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A Duty to Resist

When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil

Candice Delmas

Publication Date - 08 May 2020

ISBN: 9780197531310

316 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches

In Stock


What are our responsibilities in the face of injustice? How far should we go to fight it? Many would argue that as long as a state is nearly just, citizens have a moral duty to obey the law. Proponents of civil disobedience generally hold that, given this moral duty, a person needs a solid justification to break the law. But activists from Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi to the Movement for Black Lives have long recognized that there are times when, rather than having a duty to obey the law, we have a duty to disobey it.

Taking seriously the history of this activism, A Duty to Resist wrestles with the problem of political obligation in real world societies that harbor injustice. Candice Delmas argues that the duty of justice, the principle of fairness, the Samaritan duty, and political association impose responsibility to resist under conditions of injustice. We must expand political obligation to include a duty to resist unjust laws and social conditions even in legitimate states.

For Delmas, this duty to resist demands principled disobedience, and such disobedience need not always be civil. At times, covert, violent, evasive, or offensive acts of lawbreaking can be justified, even required. Delmas defends the viability and necessity of illegal assistance to undocumented migrants, leaks of classified information, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, sabotage, armed self-defense, guerrilla art, and other modes of resistance. There are limits: principle alone does not justify law breaking. But uncivil disobedience can sometimes be not only permissible but required in the effort to resist injustice.


  • Puts forward a groundbreaking theory that resisting injustice is itself a duty, which sometimes requires lawbreaking
  • Turns a major tradition in political theory against itself by offering the first sustained case for political obligations to resist unjust laws
  • Offers the first philosophical treatment of uncivil disobedience, its defensibility, and its limits
  • Weighs in on current issues and social movements such as Black Lives Matter, the anti-Trump resistance, feminist activism in Europe and Russia, government whistleblowing, hacktivism, and efforts to aid undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers

About the Author(s)

Candice Delmas is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at Northeastern University and the Associate Director of the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics Program. She previously served as a Dworkin-Balzan Fellow at New York University School of Law from 2016 to 2017. She works in moral, social, political, and legal philosophy.


"Delmas systematically and compellingly demonstrates is that our political obligations as well as our latitude to disobey are farmore expansive, given the scale and scope of injustice, violence, and exploitation around us. On this front, Delmas' book stands as an original and significant contribution, and a challenge to accounts which fail to seriously consider what we owe to each other when we live within--and particularly when we benefit from--the conditions of systemic injustice." -- Erin R Pineda, European Journal of Political Theory

"The elegance of her argument is that it takes received understandings of political obligation, and detaches them from an uncritical presumption towards duties of obedience... Delmas drives a persuasive and relatable argument through what might otherwise be treacherously broad, hazy territory... The book presents a robust but simple moral reasoning for uncoupling our political obligations from a presumed duty to obey - and one strongly relevant to our times." -- James Greenwood-Reeves, Journal of Law and Society, Volume 46, No 2. 2019

"In all, Delmas successfully guides us to reconsider the traditional "wisdom" of civil disobedience. She also makes a strong case for expanding the notion of political obligation...to encompass a duty to resist." -- Ten-Herng Lai, Ethics

"Delmas's book is a vitally important contribution to the literature that will reward close engagement from philosophers working in a variety of different fields of political theory." -- Christopher Finlay, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"a provocative and rewarding contribution to the literature particularly valuable for its attention to the question of the situational conditions of obligatory, potentially uncivil resistance" -- Suzanne Smith, LSE Review of Books

"Delmas tries to detangle our obligations with a thorough taxonomy of principled disobedience ... Delmas suggests that we have to build a collective way of thinking together and resisting together." -- Nausicaa Renner, BookForum

"Candice Delmas has produced a beautifully written, deeply engaged, and carefully constrained argument for uncivil disobedience under certain conditions. Her defense of resistance as both right and obligation is hard to resist, and readers who prefer civility will find in this book a worthy opponent." -- Michael Walzer, Professor Emeritus of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study

"Delmas rethinks the conceptual and moral foundations of principled noncompliance with unjust laws, practices, and norms. She radically expands our sense of the scope and demands of political dissent. Her book offers a probing, sophisticated, and timely theory of the duty to resist injustice."-- Tommie Shelby, author of Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform

"Candice Delmas's wonderful new book contends that we have a political obligation to oppose injustice, which can often give us a duty to disobey the law. The standard arguments for why we should follow the law, such as fairness and associative ties, are actually strong arguments for us to disobey including through uncivil disobedience to resist oppression. Insightful, gripping, and analytically sharp, Delmas's work is both a valuable contribution and a call to action." -- Kimberley Brownlee, Professor of Philosophy, University of Warwick

Table of Contents

    Preface to the paperback edition
    Introduction: Political Obligation(s)
    Chapter 1. Principled Disobedience
    Chapter 2. In Defense of Uncivil Disobedience
    Chapter 3. Justice and Democracy
    Chapter 4. Fairness
    Chapter 5. Samaritanism
    Chapter 6. Political Association and Dignity
    Chapter 7. Acting on Political Obligations
    Postscript. Resistance in the Age of Trump

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