Domination and Disobedience: Protest, Coercion and the Limits of an Appeal to Justice
by Guy Aitchison, University College Dublin
I offer a conceptual framework for assessing the normative legitimacy of coercive disobedience—involving threats, disruption, force, and deceit—by social movements. A standard liberal view is that while coercion may be required to resist authoritarian regimes, it is illegitimate in a democratic state since it conflicts with majority rule and mutual respect. In restricting disobedience to a form of moral persuasion, this perspective neglects how social power and material interests can distort the conditions for open, fair deliberation. I offer a principled defense of coercive disobedience, not only in repressive states but in plausibly democratic societies. I argue that coercion can be justified on democratic republican grounds as a means to collectively contest objectionable forms of political domination. The use of coercion can be justified as a surrogate tool of political action for those who lack effective participation rights; as a remedial tool to counteract the dominating influence of powerful actors over the process of democratic will formation, and as a mobilizational tool to maintain participation and discipline in collective action. I conclude by proposing democratic constraints on the use of coercive tactics designed to offset the potential movements themselves become a source of arbitrary power.