Civil Disobedience Beyond the State III

Civil Disobedience Beyond the State III: The Right of Resistance in A Globalized World
Nuffield College, Oxford University
November 25-26, 2015

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At the end of the first year of our project, the third installment of the Civil Disobedience Beyond the State workshop series took place at Oxford University. We convened at Nuffield College to discuss actions that could be considered forms of transnational and global civil disobedience. Among the themes that organizers Annette Zimmermann, Robin Celikates and Theresa Züger outlined were the “new agents, new practices, and new ends” of civil disobedience in the global realm. Some of the problems highlighted were the democratic boundary problem; knowing which institutions actually apply to us; whether engaging in civil disobedience can be seen as a right or duty and why; and the enduring value of paradigm cases such as those of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The first panel commenced with Simon Caney, who presented “Justice in Transition to a Better World: On the Relationship between Means and Ends”, and Ashwini Vasanthakumar’s presentation, “Exile Politics and Transnational Civil Disobedience.” Both presentations touched upon the complex relationship between means and ends in civil disobedience. Caney provided us with an overview of the debates surrounding the justifications for violent or non-violent means used to reach certain ends. Gandhi, for example, believed that only non-violent means could produce a peaceful end. Revolutionary politics, on the other hand, often calls for an “ends justify the means” type of approach. Caney sees a third way, a more pluralist approach that he calls “non-deal reflective equilibrium.” With this approach, it is important to revise ends and means, to weigh intuitions in light of the context or concrete situation. This method of “non ideal reflective equilibrium” is guided by the core commitments of deliberative democracy. Meanwhile Vasanthakumar argued for a conception of civil disobedience that is more in line with the traditional definition. Through her case study of the Tamil community in Canada using civil disobedience to protest the injustice of the civil war in Sri Lanka, she demonstrated how misplaced the use of civil disobedience can be in the transnational realm. She argued that blocking one of the busiest highways in Canada to protest what was going on in Sri Lanka was not an effective way to address the particular injustice that was occurring in Sri Lanka. The end has to be related to the political community that we are in. Still, she stated that exiles do have a duty to resist, a duty to publicize the injustices that they experience or know of, if not use civil disobedience.

After the first panel, Karuna Mantena gave the keynote lecture titled, “Individual versus Mass Civil Disobedience in Gandhian Satyagraha.” Through her historical analysis of the evolution of Gandhi’s Satyagraha, she shed new light on his philosophy. She described how by the time Gandhi led the successful Salt March of 1930 in India, he had experienced many failures with civil disobedience during his activism in South Africa. Mantena explained how Gandhi’s Satyagraha should not be understood merely as a spiritually motivated civil disobedience; instead it should be understood as stemming from Gandhi’s realism. Gandhi’s movement started off as tactical, aimed at changing racial segregation in British South Africa. The tactics he used were not spiritually motivated in the beginning; they were strategic moves that were meant to provoke the British. Eventually, Gandhi’s civil disobedience became principled in the process. What are the implications of understanding Gandhi’s Satyagraha from a realist standpoint? What lessons from the paradigmatic case can we take and apply to today’s global civil disobedience?

On the second day, we had three panel sessions. The first session started with Kimberley Brownlee’s talk, “Can there be Conscientious Disobedience on a Global Stage?” and Leslie Green’s talk, “Civil Disobedience and Political Protest.” In a continuum from our Berlin workshop, Brownlee engaged in a debate with Scheuerman’s work on whether Edward Snowden fits the Rawlsian definition of civil disobedience. While Scheuerman has argued that the actions of Snowden can be described as civil disobedience, Brownlee argued that he does not fit the Rawslian definition because his actions do not fulfill the publicity criteria or the fidelity to law criteria since he did not notify the public of his intent beforehand and refuses to accept the punishment. Instead, Brownlee claimed that Snowden can be seen as an example of conscientious disobedience on a global scale. Leslie Green discussed the idea of constructive civil disobedience, which contrasts with the more traditional “remedial” civil disobedience, which is directed at a domestic government with the aim of changing a law or policy. Constructive civil disobedience seeks to create a social contract where there was not one “in the first place”, e.g. on the global level.

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In the second panel of the day Temi Ogunye presented, “Global Justice and Transnational Civil Disobedience” and William Smith discussed “Civil Disobedience as Transnational Disruption.” Ogunye argued that as citizens of liberal democratic states, it is our duty to engage in civil disobedience on behalf of those who cannot. Smith, on the other hand was searching for normative global standards regarding global legitimacy in transnational protest movements, and legitimacy between states. He gave the example of indigenous communities that invite the international community to take a stand on a domestic issue.

The final panel included Javier Hidalgo on the “Duty to Resist Unjust Immigration Restrictions” and Luis Cabrera on “Global Civil Disobedience and the Averted Gaze: On Strict Legality vs. Leniency in the Context of Unauthorized Migration.” While both panelists discussed undocumented migration in relation to transnational civil disobedience, they approached the issue from distinct perspectives. Javier Hidalgo shifted the focus from the undocumented migrant to that of the citizen. He argued that as citizens in wealthy liberal democratic states, it is our duty to resist unjust immigration restrictions if the potential penalty for the citizen is not very high. This could include hiring or housing undocumented migrants, for example. Luis Cabrera, meanwhile, who has argued that undocumented migrants are acting like global citizens when they decide to cross borders, shifted his focus to the emerging global normative charter of cosmopolitan law or individual rights. We already have an international declaration of human rights. Given that we subscribe to these principles, how should states respond to principled border crossing? They can choose strict legality or leniency. Cabrera argues for leniency, explaining that the “averted gaze” is what happens when the government turns away from the humans involved in undocumented migration. Often the words used to describe migrants are “swarm” or “tsunami”, and this can be dehumanizing rhetoric. Cabrera argued that we have to refocus the “averted gaze” on to the humans and their needs.

In the end, we left with more questions than answers. During the concluding discussion, we discussed the importance of a continued effort to maintain diverse participation and include various viewpoints from around the globe in our workshops. Other points raised include: who are the duty bearers? Do those who have an epistemic privilege have a greater duty to disobey since they know of their injustice? Another point that we learned from cases such as Gandhi is that sometimes the civil disobedience movements start off as strategic and then become principled in the process of conceptualization. What are the implications of this process on how we interpret the potential of “illegal” migration as civil disobedience? As we concluded the third workshop in this series, as well as our first year of this project, we now move into the next year with a new sense of conceptual problems and empirical cases that raise questions and challenges for our project.