The Ethics of Political Dissent  book cover
1st Edition

The Ethics of Political Dissent

ISBN 9780367077464
Published July 8, 2022 by Routledge
186 Pages

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Book Description

A broadly liberal politics requires political compassion, not simply in the sense of compassion for the victims of injustice but also for opponents confronted through political protest and (more broadly) dissent. There are times when, out of a sense of compassion, a just cause should not be pressed.

There are times when we need to accommodate the dreadfulness of loss for opponents, even when the cause for which they fight is unjust. We may also have to come to terms with the irreversibility of historic injustice and reconcile. Political compassion of this sort carries risks. Pushed too far, it may weaken our commitment to justice through too great a sympathy for those on the other side. It would be convenient if such compassion could be constrained by a clear set of political principles. But principles run the quite different risk of promoting an ‘ossified dissent,’ unable to respond to change.

In this book, Tony Milligan argues that principles are only a limited guide to dissent in unique, contingent circumstances. They will not tell us how to deal with the truly difficult cases such as the following: Should the Lakota celebrate Thanksgiving? When is the crossing of a picket line justified? What kind of toleration must animal rights advocates cultivate to make progress within a broadly liberal political domain? And how should we respond to the entangling of aspiration towards social justice with anger and prejudice (such as the ‘anti-Zionist’ discourse)? We may be tempted to answer these questions by presupposing that alignment (the business of choosing sides) is ultimately more important than compassion, but sometimes political compassion trumps alignment. Sometimes, being on the right side is not the most important thing.

Table of Contents


Chapter One - The Fable of the Colonial Ethicists

Chapter Two - The Very Idea of Dissent

Chapter Three - Skepticism about Political Ethics

Chapter Four - Assumptions about Moral Superiority

Chapter Five - Gaining Concepts: Appeals to Ahimsa

Chapter Six - Political Grief and the Removal of Statues

Chapter Seven - Between Politics and Love


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Tony Milligan is Senior Researcher in the Philosophy of Ethics with the Cosmological Visionaries project at King’s College London. His previous publications include Pravda v Dobe Populismu (2019); Animal Ethics: the Basics (2015); Civil Disobedience: Protest, Justification and the Law (2013); and Beyond Animal Rights: Food, Pets and Ethics (2010).