Some thoughts on activism

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 23, 2023

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how society, and people in my profession (academics), think about activism. It seems to me that there is a widespread insufficient appreciation for the importance of activists in the world; often that attitude is even plainly dismissive. If this is true, then why is this the case, and why is this wrong?

First, I should clarify that I am only talking about activists for whom we have strong reasons to see the ultimate goal they strive for as justified, and the means they employ as reasonable. Hence, I’m only talking here about activists who fight against injustices, or want to make the world a better place. Now I realise this is a very tricky delineation, because in the world as it is, there will be people using activist means and tactics to advance immoral, or at least illegitimate goals, such as racists wanting to keep their settler-society predominantly White or Christian. And I also realise that even if we put those clear cases of activism for immoral causes aside, we will end up disagreeing about borderline cases, where multiple values and principles are at stake and people disagree whether the goals the activists are striving for is laudable or not (think of some cases where it might be seen that activists try to restrict the freedom of speech of those they accuse of using hate-speech). [click to continue…]