William E. Scheuerman, Professor of Political Science and West European Studies, Indiana University, will be speaking in the Bowland Auditorium at University of York, 5pm, May 27th.
I argue that we should interpret Edward Snowden’s actions as meeting most of the demanding tests outlined in sophisticated political thinking about civil disobedience. Like Thoreau, Gandhi, King, and many earlier political activists Snowden has articulated a powerful defense of why he was morally obligated to engage in politically motivated lawbreaking. He has also undertaken impressive efforts to explain how his actions are distinguishable from ordinary criminality, and why they need not culminate in reckless lawlessness. In fact, his example can perhaps help us advance liberal and democratic ideas about civil disobedience. First, it highlights sound reasons why, pace the orthodox view, the acceptance of punishment by those engaging in civil disobedience should not be seen as a precondition of its legitimacy. Second, Snowden reminds us that ours is an era in which intensified globalization processes directly shape every feature of political existence. Defenders of civil disobedience need to update their reflections accordingly.