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Chris Bertram

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. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: cormorants

by Chris Bertram on October 14, 2018

Cormorant (or shag?)-2

One taken this morning:

Cliftonwood houses, through Vauxhall Bridge

Sunday photoblogging: Newcastle

by Chris Bertram on September 30, 2018

I was up in Newcastle this week (the first time I’ve visited the city). Lots of dramatic photo-opportunities, particularly of buildings dwarfed by bridges in the city-centre. Unfortunately, at the only time I had to take pictures, the weather was rather overcast.


Sunday photoblogging: window

by Chris Bertram on September 23, 2018


Should immigration laws be respected?

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2018

I have a short piece in The Nation, Should Immigration Laws Be Respected?. Comment there or comment here. An excerpt:

The rule of law isn’t just about people obeying the law. It is about having a fair system that works for everyone. A system where some states get to impose their will on outsiders who get neither a chance to shape the law, nor the opportunity to defend themselves against incarceration or deportation, isn’t an example of law in action but of naked force. And people don’t have a duty to submit to naked force: they have a right to resist it.

Sunday photoblogging: Tenby

by Chris Bertram on September 16, 2018


Sunday photoblogging: junk shop in Marseille

by Chris Bertram on September 9, 2018

Marseilles- junk shop in the Noailles district

Sunday photoblogging: Chair, Pézenas France

by Chris Bertram on September 2, 2018

Chair, Pézenas

Sunday photoblogging: St Nicholas Market, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on August 5, 2018

St Nicholas Market, Bristol

An act of solidarity in the face of state barbarism

by Chris Bertram on July 25, 2018

Faced with pressure from populist parties, more and more countries in Europe are backsliding on their commitment to refugees. One aspect of that is the EU’s new enthusiasm for Australian-style offshoring and for detention camp like facilities in Europe itself, as well as increased attempts to criminalize those who act in solidarity with refugees. Another is an increase in deportations to countries, like Afghanistan, on the manifestly false pretext that they are now “safe” destinations. Well thank goodness that some among us have the courage to stand against this kind of thing and to set a moral example. There is no obligation on people to comply with unjust immigration laws and often a duty to take a stand against them. So well done Erin Ersson, student at Gothenburg, for preventing, at least for now, the deportation of a man to Afghanistan.

Sunday photoblogging – Window: Marsh Street, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on July 22, 2018

Window: Marsh Street, Bristol

Sunday photoblogging: banana bridge

by Chris Bertram on July 15, 2018

Banana Bridge

Cliff edge ahead!

by Chris Bertram on July 9, 2018

In the early days of Crooked Timber, I think we took ourselves to be under some kind of obligation to react to major current events. That’s rather fallen by the wayside. During the era of Trump and Brexit, I find the thought of having to write about every absurdity and injustice just too damn depressing. But today is one of those moments in British politics that perhaps ought to be marked, since we have had the resignations of David Davis and his deputy Steve Baker at 11.59 last night (DExEU’s Midnight Runners as social media has it) followed by the opportunistic self-release of Boris Johnson into the community today. What has brought this about is a ticking clock. The fact that under the Article 50 process, the UK crashes out of the European Union in March next year. The Tory party have wasted most of the two year process, running a pointless general election then arguing with one another, but failing to negotiate with the EU’s team because they couldn’t agree a common position. Faced with the warnings from industry, the prospect of queues at the ports, empty supermarket shelves, supply chains severed and planes unable to land, those Tories who still have connections outside of the Brexit fantasy have prevailed on Theresa May to put together something that might be at least the start of a solution (even if it looks unacceptable to the EU in its current state). But since May’s Chequers compromise envisages at least having the minimum conditions in place for continued trade with a much bigger partner, that inevitably involves accepting that the UK will have to swallow the EU’s way of doing things. The UK has walked away from a table where it had a powerful voice and put itself in a position where those left around the table get to dictate terms. All too much to bear for the true believers in Brexit and for those who think their future careers depend on ingratiating themselves with the true believers. Cliff edge ahead.

Sunday photoblogging: Steps

by Chris Bertram on July 8, 2018

University of Bristol, Senate House