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Civil Disobedience and Conscientious Objection  

William Smith and Kimberley Brownlee

Civil disobedience and conscientious objection are distinct but related social practices that display people’s opposition to specific laws, policies, directives, or schemes. In general, these two practices arise from people’s deeply held commitments. Civil disobedience is more overtly communicative and political than conscientious objection. Civil disobedience is also, almost by definition, a breach of law, which people engage in to push for changes in either governmental or nongovernmental practices. Conscientious objection, by contrast, does not always break the law: sometimes it is a legally protected form of nonconformity. It is also less overtly political than civil disobedience, stemming as it does from people’s desire not to participate in practices they oppose, rather than from their ambition to change those practices. Both practices can be morally justified under specific conditions that, among other things, include doing only limited harm to other people. Moreover, under even more specific conditions, both practices could be said to be protected by moral rights. Civil disobedience and conscientious objection generate pressing normative and political challenges concerning the nature of the rule of law, respect for the rule of law, conditions for deliberative democracy, equality before the law, policing, adjudication, and punishment.


Political Obligation  

Massimo Renzo

Political obligation refers to the idea that there is a duty to obey the law as well as to support one’s state in a number of other ways—for example, by promoting its interests, by defending it when attacked, by voting, and, more generally, by being an active citizen. These duties can be very demanding and seriously interfere with one’s capacity to autonomously choose how to lead one’s life. As such, their existence deserves close scrutiny. The main attempts to justify the existence of political obligation appeal to the ideas of consent, fair play, gratitude, natural duties of justice, and associative obligations. Each of these theories is shown to struggle either with underinclusiveness or with overinclusiveness. It is normally thought that all and only the citizens of a given state have a duty to obey its laws and support its political institutions, but none of the classic theories seem to be able to justify a duty of this kind. In light of this, two responses are available: one is to give up the idea that there is political obligation, thereby becoming a “philosophical anarchist”; the other is to revise the traditional understanding of political obligation.