1st Edition

Criminalizing Dissent The Liberal State and the Problem of Legitimacy

By Rob Watts Copyright 2020
    302 Pages
    by Routledge

    302 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    While liberal-democratic states like America, Britain and Australia claim to value freedom of expression and the right to dissent, they have always actually criminalized dissent. This disposition has worsened since 9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession. This ground-breaking study shows that just as dissent involves far more than protest marches, so too liberal-democratic states have expanded the criminalization of dissent.

    Drawing on political and social theorists like Arendt, Bourdieu and Isin, the book offers a new way of thinking about politics, dissent and its criminalization relationally. Using case studies like the Occupy movement, selective refusal by Israeli soldiers, urban squatters, democratic education and violence by anti-Apartheid activists, the book highlights the many forms dissent takes along with the many ways liberal-democratic states criminalize it. The book highlights the mix of fear and delusion in play when states privilege security to protect an imagined ‘political order’ from difference and disagreement.

    The book makes a major contribution to political theory, legal studies and sociology. Linking legal, political and normative studies in new ways, Watts shows that ultimately liberal-democracies rely more on sovereignty and the capacity for coercion and declarations of legal ‘states of exception’ than on liberal-democratic principles. In a time marked by a deepening crisis of democracy, the book argues dissent is increasingly valuable.

    Introduction  1. Thinking about Dissent  2. Thinking Relationally: Bringing the Political Back In  3. The Many Faces of Dissent  4. ‘Protecting Democracies from Themselves’: How Liberal Democracies Criminalise the Political  5. Law Against Liberty: Making Sense of the Criminalization of Dissent  6. Liberalism, Law and the Problem of Legitimacy  7. The Political Legitimacy of the Liberal-Democratic State  8. The Legitimacy of Political Violence  9. Why Dissent Is Good for Us


    Rob Watts is currently a professor of Social Policy at RMIT University where he teaches politics, criminology, policy studies and applied human rights. He was a founding member of the Greens Party in Victoria, and established the Australian Center for Human Rights Education at RMIT in 2008. His recent books include States of Violence and the Civilising Process (2016), Public Universities, Managerialism and the Value of the University (2017) and The Precarious Generation: A Political Economy of Young People (2018, co-authored).

    "Filling a gap in the social science literature, Rob Watts engages in a powerful defence of the right to dissent, which is defined as fundamental given the irreducible pluralism of ideas in every society. Bridging social theory with empirical analysis of recent forms of criminalization of acts of resistance, he convincingly challenges the myth of liberal democracy as tolerant of disagreement and points at the complex - and not always rational - relations between fear, security and liberalism."

    - Donatella della Porta, Professor of Political Science and Political Sociology, European University Institute, Italy

    "Rob Watts' Criminalizing Dissent could not appear at a more important moment. In a careful, deliberate manner, he undertakes to explain not just what dissent is and the many forms it can take in liberal democracies, but also why it is so important that we protect it. This is a timeless lesson that seems especially relevant now."

    - Sophia Rosenfeld, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania, US