When confronted with a law that they find morally unconscionable, citizens sometimes engage in civil disobedience – they publicly break the law with a view to communicating their judgment that it is unjust. Citizens in similar situations sometimes take a different stance – they engage in conscientious objection, they quietly disobey, seeking only to keep their own conscience clear.
A common view of these matters has it that the conscientious objector is deserving of special respect, and even accommodation, whereas the civil disobedient engages in a politically risky and morally questionable practice. In her new book, Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford University Press, 2012) Kimberley Brownlee reverse this picture. She contends that properly-conducted civil disobedience is more deserving of accommodation and respect than conscientious objection. Her case turns on a detailed and subtle analysis of the very concepts of conviction and conscience.
In political philosophy, republicanism is the name of a distinctive framework for thinking about politics. At its core is a unique conception of freedom according to which freedom consists in non-domination, that is, in not having a master or lord, in not being subject to the arbitrary will of another. This republican conception of the free person contrasts with a competing and familiar view according to which freedom is primarily a property, not of persons, but of choices. In this view, one is free insofar as one enjoys the absence of interference.
For the past few decades, Philip Pettit has been engaged in a sustained effort to revive republicanism as an approach to political philosophy. In a series of articles and books, he has developed and defended the republican conception of freedom. In his latest book,On The People’s Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy(Cambridge University Press, 2012), Pettit articulates a conception of democracy to accompany the fundamental republican commitment to freedom as non-domination. The book examines the full range of topics, from justice to legitimacy and institutional design. This is a highly detailed and meticulously argued book.