UnCivil Protest: A Workshop

Fri, May 15, 2020, 10:00 am to Sat, May 16, 2020, 5:00 pm
Location: 
TBD
Audience: 
Open To Princeton students, fellows & faculty
Speaker(s): 
Sponsor(s): 
University Center for Human Values

The right to dissent is commonly thought to be one of the fundamental
political rights of democratic citizens. But mainstream liberal theory
imposes many constraints on dissident protest. Those who oppose the outcome
of a democratic decision are generally required to limit themselves to legal
protest. Agents who do otherwise are seen as ‘sore losers’ and ‘free
riders’, or as engaged in a kind of ‘civic blackmail’ that risks
undermining the foundations of democratic cooperation. In unusual
circumstances illegal protest is permitted, especially against very serious
and urgent injustices. But here too protestors are required to comply with
the norms of civility: they may break the law, but only in a highly
constrained manner, so that they persuade, rather than coerce, the democratic
majority.

But in recent years political theorists and political activists have come to
challenge these common perceptions, suggesting that less civil modes of
protest can be justified in democratic societies. This move has been partly
motivated by the growing dominance of ‘non-ideal theory’ in current
debates, with its emphasis on the ethical challenges raised by a political
environment that is very far removed from that of a “reasonably just
democracy”. The rules of civil political engagement, it is suggested, do
not clearly apply to societies that are marred by serious racial and sexual
injustices and democratic deficits.

This workshop brings together papers that analyse specific forms of
unconventional protest and investigate the ethics of protest and resistance
under non-ideal circumstances. We will address questions such as: what is
civility and what does it require? What is incivility, and what, if anything
is wrong with it? What should we think about protests that fail to be civil,
such as urban uprisings, egging, ‘Nazi punching’, no-platforming,
doxxing, and online shaming? And what should we think about protests taking
place in different sites: the Internet, prisons, borders, campuses?