Seminar: Can Political Institutions Commit Civil Disobedience?

Professor William E. Scheuerman will give a presentation 'Can Political Institutions Commit Civil Disobedience?' at the seminar at the Faculty of Law. The seminar is jointly organised by the Department of Public and International Law and ARENA.

Photo: Amnesty International (poster, 1976)


William E. Scheuerman is a Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Indiana University (Bloomington). 


Political activists (including Yanis Varoufakis, the Democracy in Europe Movement [Diem25]) as well as many scholars now defend the idea of state or political- institutional civil disobedience: they locate civil disobedience’s agency in state or institutional rather than the usual non-state, extra-institutional actors (e.g., grassroots political movements). Diverging sharply from older ideas of civil disobedience as directed against government, institutional disobedience seems to offer political and strategic advantages, particularly in postnational institutional contexts (e.g., the European Union) where binding political decisions are made in a complex, multi-layered fashion. Though at first glance appealing, the idea of institutional disobedience raises tough questions its exponents have not yet fully answered. Civil disobedience has usually referred to politically motivated lawbreaking that, at a minimum, is supposed to be morally conscientious, nonviolent, and demonstrate basic respect for law. Downplaying the modern state’s normatively ambivalent traits (most importantly: its monopoly on legitimate coercion), state civil disobedience proves incongruent with minimally acceptable interpretations of such core components. Institutional civil disobedience’s advocates  mischaracterize what they in fact are proposing, namely: disobedience to the law by government or state officials, a type of disobedience that poses greater political dangers than its extra-institutional predecessors.  

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Comments by Agustín José Menéndez, ARENA and Inger Johanne Sand, Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo

Published Aug. 31, 2018 10:33 AM - Last modified Sep. 2, 2021 9:35 AM