The ideas discussed in this chapter are frequently grouped together as theories of ‘civil disobedience’. The distinctive character of actions that are promoted and justified by ideas of civil disobedience is captured in their designation as forms of ‘principled’ disobedience. This term draws attention to the fact that acts of disobedience are directed by a desire to resist political injustice and to produce a change in the exercise of political authority, not — as is the case with conventional law breaking — to gain some personal advantage (Harris, 1989). ‘Civil disobedience’ is related to, but must be distinguished from, the idea of ‘passive resistance’, which played a role in medieval political theory. ‘Passive resistance’ refers to a refusal to obey unjust commands; it generally precludes challenges to rulers, and does not involve a concerted attempt to change their conduct or modify the structures within which they operate. Although the term ‘civil disobedience’ will be used here, it should be noted that one important proponent of non-violent resistance regarded the idea of civil disobedience as too negative. As we shall see, Mahatma Gandhi preferred to describe his doctrine as one of ‘civil resistance’. He did so in order to signal his desire for a positive transformation of politics so that political authority would once again become legitimate.
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- Theories of Civil Disobedience and Non-Violent Resistance to Political Authority
- Macmillan Education UK
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- Chapter 14