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Respecting Autonomy Through the Use of Force: the Case of Civil Disobedience

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Abstract

Acts of civil disobedience, which imply the open violation of a legal directive, often result in the forceful imposition of a choice upon others (e.g. blockades). This is sometimes justifiable, within a democracy, in cases of ‘democratic deficit’, namely, when fundamental rights of an oppressed minority are at stake. In this article, I claim that the use of physical force, in a democracy, may also be justified by the rights of (at least some of) the very people upon whom force is applied. Focusing on the nature of civil disobedience as a ‘form of address’, I argue: (1) using physical force to address others in the democratic arena does not entail infringing upon their status as autonomous agents; (2) using physical force to address others in the democratic arena may contribute to the fulfilment of a positive duty to promote the autonomy of (at least some of) those very people upon whom force is applied. This is not a defence of paternalism: I claim that using force against others, in the democratic arena, may be constitutive of a behaviour that treats others with the respect due to their status as autonomous agents.

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