Race and Dissent – Seeing Beyond the Veil: Race-ing Key Concepts in Political Theory

Race and Dissent – Seeing Beyond the Veil: Race-ing Key Concepts in Political Theory


ALEX GOUREVITCH: OK. So my name’s Alex
Gourevitch, I’m a professor of political
philosophy here at Brown. And it’s my great pleasure
to introduce our next two speakers. To my immediate
right is Erin Pineda who is an assistant professor
of political science at Smith College. She is finishing a book
manuscript called The Awful Roar, Disobedience in the Wake
of the Civil Rights Movement, and she’s already published
a number of articles about civil disobedience
including an excellent article called Civil Disobedience
and Punishment, (Mis) reading Strategy and
Justification from SNCC to Snowden. Great kind of rereading of the
practice of civil disobedience from the perspective of
the actual civil rights protesters themselves. And then we have
Candice Delmas, who is an assistant
professor of philosophy and political science at
Northeastern University. She just published, just
came out a fantastic new book called A Duty to Resist, When
Civil Disobedience Should Be Uncivil. Actually, I meant
to bring a copy. It’s got a fantastic
cover as well. It’s a book. And she also works in
other areas of bioethics, the ethics of sexual
reorientation, and whistle blowing. So I think we’ll have Erin
first, and then Candice. ERIN PINEDA: Thank you Alex. And I’ll just
reiterate what everyone has said in terms of thank
you to Juliet and to Melvin for inviting me,
to Michelle Rose for her organizational
prowess and efforts. It’s a real pleasure and an
honor to be here in a room with so many people
whose work has been so informative for
my own and continues to inspire and challenge
me in a variety of ways. So my talk today, it’s
misadvertised because I changed my mind about the title. My talk today is called,
“Seeing like a White State Civil Disobedience and
Racial Injustice.” So at first glance,
the political theories of civil disobedience that have
until recently predominated in liberal and democratic
theory and that resonate most clearly with
mainstream public discourse appear to have little
to say specifically about the problem
of racial injustice. That is, despite acknowledging
minority rights violations and forms of democratic
disenfranchisement as potentially good
moral reasons to disobey, the thrust of the
theories associated with figures such as John
Rawls, Michael Walter, and Peter Singer is
abstract in general. Criteria met to apply across
a range of cases and contexts in which citizens face injustice
of a serious and fundamental sort that requires redress
or reconsideration, but that nevertheless falls
short of justifying violent over the overthrow of a regime. Yet, I will argue that this
apparent inattentiveness to racial injustice
is only apparent and that in fact the shape
of civil disobedience theory that took– the shape that civil
disobedience theory took in the late 1960s
had a lot to do with and a lot to say about
a particular analysis of racial injustice. To this end, in my
brief essay, which is condensed from work
in my book manuscript, I make three primary
interventions. First, I moved to
historicize and contextualize the reading of
civil disobedience that emerges out of liberal
theory in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Most influentially in
the work of John Rawls within a political
context in which the association between
civil disobedience and the struggle
against racial injustice was chiefly though not
exclusively at stake. Second out of this
political context, I present a rereading
of Rawls engagement with civil disobedience
in a theory of justice and in early writings
on political obligation. Here, I aim to demonstrate
that far from ignoring the problem of racial injustice,
Rawls in fact centers it and that it is his assessment
of racial injustice that motivates his
conceptualization of civil disobedience as a means
of realizing and strengthening already extant
constitutional principles. Finally on the basis
of this analysis, I argue that Rawls
saw civil disobedience and with it racial injustice
from the perspective of a white state. Taking for granted,
the legitimacy of the constitutional
order, assuming as primary, the ends of
constitutional integrity and stability, and figuring
the problem of racial injustice as limited exceptional and
all but already solved. Such a stance I
suggest to not only misreads the historical
example of the civil rights movement that partially
inspired the theory, but also presents a problematic
set of standards for thinking about the struggle
against racial domination and white supremacy
more generally. So today, I’ll talk primarily
about the latter two interventions, and I’ll
just foreground it briefly through a quick
discussion of the first. While dissent and
disobedience had long been subjects of
interests for philosophy, it was the political
and social events of the 1960s that prompted
their return to center stage as the locus of a vital
and contentious debate both within and
beyond the academy. In the context of the debate
over civil disobedience and its relationship to both
the fight for civil rights as well as the problem
of crime and disorder, was a live one as
conservative sought to link racial equality
to violence, rioting, street crime, and ultimately
the complete breakdown of law and order. Civil disobedience
in those debates took on a critical
importance in the sense that not racial equality
per se, but the quote unquote, lawlessness of
black protesters in pursuit of civil rights became the new
problem in need of address. By insisting that organized
disobedient protest was definitionally both
criminal and violent, critics recast protesters
into lawless criminals wreaking havoc on society
as intentional violation of the law. So the argument went
disobedience simply was crime. As action that operates outside
of legitimate procedures, it simply was violence. At the same time, while leaning
hard and discursive threads that connected
criminality to blackness, conservatives could wage
a counter insurgency against racial equality
without seeming to talk about race at all. Today, the apostle
of violence are testing their doctrines Richard
Nixon announced in a 1968 radio address. The old violence parades
today in a new uniform. Both at home and abroad, it has
wrapped itself in propaganda. At home, it may masquerade as
civil disobedience or freedom and sometimes it
marches under the banner of legitimate dissent. The sloganeering of the new
violence confuses many people and that’s what
it intends to do. But when the slogans
are stripped away it is still violence plain
and simple, cruel and evil as always, destructive
of freedom, destructive of progress,
destructive of peace. As he concluded at
the end of his speech, he insisted that the
uncomplicated task facing Americans at the
end of the 1960s was to quote, damp the
fires of violent change, to cement our mastery
over the pace of change, and to make the most
of our opportunity for constructive change. Thus, for conservatives at
the time, civil disobedience operated both as the
cause and the effect of a general moral malaise for
which Great Society governance itself with its social
welfare programs, apparent appeasement
of rioters, engagement, encouragement of
lawless demonstrations, and protection for the
civil liberties of criminals was ultimately to blame. While the effects of this
new politics of law and order on developing crime policy have
been compellingly excavated by Vesla Weaver, Naomi
Murakawa, and others. What has been less
thoroughly reconstructed is the way in
which the discourse around civil disobedience
and organized protest was durably shaped by the same
political forces and dynamics. In essence, racial
liberals responded to the conservative critique
as posing a stark choice. Disavow civil disobedience,
despite its very recent achievements, or find
a way to reclaim it as a politics of order at home
within the established legal structure and posing
intrinsic threat to stability and
lawful democracy. It was in this
political context I argue that much of the
contemporary theoretical literature on civil disobedience
and political and legal theory was developed. A generation of liberal
scholars, including Rawls Walter as well as
Karl Cohen and Hugo Beto not only identified
with the causes driving contemporary civil
disobedience, particularly civil rights in the
anti-war movement. They also sought to defend
the means of protest from the sort of
criticism that ran through the
conservative critique and found voice in
academic philosophy through figures like Herbert
Storing and Abe Fortas. Their collective
response required distinguishing
civil disobedience from forms of disorder,
violence, and force with which critics associated it. It meant redefining civil
disobedience as a moral appeal to the majority’s conscience
in a shared terms of principles already affirmed by all. And so responding,
liberal theorist accepted the premises of
the conservative argument. The disruption and order
marked the very boundaries of democratic society, that
American political institutions were basically already just, and
required external provocation only narrowly and in
exceptional terms, and that the peaceful mechanisms
of law reason and persuasion remained potent for
ushering in necessary political and social change. I shall assume as requiring
no argument that there is at least in a
society, such as ours, a moral obligation
to obey the law. This is the striking
claim offered by Rawls in his earliest
Foray into the subject of political obligation
and its limits. The condition he places
on the obligation to obey that it obtains
in a society, such as ours is a crucial one
because it not only suggests that citizens might
be morally obligated to comply with laws in real
world situations that fall short
perhaps considerably so from ideally
just ones, but also that this assumption
of obligation is relatively unproblematic
within the political horizons of Rawls own time. Rawls interest in
civil disobedience sits at a very peculiar
point between justice and its opposite
within a state that is, quote well-ordered for
the most part, that is one that citizens have not only
an interest in maintaining but recognize as legitimate. But in which, quote, some
serious violations of justice nevertheless do occur. Injustices that are
sometimes serious enough to justify disobedience. The examples that he provides
about the sort of violations he has in mind are indicative
of the political context in which he was
writing and revealing about the way he constructed
the problem of racial injustice and its potential remediation. For Rawls, the problem
of serious injustice within the mostly
just society is best captured by the idea of quote,
permanent minorities who have suffered from
injustice for many years. unquote. Those who are made to endure
disproportionate share of the losses,
insults, and injustices made into law, and whose
denial of basic liberties has become a routine feature
of the legal and social order. We might ask,
however, what exactly the liberal and democratic
credentials of a system that is guilty in any entrenched
way of denying the basic rights and liberties of some
section of the population? What manner of state
does Rawls have in mind? Rawls designation of
the nearly just state does not just incidentally seem
to include the United States under Jim Crow,
rather on the basis of what I see in the archives
and in between the lines of a theory of justice, he
seems to have constructed his examples to speak
to just such a case. Answering the question
requires examining in more detail how Rawls thinks
civil disobedience can function to address and remediate these
particular forms of injustice. For Rawls, and for many
others, civil disobedience requires a commitment
to a certain kind of civility understood
in its double meaning both his courteous
and civic mindedness. By engaging in
civil disobedience, protesters attempt to, quote,
address the sense of justice of the majority of the
community while expressing a willingness in
Rawls terms to, quote, act within the limits
of Fidelity to the law. This Fidelity, in turn, is
manifested through adherence to particular modes of action
and forms of comportment. Protesters must accept the
stipulated legal punishment for their acts without
further resistance. They must orient themselves
to persuading others of the justice of their
cause rather than forcing, pressuring, or coercing others
in order to get their way. And they must appeal to, quote,
a common conception of justice held by the majority
and instantiated with the concept within the
Constitution of the nearly just state. Embedded here within
the normative claim about the bounds of
political authority and moral obligation then
is a descriptive claim about the nature of
systemic injustice and its associated
avenues of redress. By so describing
civil disobedience, Rawls provides the outlines
of what injustice looks like in a nearly just state. A gap between
principles and practice enforced by a clearly
identifiable group such that an appeal to
what is truly foundational, the principle at heart
of the established order provides both the avenue
for meaningful change as well as its hard limit. As Andrew Saville
argues, what Rawls seems to have in mind here
is a state in which quote, fair treatment, mutual
cooperation, and a sense of justice exist and even
thrive within a ruling group with respect
to its own members alongside, quote, a cruel
and nearly absolute tyranny toward people outside
their own membership. Civil disobedience
in such a society is supposed to serve the
purpose of pointing out the hypocrisy according to
which the polity is ordered, and appealing to those
principles that are proclaimed but still not practiced. The remediation of injustice
demanded by disobedience entails addressing
the formal exclusion of some portion
of the population from the rights
and privileges that ought to have belonged
to all citizens, but there are
currently only enjoyed by some at an entails appealing
to the majority in order to persuade them to live
up to their own ideals. To be sure Rawls account is
particular to him in many ways, dependent as it is on the
architecture of his broader theory of justice. But for all the differences
and details between Rawls and his interlocutors, the
script for civil disobedience, the forms of behavior required
of those who undertake it from going to jail to engaging
in persuasion and moral appeal remains remarkably stable
across a wide range of texts beginning in the
1960s and stretching to more recent accounts. Though situated an
altogether different account of political obligation,
Michael Walter’s explication of the problem of
democratic oppression nevertheless traces a similar
conceptual trajectory. Those formally
recognized as citizens, but substantively excluded from
certain rights and privileges, must use the rules of
the system against itself in order to point
to the hypocrisy. The ultimate conceptual
point is summarized by Karl Cohen in
the following terms, the civil disobedient does
while the revolutionary does not accept the general legitimacy
of the established authorities, while the civil disobedient
may vigorously condemn some law or policy those
authorities Institute, and may even refuse
to comply with it. He does not by any means
intend to reject the larger system of laws that
is, of which this is but one very small part. In short, disobedience properly
understood by these figures, properly civilized, offers
not a disruptive challenge to the prevailing order, but
rather unnecessary progression of its own core values. It marks the border
of but remains within a politics of order. To a large extent, the term
set by the debate in the 1960s and 1970s are the ones
that have continued to dominate discourse about
civil disobedience to this day. And for the liberal democratic
theorists 50 years ago, as well as many who have
written on disobedience since, the Civil Rights Movement seems
to provide the key legitimating example lending historical
and political credibility to these abstract
philosophical claims. In the hands of these theorists,
often letter from a Birmingham jail and the
movement for which it stands in as a kind of textual
stand and textual reference tells just such a story. After all, they reason
King wrote from a jail cell that, quote, an individual
who breaks the law, that conscience
tells him is unjust. And then willingly
accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse
the conscience of the community over its injustice is in
reality expressing the very highest respect for law. The imperatives of
action as well as the mechanisms of social
change, appear clear here. Practices of civility
and self-sacrifice will arouse community
conscience, triggering redress, while continuing to uphold
the legitimate order. For this reason, Rawls
suggests his account of civil disobedience
theorizes out of the terms of King’s
letter aiming to, quote, set it in a wider framework. And I should mention here that
through a felicitous mishearing yesterday, Bonnie and I
realized that what Rawls was in fact doing was setting
King’s letter into a whiter framework not a wider one. Is worth pausing
to consider what this deployment of the
civil rights example implies what historical and
social theoretic assumptions are being made, and what its
consonance with the Rawlsian Theory of civil
disobedience suggests. What must we assume about the
nature of racial injustice in order to render this
historical and theoretical narrative plausible? I take it that the
assumptions that work goes something like this. First, the nature
of the injustice is a gap between
principles and practice, a matter of inconsistency
or hypocrisy that most people would
not find acceptable if pointed out to them. Thus, the problem is
both a technical one and that principles are
unevenly applied or misapplied, and an epistemological one in
that most white citizens remain ignorant of the disconnect but
would have a problem with it if only they knew. Second, as this gap is
institutionalized and lived, principles are free
floating and relatively independent of practices
in that principles remain their integrity, meaningfulness,
and normative power despite ongoing practices
that counter veil undercut or contradict them. In this way, it’s the
principles no matter how abstract and
unrealized that are fundamental to the
political order and not the way those principles
are lived or not lived. Consequentially,
racial injustice lives in isolated elements
of the social order that is otherwise
relatively well-ordered just and sound, such that
remedying injustice requires bringing particular
institutions, laws, or elements of society
into line with the whole. Therefore, and
quite fundamentally, the stability and maintenance
of the existing order, not in its details but
in its broad strokes, its constitutional
essentials, Rawls says, is the primary thing. What I would like
to suggest then is that Rawls
among others, tends to see civil disobedience
like a state and particularly like a white state. By seeing like a state, I mean
to invoke, but nevertheless substantially alter
for my own purposes. Jim Scott’s evocative
claim about the ways modern state projects seek
to rationalize, standardize, and make citizens
legible subjects in pursuit of ambitious projects
of social transformation. My concern here is not
with the grandiose schemes of high modernist
social planning that are the subject of
Scott’s work, but rather with the philosophical
standpoint from which the question of
civil disobedience becomes a question at all
for someone like Rawls. Beginning with the
presumption of a mostly legitimate constitutional
order and, thus, a prima facie obligation to obey the
law, civil disobedience only poses a problem
for philosophy and for the democratic
constitutional state where the law can be presumed
to be the product of legitimate institutions
that citizens themselves have an interest in maintaining. Under these conditions,
and only these conditions, breaking the law in protest
becomes normatively troubling and requires special
just to bigotry work. A society, such as ours, is
one that is not just and so disobedience might
be justifiable and yet, it is just enough
somehow such that disobedience can be recast as a
stabilizing force for the normatively defensible
parts of the existing order. To view civil disobedience
this way, I think, is to see it like a state, to
view the boundaries of dissent and activism as determined
by the presumption of state legitimacy and
constitutional integrity rather than bringing those
very things into question. This particular stance also
made certain assumptions about the nature of racial
injustice and the way that such injustice can
persist within a legitimate constitutional order
as a problem limited to the uneven
application of principles that would be good ones if
only they were fully realized. In the terms suggested by
Danielle Allen and Charles Mills, this renders
racial injustice as a problem of exclusion and
incomplete realization that is nevertheless, exceptional or
aberrational with an otherwise coherent, legitimate,
and desirable whole. As Allen elaborates, to view
racial injustice as exclusion is to assume that,
quote, under segregation, some people lived inside
an essentially healthy public sphere, although
others lived outside of it. Thus, from the perspective
of the nearly just but democratically
oppressive white state, where an exclusion is the basic
but exceptional form of racial injustice, quote,
the segregating regime is a fundamentally
sound political order, but for the unfortunate
exclusion of black people. This account of
civil disobedience, then constructed in conversation
with and in some ways deployed to explain the actions of
civil rights movement activists unreflexively adopts the
view that racial injustice is aberrational and anomalous. An almost technical
problem that can be solved if only
principles were more fairly and evenly applied. This is, thus, not
just civil disobedience seen like a state,
its disobedience seen like a white state, one in
which the normative ideal of the citizen is
figured as white. Rawls himself, sounding
a distinctly [INAUDIBLE] note would remark in an
undergraduate lecture delivered at Harvard in 1962, that
liberal political philosophy had essentially settled all the
major questions pertaining to political liberty
and civil rights, including the problem
of segregation and that, therefore, all that
was left to was to apply the solution
to the real world. The victory of
liberal values, then is given from the beginning in
appealing to true principles, core constitutional ideals,
properly understood, or the majority’s
sense of justice, civil rights
protesters had merely to point out what white
citizens must already know. What this amounts to, I think,
is a categorical failure to entertain the possibility
that the very activists who in part inspired the theory
of civil disobedience might construe the
problem differently. What did racial injustice
mean to and for the activists that made up the decades long
struggle against Jim Crow? How did some or even
any of them think about civil disobedience
as a meaningful way to fight racial injustice? What forms of remediation
did civil disobedience offer for a society
structured by white supremacy? And what conclusions
did activists want spectator citizens to
draw from their actions? These questions are
not posed at all. They’re effectively
ruled out in a framework for civil disobedience
that adopts the perspective of an
already legitimated state. Instead, the Civil Rights
Movement and its multitude of activists operates
between the lines of theory as an object lesson. A ready made example that
proves the moral purchase of the theory, rather
than a live source of novel theoretical insights
and political claims. This indeed, is
the final silencing slight of a theory which
sees like a white state. Civil rights activist cannot
tell us anything new about racial injustice or the
struggle against it, what white citizens or white
academic philosophers do not already know. It’s hardly surprising, then
that the entire discourse around civil disobedience
and perhaps direct action more broadly, often
feels so wholly and irreparably
captured by the logic of liberal reformist politics. And thus, so wholly
inadequate to the task of confronting racial
injustice past and present. Whether civil disobedience
can operate differently, whether it can
operate effectively in the face of a contemporary
resurgence of white nationalism and the everyday violence of
the neoliberal racial capitalist order, remains to be seen. And in fact, I’m quite
skeptical about this prospect. I’m certain, however,
that we will not get very far with that
question by assuming, as a starting point,
the inherent legitimacy of the constitutional order. I’m also certain that
substantial resources exist in the archive of racial
justice activism including the civil rights movement to
help guide different questions and supply different answers. Can I take an extra minute? Is that cool with you? ALEX GOUREVITCH: Sure. ERIN PINEDA: I’m just
going to wrap it up now. I don’t have time to– ALEX GOUREVITCH: [INAUDIBLE]. ERIN PINEDA: Thanks. I don’t have time today to
elaborate all the details of this alternative
problem space, as David Scott has called
it, that I read out of the words and deeds
of civil rights activism. But I will throw out
a few points that I won’t be able to fully defend. First, far from being wholly
captured by and subsumed within the bounds of a
presumptively legitimate democratic constitutional
order, civil disobedience for circulated among figures such as
Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King, as a specific
tool in the struggle against the global
white supremacy that encompassed both
colonialism and segregation. As Rustin would write, quote,
fear in the Mississippi Delta is Kenya’s fear, reaction
of fear and the delta is South Africa’s reaction. Non-violent direct action,
these figures suggested was particularly adept
at confronting the fear and violence that underpin
white supremacy without risking the most aggressive and total
forms of white retaliation. Civil disobedience when
deployed on the ground did not cleave faithfully to
the standards of public reason and constitutional
principle Rawls appears to read out
of these engagements, but instead espoused a
vocabulary of self-liberation that grappled with Jim
Crow at an expansive rather than limited terms. As a regime of private property
owners deputized to police the color line, a regime whose
practices of racial domination criss-crossed jurisdictional,
geographical, and institutional lines as well as those
between public and private. A regime based not on the
monopolization of force by the state, but actually
the democratization of force amongst white citizens empowered
to maintain the status quo with whatever means necessary. Persuasion then was simply
inavowedly not enough. Forms of disruption,
forms of coercion, and forms of crisis
generation were also operative in pressing claims
and forcing a response. And impressing the idea
that white citizens as well as state officials
bore personal responsibility for the maintenance and
therefore the dismantling of racial hierarchy. This indeed, is where
the limitations, were the possibilities
of civil disobedience and nonviolent direct
action pressed up against their limits. And it’s why I remain skeptical. Though, I argue that the
direct action of activists of SNCC and corps were
neither naive nor sanguine about the potentialities of
persuading white moderates, let alone white racists, the
political possibilities of civil disobedience
as one part of a larger project of thoroughgoing
reconstitution, relied on the notion that the
disclosure of white supremacy’s violence latent and
overt, the disruption of everyday
institutional functioning and the forceful invitation
to citizen responsibility for hierarchy would in
fact, provoke white citizens into being differently,
into acting differently. This optimistic possibility
foundered time and again, on the stubborn shores
of white disavowal for the concrete embodied
race and racialized person-hood of others. Commitments to abstract
standards of liberal justice notwithstanding. This ultimately, is a limit
that we can neither see nor understand if we
continue to view disobedience like a white state. Thank you. [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE] CANDICE DELMAS: So I circulated
a handout to Laura earlier, maybe you have it if
not there should still be a pile somewhere. I am an analytic
political philosopher. So I’m a little out of
depth in this crowd of world experts of black
political thought, and it’s awesome to be here. So I find it really
enriching and I’m very grateful to
Juliet and Melvin for inviting me into Michelle
for organizing everything. All right. So I think I have a
place here as someone also engaged in the project
of radicalizing liberalism. So what you see is this kind
of unfolding with respect to the question of the
civility of civil disobedience. So political commentators
bemoan the loss of civility in public discourse,
they bemoan the loss of civility in activist
style of resistance. And the kind of first
question I have here is, what link, if any, is
there between the civility of civil disobedience and
the theories of civility that govern the public
discourse, right? The way we should
engage with each other. And so among the questions
I also want to answer, besides that is, what makes
a disobedient act civil? And is civility in
disobedience a moral duty, a moral imperative? So is that this loss
that we’re seeing, is something truly
to deplore, right? So that’s the kind
of question here. So I start with a
very broad stroke survey of the historically
dominant conceptions of civility. So to understand what
the point of civility is and what the demands
of civility are. So really, really broad
stroke, the ancients see civility as the
status of the citizen. So what comes with
political membership? And it requires civic
mindedness and decorum. Civility is a virtue
for civic friends. That changes in the early
modern period when civility, it becomes a kind of
conversational virtue for foes. So its point is to establish
social stability or something like unmurderous
coexistence, so it tells you how to treat
non-contemptuously people you find that early contemptible. So it’s a conversational
virtue in face of disagreement. It requires the kinds of
self-restraint and limited form of toleration. In contemporary series of
civility, we find both trends, but roughly it’s
a political virtue for plural divided societies
seeking democratic conquered. And then depending
on the account, you are on the far end of
the spectrum with something like civic friendship
or on the other end of the spectrum with
the self-restraint, the kinds of reasons and
engagement in the public sphere with public reason. So all in all,
civility designates the kind of conduct and
attitude befitting good citizens and conducive to
social stability. And it requires something like
a minimal conformity to widely accepted social norms. It also, of course,
assumes a kind of context of the
well-ordered society like Erin was talking about. So given this understanding
of civility disobedience, so by disobedience,
I just mean I’m going to talk here about
principled non-compliance with legal rules. So disobedience poses a
problem because it appears incompatible with the
civility expected of citizens, and it is likely to undermine
democratic conquered. It is problematic on two
grounds, one instrumental ground. It just destabilizes society. Is there in actuality
or by example, by inviting others
to also disobey it and it signals a disrespect
for law authority. That’s the non instrumental,
the kind of semiotics ground for the problem it poses. And this disrespect
for laws authority in democratic context,
assuming that the law is authored by
democratic sovereign and brought about by
democratic procedures is a form of democratic
contempt in particular. So theorists have
taken two routes to deal with this problem. The first standard route
is to attempt to reconcile disobedience and civility. And the second is to
deny there’s a problem. And what I want to do is carve– so explain what I find
defective with each approach and try to carve
a third route that involves carving a space
for uncivil disobedience in emancipatory struggles. So that’s kind of the idea. So it’s great that
Erin went first because that’s exactly the
account she was talking about. So I can go over
these very briefly, it’s what I call the civil
disobedience playbook. So how do you reconcile the
two, you show that disobedience is not necessarily incompatible
with the demands of civility and can, in fact, abide by
them to distinguish civil from criminal and
revolutionary disobedience. And you insist that
agents can avoid the two problems I mentioned if
they break the law publicly, nonviolently, non-evasively,
and respectfully. And this involves everything
Erin talked about. So these four marks of civility
spell out the socially accepted norms of civil
disobedience and they enable agents to display
concern for social stability and to communicate
democratic respects. So it defuses the problem. It avoids this problem. So the problems with the
civil disobedience playbook, again, I agree with
everything Aaron says. And so far as it’s
supposed to reflect the practices of actual
civil disobedience, it does that badly. It distorts political reality. It imposes excessively
demanding standards of conduct on protesters in part because
it delineates the sole form that protests can take. So saying that anything
that fails to satisfy these would be presumptively
impermissible. It has the exclusionary effects
that Erin was talking about. So it deters dissent
and resistance and reinforces the status quo. So theorists who have
been dissatisfied with the standard account
of the civil disobedience playbook of re-conceptualized
civil disobedience, to encompass types of
principled lawbreaking that actually violate the
four marks of civility. So they understand civil
disobedience really minimally just as a principled and
communicative lawbreaking. And it can include
civil disobedience and it’s opposites. The question here is,
what is left of civility with inclusive
accounts like that? And it’s just not clear. It’s partly their point
but for Kim Brown. These are one of the
champion of inclusive, account civility
is Matt, so long as the agent is willing to
give reasons if called upon. So that doesn’t meet the
point on demands of civility that we were looking at
for civility [INAUDIBLE].. Civility is an understood
non-normatively neutrally simply what is not
military or paramilitary. So it’s just a
status of the action. And so they just don’t see
that civil disobedience poses any kind of problem. They refuse the
burden of justifying disobedience, which is fine. I like that critique
but to me, the problem with the inclusive
accounts lie in it and they’re stretching the
concept of civil disobedience beyond recognition
because it includes under the umbrella of civil
disobedience things there are civil and things
that are the opposite and insist on
calling these civil. I find this problematic because
I find this politically not useful because people
won’t buy that kind of just new definition. I think it also missed the point
of many disobedient actions, which are to flout the civil
disobedience playbook so that it’s inclusive account just
cannot think deliberate, intentional, purposeful
just violations of civility because it just defined
it as civil already. And that goes against a lot
of activists understanding of what it is they are doing. So just from the suffragettes
to the Black Lives Matter, there is an understanding of
it’s something like a rejection of the rules of engagement
laid by the civil disobedience playbook, which
I think are words just directly addressing and
justifying on their own terms. So here comes the
third route then that I proposed to directly
think of uncivil disobedience. So it’s a third
route because one I agree with the
civil disobedience playbook that it
actually gets right what makes a disobedient act civil. For better or worse, does this
civil disobedience playbook as successfully defined as
socially accepted norms, which disobedience need to abide by. But I agree with critiques. So I disagree with the
standard account that is all that can be justified. And I agree with critics that
civility and disobedience is not a duty. So I define uncivil disobedience
as a principled breach of law in response to perceived
wrongs, in pursuit of a variety of goals. So I don’t define it
as justified, right? So there is going to be a lot
of impermissible problematic uncivil disobedience in
pursuit of objectionable ends, but that’s just the
very broad definition. So among the goals in my pursuit
are status quo or reform, or system overall or education. A, the harm prevention,
retaliation, expression of discontent. And so the outward features
are such that the act fails to satisfy the basic
norms of civility by being his or her covert,
evasive, violent or offensive. So it’s kind of a
cluster concept, which can apply to any of
these kind of acts of uncivil disobedience. And I follow the
structure that I’d laid out with the
problems of disobedience by suggesting an instrumental
and non-instrumental grounds for justifying
uncivil disobedience. So instrumentally,
incivility may be necessary for
certain worthwhile ends. For instance,
covertness and evasion are key in sanctuary
workers success. So when people aid
irregular migrants, providing them with
shelter, assistance, helping them cross borders,
and so on, the goal can be something like a
rescue or just assistance. Were they to break
the law in this case publicly and non-anonymously
and were they to seek or not escape law enforcement,
that would condemn their action to failure
and it would furthermore endanger the lives
of the people they are trying to help with
deportation, detention, and so on. So in this case it’s
just a clear necessity. So you need incivility to
do certain important things. That kind of lesser form of
instrumental justification would just be that
incivility maybe conducive to certain worthwhile ends
so it can help you do that. I is interested in deacons of
defense and black pastors use of force and threats of violence
in context of self-defense against white supremacist
violence, breaches of decorum can also be a way to
attract media attention. So that’s the kind of– it’s just going to work better
than civility could ever allow you to do. And then on the non-instrumental
justification side of thing. I want to look at incivility as
a way of signaling disrespect toward the legal
system, and doing so on the basis of a
warranted judgment about the legal system. So I examined those
two [INAUDIBLE] resort to violence and evasion,
and their justification of those kinds of uncivil means
as communicating well grounded distrust in the legal system
that purports to punish them given the unjust treatment
they were subjected to, disenfranchisement
and brutal repression of their activism. And so the idea is that when
the legal system is such that it doesn’t deserve
any respect, then you are saying the truth
when you are communicating your judgment of disrespect. And that makes it
something worth saying regardless
of whether it’s going to be productive
to the general cause. So it can highlight to put it
in terms of civility, right? It can highlight illusory
ties of civic friendship. So in societies that pretend to
extend civic friendship to all of their citizens, incivility
can expose this as a lie, a form of deception,
and manipulation. And it can highlight, again, in
ways that civility could undo. Some limitations of
civic mindedness. So that’s the idea. I’m going to say very
little about the second form of non-instrumental
justification. It’s the idea that
incivility can also serve to express agency,
dignity, and solidarity. I’m interested, that’s
my next project, in some forms of
prisoners and migrant practices of
resistance, including a hunger strike and lip sewing. And actually what Yasmine was
talking about this morning was fugitive practice is
something that captures what I have in mind here. Again, where you can
assess the semiotic value of these actions
whether or not they contribute to a
broader movement. So incivility can be
used just as this way to contest the problems
posed by disobedience and to call civilities bluff. And only incivility can do that. You can couldn’t do this
with civil disobedience. All right. And so to get back to the
initial question of civility in public discourse,
civility and disobedience. I told Scott Aiken and
Bob Tallies to recently, just in a blog post, develop
this account of civility as a reciprocal public virtue. And I think I agree with them. So the idea is that
civility establishes a standard of conduct, which
individuals are required to abide by as long as others. And I think especially
those in positions of power and privilege,
though they don’t say that, generally do so as well. And so if those
conditions are not met, then it’s not clear that
civility successfully binds people. So if privileged powerful
members in particular, I think, do not practice civility, then
those who are disadvantaged under the current sociopolitical
arrangements cannot be bound by it. They cannot be required to
satisfy the demands of civility if those in power in particular
or others generally don’t do so as well. And seeing that I think
permits us to shift the burden of responsibility in action from
activists by telling them how it is that they’re supposed
to protest to those in power by showing them what they
cannot do and should be doing. And so looking at
civility in this way, then suggests that the
responsibilities are on the side of the
powerful and privileged member to refrain from
condemning incivility on the part of members
of disadvantaged groups because they don’t practice
it themselves at their level. And to model the
kind of behavior that should be the norm
in democracy engagement. And so the loss of civility in
a powerful, privileged members conduct, on the
one hand, as well as these kind of diagnosis of
something like a civic rut, right? An absence of a
civic mindedness, illusory ties of
civic friendship. I’ll finish before
that, actually. Thanks. So I can explain and
justify the loss of civility in activists disobedience. And, yeah. That’s all I had
to say actually. So thanks. I went through the– ALEX GOUREVITCH: [INAUDIBLE]. CANDICE DELMAS: Thanks. [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE]

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