Civil disobedience as a democratic practice

Pschorn, Nina Maria (2019-04)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The aim of this thesis is to develop a moral justification for civil disobedience as a practice of democratic contestation. I begin by investigating the problem of disobedience in the context of our obligation to comply with democratic laws. Here I explore five influential theories of political obligation and establish that disobedience is not a violation of all grounds of obligation. Chapter Two sets out the necessary features of civil disobedience. I start by distinguishing civil disobedience from other types of resistance, namely conscientious objection and revolutionary action. Once I have established what civil disobedience is not, I move to the defining features of civil disobedience as an illegal act committed by a conscientious agent with a particular communicative aim. In Chapter Three, I address the question of violence insofar as it poses a justificatory problem for an account of civil disobedience. Here I argue against the common assumption that civil disobedience is nonviolent by definition, and argue instead that the use of violence is a matter of justification, not definition. By making a distinction between violence that aims to coerce and violence that aims to persuade, I argue that a degree of violence may be permissible insofar as it serves the larger communicative aims of the act and is compatible with the duty to respect the autonomy of one’s fellow citizens. The final chapter of the thesis is devoted to the relationship between civil disobedience and the rule of law. Here I demonstrate that the willingness to accept the legal consequences of the law-breaking act is a necessary component of justified acts of civil disobedience. The willingness to accept the possibility of punishment is what exemplifies the civil disobedient as a conscientious citizen who demonstrates respect for the law and for the autonomy of her fellow citizens. It is furthermore a mark of distinction between civil disobedience as a fundamentally communicative act and conscientious objection and ordinary criminal offences. In the concluding part of the thesis, I examine the Rivonia trial as a paradigmatic example of conscientious agents seeking to persuade their fellow citizens, demonstrating their willingness to cooperate with the state and civil society in the future advancement of justice. I further argue that, while the willingness to accept the legal consequences of the law-breaking action is a justificatory feature of acts of civil disobedience, such justification does not require agents to plead guilty and passively accept the punishment. Rather, the civil disobedient aims to persuade his or her fellow citizens and the judicial authority that the act for which he or she is on trial does not constitute a criminal wrong, but that it is the law that is unjust. Under these circumstances, civil disobedience is not only permissible, but a morally justifiable and even praiseworthy form of political engagement within a democratic society.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die hoofdoel van hierdie tesis is om ʼn morele regverdiging vir burgelike ongehoorsaamheid, as ʼn praktyk van demokratiese betwisting, aan te bied. Ek begin deur ʼn ondersoek in te stel oor die probleem van ongehoorsaamheid binne die konteks van ons verpligting om aan demokratiese wette te voldoen. Hier bestudeer ek vyf invloedryke teorieë van politieke verpligting en stel vas, dat ongehoorsaamheid nie noodwendig ʼn skending van alle gronde van verpligting is nie. In Hoofstuk Twee stel ek die nodige eienskappe van burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid uit een. Ek begin deur ʼn onderskeid te tref tussen burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid en ander vorme van weerstand, wat insluit, gewetensbeswaar en revolusionêre aksie. Sodra ek vasgestel het wat burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid nie is nie, beweeg ek aan na die bepalende eienskappe van burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid as 'n onwettige daad, wat gepleeg word deur 'n gewetensvolle persoon, met 'n bepaalde kommunikatiewe doel. Hoofstuk Drie handel oor die kwessie van geweld, spesifiek in verband met hoe geweld ʼn probleem kan skep vir die regverdiging van burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid. Hier voer ek ʼn argument teen die algemene veronderstelling dat burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid, per definisie, nie gewelddadig is nie. Ek stel eerder voor, dat die gebruik van geweld ʼn kwessie van regverdiging is en nie van omskrywing nie. Deur 'n onderskeid te tref tussen geweld wat daarop gemik is om te dwing, en geweld wat daarop gemik is om te oorreed, argumenteer ek dat 'n mate van geweld toelaatbaar is, sover as wat dit die groter kommunikatiewe doelwitte van die daad dien, en verenigbaar is met die plig om die outonomie van ons medeburgers te respekteer. Die laaste hoofstuk van hierdie tesis fokus op die verhouding tussen burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid en die oppergesag van die reg. Ek wys in hierdie hoofstuk dat die bereidwilligheid om die regsgevolge van die oortreding van die wet te aanvaar, ʼn noodsaaklike komponent van regverdigbare burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid is. Die bereidwilligheid om die moontlikheid van straf te aanvaar, lig die ongehoorsame burger uit as ʼn gewetensvolle persoon, wat respek vir die reg en vir die outonomie van haar medeburgers toon. Dit tref ook ʼn verdere onderskeid tussen burgerlike ogehoorsaamheid, as ʼn daad wat fundamenteel kommunikatief is van aard, en gewetensbeswaar en gewone misdade. In die afsluiting van hierdie tesis, ondersoek ek die Rivonia-verhoor as 'n paradigmatiese voorbeeld van gewetensvolle burgers wat hul medeburgers probeer oorreed, en wat uitwys dat hulle bereid is om saam met die staat te werk vir die vordering van geregtigheid in die toekoms. Ek voer verder aan dat, alhoewel die bereidwilligheid om die regsgevolge van wetsoortredings te aanvaar, ʼn regverdigende kenmerk van burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid is, vereis sulke regverdiging nie noodwendig dat oortreders skuldig moet pleit en hul straf op ʼn passiewe wyse moet aanvaar nie. Inteendeel, die ongehoorsame burger beoog om sy of haar medeburgers en die regsgesag te oortuig, dat die daad waarvoor hy of sy op verhoor is, nie as 'n gewone misdaad beskou kan word nie, maar dat die onregverdige wet die belangriker probleem is. Onder sulke omstandighede is burgerlike ongehoorsaamheid nie net toelaatbaar nie, maar 'n moreel- regverdigbare, en selfs lofwaardige vorm van politieke betrokkenheid binne 'n demokratiese samelewing.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/105854
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