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Civil Disobedience: A Philosophical Overview

by Piero Moraro Rowman & Littlefield International
Pub Date:
Pbk 180 pages
AU$72.99 NZ$73.03
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What is the difference between civil and uncivil disobedience? How can illegal protest be compatible with a democratic regime based on the rule of law? Is Edward Snowden a civil disobedient? This book follows the philosophical debate around these and other issues, showing how the notion of civil disobedience has evolved from a form of passive resistance against injustice, to an active way to engage with the political life of the community. The author presents the major contributions in political and legal philosophy, ranging from John Rawls’ seminal account in 1971, to the recent views advanced by Kimberley Brownlee, David Lefkowitz and William Smith. In the last chapter, the author proposes a novel account of civil disobedience, able to meet some of the unresolved challenges. The author argues that, to make sense of civil disobedience, we should expand our conception of political obligation, so to include acts that, despite being illegal, may reveal the agent’s civility.



  • Provides an up-to-date overview of the philosophical literature on civil disobedience in the analytic tradition, ideal for students in Political, Moral and Legal Philosophy


  • Offers a critical comparison of the various different views around specific topics (e.g. the role of non-violence), rather than a mere author-by-author summary of how the debate has evolved


  • Makes a positive contribution that seeks to advance the philosophical debate, through the proposal of a model to address some of the unresolved issues in the literature of civil disobedience


Courses: Philosophy; Social & Political Philosophy, Political Science; Comparative Politics; Social Movements.

Chapter 1. What's Wrong with Disobedience?
Chapter 2. The Concept of Civility
Chapter 3. Disagreement and Civility
Chapter 4. Nonviolence and Civility
Chapter 5. The Moral Right to Civil Disobedience
Chapter 6. Political Obligation: 'Inside-Out' Vs. 'Outside-In'

There is much to admire in this book. In addition to providing a much needed introduction to the most recent philosophical discussion of civil disobedience, Moraro outlines an original account that grounds the value of this practice in certain aspects of virtue ethics. Moraro succeeds in appealing both to students and more experienced readers by discussing complex problems while writing in an accessible and engaging style. Highly recommended.

Piero Moraro is a lecturer in Justice Studies at Charles Sturt University.