Legitimate Injustice and Just Resistance

Convenor: Aart Van Gils


Email: A.VanGils@pgr.reading.ac.uk


Justice, legitimacy, and the relation between these two values characterise much of political theory. Crudely put, whether a state is (or should be) first and foremost ‘just’ rather than ‘legitimate’ (or vice versa) seems a helpful way to distinguish competing approaches in political theory. In this workshop, we will consider two broad cases on the spectrum of justice and legitimacy combined: legitimate injustice (e.g. Pasternak, 2011; Jubb, 2014; Quong, unpublished) and just resistance (e.g. Shelby, 2007; 2016).
To provide working definitions, by ‘legitimate injustice’ I understand acts which result in an
injustice (e.g. infringement of individual rights) but which are nonetheless legitimate (e.g. an appropriate procedure has been used). By contrast, ‘just resistance’ I understand to be resistance to states/institutions/collectives by individuals and/or other states/institutions/collectives because the former have lost their legitimacy in the eyes of the latter, hopefully having this claim well-supported.
One can see that behind these working definitions, there is a presumption that ‘legitimate injustice’ is in the realm of state action, whereas ‘just resistance’ is understood to be something individual citizens do, often vis-à-vis their state. One may question that presumption. Could individual citizens perpetrate a legitimate injustice against a legitimate government? Could a state justly resist its own citizenry? What are the required conditions for either one of these two scenarios? These questions aim to not only scrutinise the stated presumption in the context of legitimate injustice and just resistance, but also to make explicit the variety of ways in which individuals and the state relate to each other.
Naturally, many would object to either one or both of the above working definitions. In fact, I would like you to object to them. I take such disagreement to be the starting point for discussion or the primary question to be addressed: how are we to understand the ideas of ‘just resistance’ and ‘legitimate injustice’?
Some further suggested questions to be addressed:
– Can a state or society commit legitimate injustices? Why (not)? What is the appropriate
response to perpetrated legitimate injustices? Compensation (by who and to whom)?
Public apology (by who and to whom)?
– Even if a state may permissibly commit a legitimate injustice, what if it commits a series o flegitimate injustices? Does such ‘structural’ legitimate injustice ultimately render the state illegitimate and/or unjust? Why (not)?
– What are the necessary and/or sufficient conditions for illegitimacy and injustice?
– What is the appropriate ‘outsider’ response (e.g. transnational institutions, other states) to both just resistance and legitimate injustice? Is outside intervention due to just resistance or legitimate injustice permissible? Why (not)?
– Could a legitimate injustice be justly resisted? Why (not)? By whom (not)?
Of course, alternative suggestions for sub-topics and/or questions to be addressed by interested participants will be both highly appreciated and likely accommodated.
In summary, this workshop aims to bring together moral, political, and legal theorists interested in political (in)justice and/or (il)legitimacy, (civil) disobedience, dissent, (state) intervention, (institutional) reform, and (political) resistance.