Brownlee, “Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience

conscienceconvictionThis December, Oxford University Press will publish Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience by Kimberley Brownlee (University of Manchester). The publisher’s description follows.

Arguing for the moral and legal defensibility of conscientious disobedience, and particularly civil disobedience, this book first examines the morality of conscience and conscientiousness and then the legality of conscientious breach of law.

Part I focuses on the morality of conscience and conscientiousness. These are two comparatively neglected concepts in contemporary moral and legal theory, though they are central to practical debates about the ethics of war, healthcare, and political participation, among others. The book disambiguates the descriptive notion of conscientiousness as sincere conviction from the evaluative notion of conscience as genuine moral responsiveness. This gives rise to a communicative principle of conscientiousness (CPC), according to which sincere moral conviction requires not only that we act consistently with our beliefs and make universal moral judgements, but also that we not seek to evade the consequences of doing so and be willing to communicate our convictions to others.

The CPC informs the ensuing discussion of persons’ rights and duties within a liberal democracy. In contrast with standard liberal theorizing, the book shows that people who engage in the communicative practice of suitably constrained civil disobedience have a better claim to a moral right to conscientious action than do people who engage in non-communicative, private, or evasive ‘conscientious’ objection.

Part II argues that civil disobedience is generally more defensible than personal disobedience. The book explores two putative legal defences – a demands-of-conviction defence and a necessity defence – and argues that each applies more readily to civil disobedience than to personal disobedience. The book responds to concerns about strategic-action, democracy, competition of values, and proportionality, all of which disregard the communicative nature of sincere conviction and underestimate the capacity of democratic law to recognise the legitimacy and importance of values other than literal compliance with the law.

The book concludes by highlighting a parallel between the communicative aims of civil disobedience and the communicative aims of lawful punishment. Only the former may claim to have dialogue ambitions, which raises difficulties for the justifiability of punishing civil disobedience.

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