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Peter Niesen: Resistance, Disobedience and Transnational Constituent Power

PPE lecture series

Lecture by Prof. Peter Niesen (Hamburg) organized by the Centre for Philosophy, Politics and Economics

In 1992, the Frankfurt scholar Ingeborg Maus launched a polemical attack against then current narratives of democratic protest. She objected to people describing their critical activities as instances of ‘resistance’ or ‘civil disobedience’, seeing the activists, albeit unwillingly, in the throes of a ‘re-feudalisation of democratic theory’. In the paper, I examine in how far Maus’ criticism stands up when facing current, sophisticated conceptions of resistance and civil disobedience, and in how far the lessons of her then argument can be applied for our current search for languages of transnational protest and transnational non-conformist political action.

In a first section, I isolate what constituent power means for Maus: it is a legislative, instituting competence that is held by the people and cannot be transferred to office-holders. I then identify the main motivations for Maus’ original critique, distinguishing five arguments. In a second part, I address two recent substantive conceptions of resistance and civil disobedience, by Michael Walzer and Robin Celikates. Walzer’s diagnosis largely confirms the status-quo ante-oriented function of resistance, and therefore confirms Maus’ criticism. However, I argue that especially when following Celikates’ model, conceptions of disobedience can largely be integrated into an understanding of constituent power. Following Celikates, some exercises of civil disobediences are articulations of constituent power and can be defended as such.

In a third section, I look at the advantages of a model of constituent power when moving beyond the confines of the state. Here the question is who the agents of trans- and international constituent power are. In contrast to current approaches that look at states as agents of international civil disobedience-as-constituent power, I suggest we look at social movements. I focus on the example of the DiEM25 movement which understands itself as “a pan-European movement of civil and governmental disobedience” that is at the same time working towards an articulation of constituent power among the people(s) of Europe.

When & where?

Wednesday 22 November 2017, 3.15-5pm
Room Omega, Faculty of Philosophy

Last modified:02 November 2017 5.55 p.m.