fruit, and the next challenge should be to convert contributors to a more-widely read blog, such as 0ccidental Enc1ave, rather than preaching to the already-converted.

11

Jeff R, 10.31.18 at 9:28 pm

It’s fairly clear that there has to be a golden-rule-like standard in place; that one should never legitimize any means toward social change that you would not object to seeing used by your mortal enemies.

12

Matt 10.31.18 at 10:40 pm

Thanks, Chris – it sounds like a serious look at a very difficult subject. Do you have any idea how it compares with the argument with this recent book by Jason Brennan? No doubt Brennan and Delmas have different ideas of when “resistance” is justified, at least in many cases, but if anyone knows, I’d be interested to hear how the structures of the arguments are similar or different.

13

Chris Bertram 10.31.18 at 11:06 pm

Sorry Matt, I don’t know about Brennan’s book. I’ve not been a fan of some of his past work though and I suspect that he and Delmas have very different conceptions of what justice involves.

14

Moz of Yarramulla 10.31.18 at 11:23 pm

civil disobedience as a deliberate act of public lawbreaking, nonviolent in character, which aims to communicate a sense of grave wrong to our fellow citizens.

I think that’s a pretty narrow view of civil disobedience even if you just count the actions of the protesters. Often NVDA is aimed at or merely accepts that a violent response is inevitable. The resistance at Parihaka, for example, was in no doubt that the response would be military and probably lethal. And Animal Liberation are often classified as terrorists by the US and UK governments while murderers against abortion are not.

Which is to say that the definition of “nonviolent” is itself an area of conflict, with some taking the Buddhist extremist position that any harm or even inconvenience to any living thing makes an action violent, and others saying that anything short of genocide can be nonviolent (and then there are the “intention is all” clowns). Likewise terrorism, most obviously of late the Afghani mujahideen when they transitioned from being revolutionaries to terrorists when the invader changed.

In Australia we have the actual government taking the view that any action taken by a worker or protester that inconveniences a company is a criminal act and the criminal must both compensate the company (including consequential damages) as well as facing jail time. tasmania and NSW and of course the anti-union laws. The penalties suggest they’re considered crimes of violence, as does the rhetoric.

15

Matt 10.31.18 at 11:38 pm

No worries, Chris. I also would strongly suspect (as noted) that Brennan and Delmas have different ideas of when instances of resistance are justified, but what would interest me is if the theories are similar as to _why_ and _how_ resistance is justified. That would be something interesting to know about if so. If anyone has looked at both, I’d be interested to hear.

16

J-D 10.31.18 at 11:50 pm

Jeff R.

By your logic (and assuming that the ‘not’ in your sentence is an oversight and an error), it would seem that any means that it is legitimate for the resistance to use against the tyrants is also legitimate for the tyrants to use against the resistance. I don’t accept that.

17

Moz of Yarramulla 11.01.18 at 12:13 am

Jeff@11

one should never legitimize any means toward social change that you would not object to seeing used by your mortal enemies.

Are you using an unusual definition of “mortal enemy” here? Viz, other than “enemy that wants to kill you”? Even US law has theoretical prohibitions on expressing that intention.

It’s especially odd since we’re right now in the middle of a great deal of bad-faith use of protest techniques by mortal enemies. “free speech” used to protect Nazi rallies, “academic freedom” to defend anti-science activists, “non-violent protest” used to describe violent attacks, “freedom of religion” used to excuse terrorism, the list goes on.

In Australia we have a ‘proud boys’ leader coming to Australia who has somehow managed to pass the character test imposed by our government. He’s the leader of a gang that requires an arrest for violence as a condition of membership and regularly says his goal is to incite others to commit murder. It seems odd that our immigration minister has found those things to be not disqualifying while deporting someone for merely associating with a vaguely similar gang, but we live in weird times.

18

J-D 11.01.18 at 12:50 am

Ebenezer Scrooge

As far as the Nazi-punching goes, it is important to remember that we hung Julius Streicher for nothing but speech acts.

I do remember that*, but it’s not clear to me why you think it’s important to remember it in this context. If somebody who had fatally punched a Nazi speaker were prosecuted for murder, I doubt that ‘he was a Nazi speaker’ would be accepted as a defence on the basis of the Streicher precedent.

*Strictly speaking, I don’t remember it as something that ‘we’ did: I wasn’t born at the time, and it’s not clear to me who you mean by ‘we’. (Streicher himself probably would have said that it was the Jews, or possibly the Jews and the Bolsheviks, who were hanging him, but I don’t suppose that would be your view.) However, I’m aware of the events you’re referring to, which is the real point.

19

engels 11.01.18 at 12:51 am

Rawls presupposes that we live in a nearly just society in which some serious violations of the basic liberties yet occur… For the non-ideal world in which we actually live and where we are nowhere close to a “nearly just” society, we need a better theory

I agree!

20

bad Jim 11.01.18 at 7:56 am

Not a week goes by without my recalling two stories by James Tiptree, Jr.: The Last Flight of Doctor Ain and “The Screwfly Solution”. The first describes a horrific act of resistance on behalf of non-primates, the second a sneak attack on humans. From the perspective of most living things, either scenario would be preferable to any but our most optimistic predictions.

21

M Caswell 11.01.18 at 9:41 am

Is the idea just that the “standard script” about civility is too narrow, or is it that there really is an obligation to violate civility, properly understood? A duty to treat others worse than you’d have them treat you seems implausible to me.

22

Metamorf 11.01.18 at 11:48 am

“… he and Delmas have very different conceptions of what justice involves.”

And therein lies the problem, doesn’t it? I too, or you too, may have different conceptions of what justice involves than either of them — are we all thereby under the same duty to resist, as uncivilly as necessary? Or can we say that such duty is only on those with the correct conception of justice? But doesn’t everyone believe that theirs IS the correct conception of justice? Objectively correct, in fact, avoiding the relativist trap. (And you can see the same regress occurs if we try to attribute bad faith to those professing their belief in their objective correctness.) So then are such resistance tactics licensed to everyone in effect, no matter how abhorrent, to us, their conception of justice?

23

Brandon Watson 11.01.18 at 12:02 pm

People need to stop spreading this misinterpretation about Rawls on civil disobedience, which I’ve seen several places in the past few years. Rawls focuses on the case of a nearly just society not because he thinks it’s the only case in which you can engage in civil disobedience but because he thinks it’s the only case in which there are difficulties with justifying it. He states this very clearly in A Theory of Justice: in cases where the society is not nearly just, there are no difficulties in justifying civil disobedience or even sometimes armed resistance. His natural duty account is not put forward as a general theory of civil disobedience but to argue that civil disobedience can admit of justification even in the case in which it is hardest to justify.

I’m not a fan of Rawls myself, but I don’t know how he could possibly have been more clear on this, since he makes all these points explicitly.

24

P.M.Lawrence 11.01.18 at 12:18 pm

I come at issues like this as a sort of moral or philosophical anarchist, in that I genuinely don’t see any justification or duty to obey a state or other civil institutions for any but practical reasons, unless and until I make a personal commitment of my own for some reason of my own.

For reasons of space, time and blog comment suitability, I will not attempt to argue or justify that here; I am just presenting where I am coming from, to clear the way for further analysis. Interestingly, though, whether I merely describe where I am coming from or whether I actually go into argument and reasoning, I often find that I am met not with argument in rebuttal but with anger: how dare he not accept my premises that I could use to drag him to agreement by brute reason? And I get this from both left and right, despite my own particular flavour drawing on or resembling both left and right strands of anarchism, from mutualism and Stirner even unto feudalism.

Where am I going with all this? Simply, it also hollows out most or even all of these arguments for civil disobedience given those suitable conditions. In this view that I hold, there are no “Samaritan duties” as that is charity rather than duty (compare and contrast my Protestant view of charity with the Roman Catholic one, e.g. as compared in the 38th of the Articles of Faith of the Church of England). Likewise, there are none of the other duties described – not as duties, not as such, no matter how edifying, tactically or strategically prudent, or (drum roll) ethically permissible.

Some things follow that are relevant here:-

– I fully expect to be met with anger for not putting my money where other people’s mouths are, so to speak; for not folding before their self righteous wrath at one who does not share their premises, even when they invert the case from civil obedience to one for civil disobedience.

– One with my views can be an anarchist yet not be driven by logic to violent overthrow, even though he sees no justice or justification in endorsing the existence of the targets on offer (this need not degenerate into quietism, though, as there remain all those other kinds of call to action in due season – many of which are constructive and non-violent, like the mutualist “building the new in the shell of the old”).

– Notwithstanding, none of those duties – for or against – command me, and I see no force in what was brought out in this particular range of cases for civil disobedience.

Maybe someone else put it better: all things are lawful but not all things are edifying – and that goes for disobeying commands to disobey as much as it goes for first level disobeying. These matters should be determined on other grounds than such as these.

25

Patrick 11.01.18 at 2:44 pm

I woke up this morning and realized I misfire my third numbered point on comment 8. The issue isn’t whether violence would have been productive, but whether civil disobedience would not have been productive. An important difference.

26

nastywoman 11.01.18 at 5:51 pm

– but on the other hand spending at least a half year each year in Germany -(in order to keep the European Health Insurance) – this subject ”the duty of resistance” is kind of a ”no-brainer” – as one grows up with… should we call it – ”dream” of going back in time – joining ”den Widerstand”- and being THE hero who had succeeded in killing the evil monster.

And isn’t that weird – that in retrospective it would be 100 percent justified while the world in real time debates if our contemporary monsters are really as evil as the historical ones?

27

Marc 11.01.18 at 9:16 pm

@16: The Golden Rule doesn’t work that way. If violence is OK for sincerely held political beliefs, then you have to accept that ordinary citizens who have radically different beliefs get to use those too. They don’t have to be “the ruling class” vs. ordinary folks. As a concrete example: abortion opponents equate it to murder; this belief is very commonly held; why aren’t people with that belief morally entitled to all of the tactics that happen to align with left-of-center political beliefs?

I have little patience with the underlying question because, for political issues, the goal is to change minds. We have very clear data about what sort of tactics are wise: and it’s simply self-indulgent to adopt ones that backfire. For good or ill, violence by leftists is intensely unpopular in the US (and most Western countries), far more so than analogous acts by right-wingers. Adopting tactics that are actively harmful in the court of public opinion may make you feel really, really self-righteous and good, but it doesn’t actually help the causes that you’re trying to support.

28

Jacob Steel 11.01.18 at 11:24 pm

Some random thoughts, not necessarily building to a conclusion:

:- Before one can even start having the “Do the ends justify the means?” question, one has to consider whether the ends work. What gets put in the scale opposite the arguments against using questionable tactics is not the whole magnitude of the evil you say you’re opposing, but merely that fraction of it you can reasonably expect to alleviate.

In this case, I think that disruptive protest is quite likely, and violent protest near-certain, to do more harm than good to causes they’re used to promote. So I think this whole question is mostly academic. The answer to “should I break the law in a good cause?” is generally “no, it won’t help”.

Setting that aside, and focusing on those rare cases where you’ve identified an illegal action that actually is likely to help promote your cause…

:- I think it’s very helpful to take far view rather than near view here. Asking

“How good do you have to think your cause is before you are justified in using tactic X to promote it”

rather than

“How good does your political cause have to be before you are justified in using tactic X to promote it”

clarifies the problem and highlights that if you say “I am right, and therefore I shall use this tactic”, you’re legitimising other people who want the exact opposite to you saying “no, I am right, and therefore I shall use this tactic”, which you may not wish to do.

Delmas’s attempts to outline universal-looking principles that just happen to apply specifically to her pet causes looks suspiciously like an attempt at special pleading.

:- I totally agree with Jeff R’s point about some version of the Golden Rule; my response to J-D’s objection that his would mean that any means it is legitimate for the resistance to use against the tyrants is also legitimate for the tyrants to use against the resistance is that one can easily get around this with completely golden-rule compliant principles: “Do not use force to prevent people trying to achieve their political goals through democratic means” and “if you are being forcibly prevented from achieving your political goals through democratic means, it becomes legitimate to work towards them through other ones”.

:- I’d set the bar for “how important do you have to think your cause is before it justifies breaking the law in a democratic society” higher than I think you do, and “how important do you have to think your cause is before it justifies using violence” at a level that’s basically unreachable in a democracy.

This is because I can see a lot of people with views very strongly opposed to mine who are even more convinced of the righteousness of their causes than I am of mine, and a world where we both try and settle our differences democratically is better than one where we both try to cheat. Yes, sometimes they’ll win in the former when they’d lose in the latter, but the converse is also true.

:- I am troubled by the use of the word “duty” here. I am sceptical of the idea of specific moral duty to engage in one particular form of altruistic action (as opposed to a general moral duty to fulfil some form of “altruism quota”), and more than sceptical any such proposed duty which focuses on a means other than malaria nets (or whatever you think the single most efficient way of doing good is), unless the duty in question involves remedying a particular harm I personally am responsible for.

I’ve seen some people try to argue that that last clause applies to their pet causes, using phrases like “propping up the system”, but I think that such arguments are totally specious.

If you want to campaign for, say, immigrant rights in the USA, good for you, but “thanks, but I’m going to devote my efforts to some other good cause” is a perfectly legitimate response, and not a dereliction of duty.

29

LFC 11.02.18 at 12:45 am

J-D @18

The Nuremberg tribunal was set up and staffed by the U.S., Britain, USSR, and France; so whether Ebenezer’s “we” was intended to refer to the four countries collectively or just to the U.S., it’s clear who hanged Streicher et al., and the tone of your comment on this point is rather odd.

30

Chris Bertram 11.02.18 at 8:11 am

Just commenting now to express my surprise at:

a. The number of commentators who believe that the contemporary United States clears the bar to count as “a democratic society”
b. The people who are sceptical about positive duties of rescue even as imperfect duties.

Suppose we limit ourselves to the idea that there are imperfect positive duties of rescue and that rescuers who break laws to save, day, drowning migrants from imminent death, are at least morally entitled to act as they act. If someone disagrees with that, I have literally nothing to say to them.

I’m not surprised that many people think that non-violence is often more effective than violence. I agree, and I think Delmas does too. It doesn’t follow that movements whose violence is largely self-defensive (against, say corrupt law enforcement or state sanctioned vigilantes) are morally wrong to use it.

On Rawls, well, his 1969 essay on the subject seems to me to pretty clearly presuppose that the US then counts as a sufficiently just society for his ideas on civil disobedience to apply to it. In other words it isn’t a purely hypothetical speculation about a counterfactual circumstance and the implied judgement seems perverse to me.

31

DDOwen 11.02.18 at 11:00 am

@27: ‘The answer to “should I break the law in a good cause?” is generally “no, it won’t help”.’

I’m a bit confused as to why ‘violent tactics’ are being conflated with ‘breaking the law’ here; my empirical understanding is that non-violent law-breaking direct action up to and including property damage can be extremely effective in exerting long term social change (the examples I’m most familiar with come from minority language activism, but there are many others) or in attaining short term goals (preventing the unjust deportation of asylum seekers via charted flights).

32

EB 11.02.18 at 2:34 pm

Mark @ 26: yes. A great example is the fact that the violent actions of the Weathermen in the late ’60’s to protest the Viet Nam war actually accomplished the opposite of their goal. They made it harder to achieve the conversion of public opinion, and then the election of anti-war congressional candidates, that were crucial to the ending of the war.

33

anon 11.02.18 at 4:23 pm

Resisting by protesting is OK.

However, here in the USA, actual legislation creating laws is done by our elected representatives.

So if you’re an Amaerican and really want Social Change and aren’t just posturing or ‘virtue signaling’ make sure you vote in the upcoming election.

I’m afraid too many will think that their individual vote won’t ‘matter’ or the polls show it isn’t needed or some other excuse to justify not voting. Please do not be that person.

34

steven t johnson 11.02.18 at 4:25 pm

Taking up the tangent first, no, it is doubtful non-violence “works.” I suspect any apparent exceptions relate to a current policy disagreement within the rulers. It’s never clear the non-violent resisters had any significant effect even then. Never in defiance of the whole ruling body, I think.

Duty to resist policies and laws is not on a spectrum with duty to revolution. Delmas seems to think otherwise but that really is the question. Without a duty to revolution, there is always a presumption against violence, as all left-wing violence threatens the dissolution of civil order. (Right-wing violence is never anything but an illegal enforcement of civil order: Vigilantism, not insurrection.) There are I gather many living philosophers of just war but no living philosophers of just revolution.

35

Don Berinati 11.02.18 at 5:06 pm

Recently re-reading ‘1968’ by Kurlansky and he repeatedly made this point about protests – that to be effective they had to get on television (major networks, not like our youtube, I think, so it would be seen by the masses in order to sway them) and to do that the acts had to be outlandish because they were competing for network time. This increasingly led to violent acts, which almost always worked in getting on the news, but flew in the face of King’s and others peaceful methods.
So, maybe punching out a Nazi is the way to change people’s minds or at least get them to think about stuff.

36

stephen 11.02.18 at 5:34 pm

Jacob Steel@27: among other very reasonable points, you advocate completely golden-rule compliant principles: “Do not use force to prevent people trying to achieve their political goals through democratic means” and “if you are being forcibly prevented from achieving your political goals through democratic means, it becomes legitimate to work towards them through other ones”.
But what qualifies as “democratic means”? Take the recent example of Catalan independence: there is a reasonable case that the earlier democratic votes, in Catalonia, were in favour of independence, though of course not unanimously so. In the October 2017 referendum, to quote Wikipedia, “The national government seized ballot papers and cell phones, threatened to fine people who manned polling stations up to €300,000, shut down web sites, and demanded that Google remove a voting location finder from the Android app store. Police were sent from the rest of Spain to suppress the vote and close polling locations …  Some election organizers were arrested, including Catalan cabinet officials”. News sites at the time (can’t immediately find references: apologies) showed pictures of Catalan men and women being dragged away, bleeding, from polling stations by the non-Catalan police. In the December 2017 elections, pro-independence parties retained a majority of the Catalan parliament, despite their leaders being all in jail or in exile.
So, democracy requires an independent Catalonia – imagine the justified outrage on CT if Trump or any other Republican had interfered in elections like that. But on the other hand, if Catalan separatists were to use violent means, even terrorism, to oppose the Spanish government, you have to consider that a democratic vote in Spain as a whole (where Catalans are a minority) might well be against Catalan independence. So, whose democracy should prevail if violent means were used?

Advance warning: there are worse snags in similar arguments about the secession of the CSA from the US, compared to the secession of the US from GB, or the independence of Ireland from the UK compared to the independence of Ulster (or the Six Counties if you prefer) from Ireland.

37

Stephen 11.02.18 at 6:18 pm

CB @29: “there are imperfect positive duties of rescue and that rescuers who break laws to save, day, drowning migrants from imminent death, are at least morally entitled to act as they act”.

I absolutely agree (assuming you mean say, not day). There is a very clear moral duty for seafarers to save others from imminent death; who could argue otherwise?

But what is not quite so clear is whether, having rescued migrants from imminent death, there is an equally strong moral duty to take them to wherever they want to go, whether or not they are legally allowed to go there. Of course, if one assumes that everyone ought to have the right to migrate to wherever they want, the question does not arise.

38

J-D 11.02.18 at 11:49 pm

LFC
If the intended meaning was ‘the US’, then Ebenezer Scrooge could have written ‘the US’. ‘We’ is not a synonym for ‘the US’. If ‘we’ was being used to mean ‘the US’, then I was being excluded, and so were many other people here. But that was a footnote to my point, not the point at issue, as I took the trouble to indicate in the first place.

Jacob Steel

I totally agree with Jeff R’s point about some version of the Golden Rule; my response to J-D’s objection that his would mean that any means it is legitimate for the resistance to use against the tyrants is also legitimate for the tyrants to use against the resistance is that one can easily get around this with completely golden-rule compliant principles: “Do not use force to prevent people trying to achieve their political goals through democratic means” and “if you are being forcibly prevented from achieving your political goals through democratic means, it becomes legitimate to work towards them through other ones”.

The principles you suggest are not equivalent to the one formulated by Jeff R, which is the one I was objecting to. It’s possible that the principles you suggest are in fact incompatible with the one suggested by Jeff R, depending on precisely what Jeff R meant.

Marc

If violence is OK for sincerely held political beliefs, then you have to accept that ordinary citizens who have radically different beliefs get to use those too.

It is not my position that ‘violence is OK for sincerely held political beliefs’, so I don’t feel obliged to accept conclusions that would flow from that premise. It is my position that the relationship between tyrants and their opponents is not symmetrical, and that actions which might be justified in opposition to tyranny are not justified in support of tyranny, because support of tyranny is not justified.

Applying this principle to a particular case obviously requires an evaluation of the question of whether the description ‘tyranny’ applies to that particular case, and I am aware that question might be disputed. Was there a particular factual case you wanted to discuss?

As a concrete example: abortion opponents equate it to murder; this belief is very commonly held; why aren’t people with that belief morally entitled to all of the tactics that happen to align with left-of-center political beliefs?

It’s difficult for me to answer that question because I’m not sure that I understand it properly. I’m not sure that I know what you mean by ‘morally entitled’, and I’m not sure what tactics you are referring to. If I consider a more straightforward question like ‘Given that there are people who believe that abortion is murder, what should they do?’, I find it easier to answer straightforwardly: they should stop believing that abortion is murder. (Yes, I know they aren’t going to, but that’s the answer to a different question.) Of direct contemporary relevance in my own country is the question ‘Is it a good idea to have laws against protests outside abortion clinics?’, to which I can also easily provide a straightforward answer, ‘Yes, because people should be able to have abortions without being harassed for it’.

39

Sebastian H 11.03.18 at 4:53 am

The violence question is being approached from totally the wrong direction. The Trump style evil is positively empowered by increasing violence norms. Engaging in violence outside of the cases that everyone recognizes as self defense plays directly into their cause. This is an exact analogy of “the terrorists want to provoke overreactions because it helps their recruiting for their opponents to act unjustly”. I’m consistently shocked by how many insights are obvious to the left when talking about the war on Islamist terrorism but get totally forgotten when talking about fighting the neo Nazi set. Obvious things like—helping communities who vaguely lean their way get on their feet so they see that they have more to gain by sticking with civilization get turned into “we couldn’t possibly focus on economic issues around racists”.

40

steven t johnson 11.03.18 at 1:28 pm

Again, much of this discussion is conducted as if violence were not standard operating procedure on the part of the authorities. The violence is under color of law, but that includes cops killing more or less at will, security agencies spying on millions of people, one man launching economic warfare on an autocratic whim, drone murders openly boasted to be simple orders, etc., etc., and etc. This distance from reality vitiates the discussion.

41

LizardBreath 11.03.18 at 3:08 pm

Obvious things like—helping communities who vaguely lean their way get on their feet so they see that they have more to gain by sticking with civilization get turned into “we couldn’t possibly focus on economic issues around racists”.

Is there anything, anything at all, specific you’re thinking of in relation to that imaginary quote? Any Democratic politician who’s said anything about refusing to make policy choices that would benefit some region because the people there are racist? Any leftist who’s said that economic injustice is a good thing if it harms racists?

I mean, the quote you made up is incoherent — I don’t know what “focus on economic issues around racists” means, so you may be thinking of something specific that seems to you to mean the same thing as “focus on economic issues around racists”. But I’ll be really surprised if you can come up with anything that makes any sense in terms of coherently blaming neo-Nazi extremism on leftist or Democratic neglect of the interests of the poor.

42

arcseconds 11.04.18 at 12:37 am

Hidari @ 1:

No doubt the end of our species justifies a considerable amount of civil disobedience.

Presumably the threat to the species you envisage is climate change. But is that really likely to result in the extinction of homo sapiens? Are there any reputable climatologists that think so?

It would seem to me to be extremely unlikely. Humans are capable of surviving pretty extreme conditions, including tundra and deserts, and have survived ice ages in the past. I don’t think anyone credible thinks that the entire planet is going to become less habitable for humans than the equator is at the moment. All that’s necessary for the species to survive is for a few thousand people to continue living in isolated pockets.

The extinction that ‘Extinction Rebellion’ is talking about doesn’t appear to be us (although the page you link to is sometimes worded in a way that implies this), but other species.

No doubt climate change, if left unchecked, will cause untold misery, and itself would justify considerable amounts of civil disobedience.

Although as mentioned several times here, extreme actions are justified to the extent that they’re likely to change anything. I suspect violent action will do more harm than good — it’s likely to result in a backlash.

So I’m not sure you need a philosopher for this — I’d be very surprised if there were many philosophers who would deny anyone a right to protest, or think that e.g. the tactics of the Civil Rights movement were somehow unjustified, and significantly more extreme actions than that are probably ruled out on pragmatic grounds.

I find the call here for different government arrangements off-putting, frankly. In principle I agree that representational democracy in a capitalist society leaves a lot to be desired, but in terms of the rhetorical question ‘Unless someone can name one point in history when leaving power in the hands of a few has been good for the many?’ I’m inclined to say, what is the alternative, and how sure can we be it’s going to be any better?

There is an implication here that ‘the many’ will be better at this, but I see no reason to think so. We’ve seen ~50% of ‘the many’ (of those that bother to vote, anyway) in ‘advanced’ Western nations are quite happy to vote for terrible leaders and terrible policies, so long as they symbolically endorse their supporters’ prejudices. The other 50% are by no means enthusiastically engaged in a struggle against climate change, the best you can say is that for the most part they’re not actively opposed to the idea.

Extinction Rebellion calls for a ‘citizens assembly’, but I cannot find any mention of what it is supposed to be or how it will work.

Even if they had a sensible proposition here, and even with optimistic assumptions, I find it difficult to believe that an alternative to representational democracy could get enough support to be instituted and work through the teething issues within a timeframe to make the necessary difference to climate change.

43

LarryM 11.04.18 at 1:12 am

There is a distinction between morally permissible and efficacious. I’d say that literally ANY level of violence in opposition to fascism (aka the contemporary Republican party) would be morally permissible (and thus arguably morally required) IF it would be effective. However, Sebastian is of course correct that it WOULD’T be effective (even if the rest of his comment is silly and nonsensical).

44

Gareth Wilson 11.04.18 at 8:21 am

Seems to me that to solve climate change, you need much more intense hierarchies, not weaker ones.
“The ocean-fertilizing ships have been held up by protestors, so we’re giving them naval escorts.”
“We’re building a hundred million inner-city apartment buildings and turning the suburbs to forest. You’ve got 48 hours to pack.”
“We’re building 500 more breeder reactors. Cancer deaths shouldn’t be more a few thousand. Don’t bother suing.”

45

Matt 11.04.18 at 9:26 am

At least arguably relevant for some of the discussion, even if probably less relevant to some of the underlying philosophical issues:
*******************************************************
https://econ.duke.edu/sites/econ.duke.edu/files/job-market-papers/Nyeki__Gabor_draftAbstract_0.pdf
Abstract
Are peaceful or violent protests more effective at achieving policy change? I study the effect of protests during the Civil Rights Era on legislator votes in the US House. Using a fixed-effects specification, my identifying variation is changes within the congressional district over time. I find that peaceful protests made legislators vote more liberally, consistent with the goals of the Civil Rights Movement. By contrast, violent protests backfired and made legislators vote more conservatively. The effect of peaceful protests was limited to civil rights-related votes. The effect of violent protests extended to welfare-related votes. I explore alternative explanations
for these results and show that the results are robust to them. Congressional districts where incumbents were replaced responded more strongly. Furthermore, congressional districts with a larger population share of whites responded more strongly. This is consistent with a signaling model of protests where protests transmitted new information to white voters but not to black voters.
***********************************************************************
(I’ve only read the abstract of the piece and so have no comment on its quality, and pass it only in case it’s of interest to some people.)

46

Raven 11.04.18 at 11:44 am

Chris Bertram “But actual states both condemn some people to acute poverty and danger and actually ban their citizens from performing their Samaritan duties towards people in grave peril such as migrants in the Arizona desert or the Mediterranean.”

And some actual U.S. cities even ban their citizens from performing such duties towards other citizens who are homeless and hungry right there within the city limits.

Ebenezer Scrooge @ 4: “… we hung Julius Streicher for nothing but speech acts.”

In the sense that Inciting to Riot (or to a Lynch Mob) is also a ‘speech act’.

Such ‘speech acts’, when they provoke violence (and, as in Streicher’s case, mass murder) are prosecutable and punishable. Charles Manson killed no-one with his own hands; he persuaded his Family to do so, through ‘speech acts’ — and he was duly tried and convicted for first-degree murder in two of those deaths. Do you feel Charles Manson was unjustly convicted and imprisoned? Should he have been set free into society?

47

stephen 11.04.18 at 5:13 pm

Larry M: “fascism (aka the contemporary Republican party)”. At this point you lost me.

If you take the standard definition of fascism – dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy – then I fail to see that in the contemporary Republican Party.

If you consider Mussolini’s famous declaration of Fascist principles – tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato – I fail to see that either.

As for the Fascist anthem “Giovinezza, giovinezza” I can’t see Trump (vulgar lout though he is) chanting that either.

I’ve left the Italian bits untranslated. If you want to learn a little about real fascism (do I have to add I’d be against it?), go look them up.

48

engels 11.04.18 at 6:34 pm

Caroline O. @RVAwonk Replying to @RVAwonk
Re. extremist violence on “both sides”: – 30+ years of antifa activity in the US: 1 fatality caused by a member of an antifa group – 20 years of far-right extremist activity in the US (1990-2012): 670 fatalities, 3,053 injuries, & 4,420 violent attacks https://m.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/nazi-punch-antifa_us_59e13ae9e4b03a7be580ce6f

49

Moz of Yarramulla 11.04.18 at 9:51 pm

stephen@47: If you take the standard definition of fascism – dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy – then I fail to see that in the contemporary Republican Party.

Other people see it, though.

Less than 25% of the populace voted for your current president. Voter suppression and gerrymandering are routine, and secret funding of political campaigns is legal. And your judiciary is part of your political system. You commonly have different rules for candidates from the approved parties and the rest (but you have one more approved party than China does). You might not be called the “people’s democratic republic of north america” but it’s hard to tell from the outside. Just because rich white people enjoy living there… same was true of apartheid South Africa, same is true of Russia today.

People who visit the US from democratic countries often remark at the high level of internal militarisation and the multitude of overlapping internal police forces. Your police kill an awful lot of people and it’s not considered remarkable that they run secret torture facilities (or at least, doing so is not worth criminal convictions for those involved… in a country that uses the death penalty!)

Regimentation of society… all together now “I pledge allegiance to the Flag …”

You political system is run by and for a small group of extremely rich people (one of your presidents called it the military-industrial complex and lamented their influence over politics 20+ years ago), and that system is aggressively proseltised around the world (via soft power like the TPP and more directly via government changes in Chile, Iran and Australia). Tax cuts for the very rich create a budget deficit that has to be fixed by slashing welfare. You’re 10% of GDP behind on maintenance of critical infrastructure but can’t afford that, because have to keep up the world’s most expensive military.

Sure, it’s not classic Italian fascism, but then Russia never implemented Marxist or even Stalinist communism and no state has ever used pure democracy. Political labels are a “best match” system. That’s why few people call China a democracy and argue about what to call Singapore’s government.

50

Moz of Yarramulla 11.04.18 at 10:01 pm

Matt@45: Are peaceful or violent protests more effective at achieving policy change?

I tend to answer that empirically by observing that the state tries very hard to paint people it doesn’t like as violent, and people it does like as non-violent.

So you get that one person at a peace rally who “resists arrest” and that’s what the state and media focus on. But a bunch of people come out of a Trump rally and start smashing up protesters and the narrative is all “both sides” and emphasising the peaceful nature of the Trump rally contrasted against the violent protesters. As Engels pointed out, the “both sides do it” narrative is a lie.

The extensive use of false flag operatives by the state is worth keeping in mind as well. From the FBI creating terrorist plots out of whole cloth to the “unidentified” people who cause property damage then escape through police lines and are never prosecuted, you should always ask who benefits from this incident before deciding that it’s absolutely, definitely, has to be, a smash the state anarchist who just happened to do something dramatic in front of the cameras.

Whether being non-violent is effective is interesting, but observation suggests that if you’re being violent against the state you need to go hard or go home.

51

engels 11.05.18 at 6:11 am

During the struggle for freedom, a marked alienation from these practices is observed. The native’s back is to the wall, the knife is at his throat (or, more precisely, the electrode at his genitals): he will have no more call for his fancies. After centuries of unreality, after having wallowed in the most outlandish phantoms, at long last the native, gun in hand, stands face to face with the only forces which contend for his life–the forces of colonialism. And the youth of a colonized country, growing up in an atmosphere of shot and fire, may well make a mock of, and does not hesitate to pour scorn upon the zombies of his ancestors, the horses with two heads, the dead who rise again, and the djinns who rush into your body while you yawn. The native discovers reality and transforms it into the pattern of his customs, into the practice of violence and into his plan for freedom.

52

DD.Owen 11.05.18 at 10:48 am

@44: The counterexample to that is that on current evidence, authoritarian approaches to government tend to be utterly appalling in relation to environmental issues. Eg. a lot of glowing praise for the PRC’s apparent conversion to environmentally sound approaches (based on an assumption that ‘at least authoritarians don’t have to debate stuff, what they will is what is done or *else*’) is based on a complete lack of knowledge of how that kind of government works in practise, and what it is doing rather than what it claims to be doing.

You need feedback on some level regarding what works and what needs to be done, and an intensification of authoritarian hieriarchy, while it might be justifiable on a case-by-case basis, may well lead to classic central planning problems that will make environmental problems worse if applied in general because it will interfere with that feedback. Not to mention a greater vulnerability to ideological capture by elites (wittingly or otherwise) making the kind of choices that benefit themselves rather than the people they claim to be acting for. I mean, that’s kind of what’s happened now, but there are ways of making that much worse, and that is one of them.

53

LarryM 11.05.18 at 4:24 pm

Stephen,

“Youth, youth” is not intrinsic to the fascist project, but particular to the Italian version thereof.

As for the rest, your failure to see that in the current Republican party is a matter of willful blindness on your part.

54

anon/portly 11.05.18 at 5:19 pm

Although I like some of the other comments, I feel like no one has commented on the obvious weakness of this post. Although this is ostensibly about “uncivil” disobedience, I feel like I’ve learned nothing at all about what “uncivil” means in this context or what kind of forms it would take in the real world. Or for that matter whether it means “violent” or what.

A co-operative scheme that leaves some of its participants crushed at the bottom, dominated, abused and denied fair opportunities, such as the ghetto poor in large US cities are is an unfair scheme. They have the right to resist, and unjust beneficiaries have a duty to assist them.

But actual states both condemn some people to acute poverty and danger and actually ban their citizens from performing their Samaritan duties towards people in grave peril such as migrants in the Arizona desert or the Mediterranean. Our duties of assistance both to the victims of structural injustice and to vulnerable people like undocumented migrants requires us to disobey and resist the state’s law.

I assume everyone would agree that if the state says you can’t rescue people from drowning or provide water and medical help to people in the desert, you have a duty to resist that. But why is this “uncivil?” It seems almost dictionary-definition level “civil.”

Then for impoverished inner city USA residents, I also agree that we have a duty to help. But I have no idea what, if any, forms of “uncivil” disobedience might apply. Admittedly I have a very different understanding about what forms of assistance would be best – for example I don’t believe there is a wide class of “unjust beneficiaries,” I think in general we are all losers here. But then if CB is right and someone belongs to such a class, how does that make the best way for them to help any different?

For the non-ideal world in which we actually live and where we are nowhere close to a “nearly just” society, we need a better theory, one which tells us whether Black Lives Matter activists are justified or whether antifa can punch Richard Spencer.

(From 30) It doesn’t follow that movements whose violence is largely self-defensive (against, say corrupt law enforcement or state sanctioned vigilantes) are morally wrong to use it.

Well, “self-defensive violence against corrupt law enforcement or state sanctioned vigilantes” is certainly popular, which is why it’s the key plot device of thousands of movies. But outside of the movies, how does it work? A world in which every time an unarmed black man was confronted by a policeman, a BLM activist was on the scene, is difficult to imagine. And to do what, exactly? The only purpose I can imagine them being there for is to (somehow) de-escalate the situation, not escalate it, vis-à-vis violence. How would that be in practice “uncivil?”

Finally of course the idea of punching a neo-Nazi in the head is juvenile. Yes, in the movies when the right person gets punched in the head (e.g. the child beater The Arnold socks in Kindergarten Cop) everyone is glad, but of course it’s not premeditated and it’s not “real.” This is supposed to be about reality.

Maybe the hidden point of this post is that uncivil disobedience is never a good idea.

55

Stephen 11.05.18 at 6:32 pm

Moz of Yaramulla @49

Think about it, and you will see that in trying to prove that the US Republican Party are fascists, you have produced arguments that prove far too much. The US electoral system selects presidents with a minority of the national vote? True, but equally true for many Democratic presidents. Congressional seats are grotesquely gerrymandered? True, but for very many Democratic seats as well. Secret donations are made to political parties; not to Democrats? The judiciary are part of the political system? Rich white people enjoy living in the US? Pledging allegiance to the flag? Military-industrial complex? Equally true under Democratic presidents, surely?

In short, if you have proved the Republican Party is fascist you have also proved the Democratic Party is fascist. Not all CT readers may agree with you.

Three relatively minor points. You complain of “the high level of internal militarisation and the multitude of overlapping internal police forces”. Look at France where they have the Police Nationale (including the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité who are a fairly seriously violent anti-riot force), Gendarmerie Nationale, Police Municipale, Douane, Office National des Forêts, Gardes Champêtre … that makes France, even under Socialist presidents, some sort of fascist state?

You complain that “Russia never implemented … even Stalinist communism”. I think Stalin might have disagreed.

And lastly, you repeatedly write as if, because I do not accept that the Republican Party is in any intelligible sense fascist, I must be American. I do not know what process of thought – I cannot say, of logic – brought you to that entirely false conclusion.

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Gareth Wilson 11.05.18 at 9:11 pm

@52 Sure, but that doesn’t make whining about hierarchy and demanding action on climate change simultaneously any more coherent. The Canterbury Regional Council forbids me from burning coal in a fire. Do they want to break up that hierarchy, and let me burn it?

57

Moz of Yarramulla 11.06.18 at 6:30 am

Stephen, you asked specifically whether the Republican Party was fascist, not whether it was notably more fascist than the Democratic one. So I answered that.

Changing the topic, both-sides nonsense, picking up minor points that you can rebut but ignoring that main thrust… it sounds like bad faith to me.

58

steven t johnson 11.06.18 at 2:12 pm

Fascism as a political phenomenon appears to be mass mobilization of the nation in pursuit of empire, or recovery from imperialist war which relies on de jure and de facto discrimination against one part of the population to define the imperial nationality. Economically, labor is controlled, while special privileges are extended to favored interests (government contracts are one mode, but so is privatization.) Militarily, a tiny elite, commonly a single person, but perhaps the command staff, determines war and peace. Politically, the use of illegality and violence are standard operating procedure, while the personnel and policies of all sorts of institutions are coordinated as much as feasible. Some elements of “democracy,” formal equality and alternation of personnel in the state may be retained for the masters, as privileges for them are more or less the point.

Trump’s command of tariffs in pursuit of economic warfare is likely unconstitutional, though it is not an issue. The barely concealed incitement of violence, in conjunction with ostensibly legal moves against unsatisfactory people like immigrants and melanin-impaired voters is also notable. The demolition of institutional order by chaos is a trend towards direct personal rule. I think the trend is quite clear. The thing is, the actual expression of fascism is always unique to a country. Moreover, since the US is trying to retain world hegemony despite its relative economic decline, the exigencies of the struggle for empire are different, which will require different political forms. So, it is merely deception to demand an identical appearance. In other words, insisting on people wearing swastikas is BS.

Trump is not unprecedented, as Corey Robin likes to normalize him. But his primary precedent, Richard Nixon routinely violated laws and political norms, not just as president. Nixon was an integral part of the post-war purge of the left. Everybody else here agrees that this was a good thing. It has for years become increasingly obvious that civil rights were an aberration, attributable largely to the moral authority of veterans seeking their rights and the perceived need to respond to the Communist propaganda. But as the US rulers see it, the enemy was defeated in 1991. Civil rights can be rolled back just like the New Deal. If you’re not moving forward to socialism, you have to go fascist. The theory that democracy is compatible with the decadence of capitalism insists that yes, endless economic growth is possible without destabilizing crises. Also, no, capitalism does not lead to war, requiring more extreme measures to mobilize the nation. Neither seems like sensible propositions to me.

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Emma Goldman 11.06.18 at 2:57 pm

Does it really make sense to write a theory of resistance that floats free of an account of the forms of oppression and subordination that we wish to resist, the forces that act to reproduce those maladies, and how we might actually resist them? I struggle to believe that it does.

60

Emma Goldman 11.06.18 at 3:08 pm

I just read a couple of pages from the opening of the book and its seems like Delma starts from the premise that we live in a ‘nearly just’ society. That assumes A LOT – and means that I can’t even get past the first premise of the book. It’s worth noting that *even* Rawls appears to have rejected this idea by the 1990s.

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Stephen 11.06.18 at 7:43 pm

Moz of Yarramulla@57

Let me remind you of how this initially rational conversation started.

Larry M @43 wrote of “Fascism (aka the contemporary Republican party)”.

I pointed out that by the conventional definition of Fascism – dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy – the contemporary Republican party is not at all a good match. Likewise by Mussolini’s own definition of Fascism: everything for the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.

(I’m translating that on the assumption that your detestation of Fascism – which I share – does not in your case go as far as knowing anything much about it.)

You replied @49 with a list of matters in which you find the contemporary US deficient – and I would mostly agree with you – and the truly bizarre and irrelevant statement that “Russia never implemented … even Stalinist communism”, for which I would like, if this conversation continues, some explanation.

I pointed out that most of your indications of the Republicans being Fascist apply also to Democrats.

You replied that I “asked specifically whether the Republican Party was fascist, not whether it was notably more fascist than the Democratic one”. No, I didn’t, and I challenge you to show where I did. You now seem to be slithering from the initial definition of the Republican party as Fascist, to your apparent belief that both R and D are fascist. If you mean by Fascist “does not agree with Moz”, of course they are.

And you have the nerve to accuse me of changing the topic, and writing in bad faith. Go look in the mirror.

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