Article Title

Civil Dissent by Obedience and Disobedience: Exploiting the Gap Between Official Rules and Societal Norms and Expectations

Publication Title

Washington University Jurisprudence Review


Civil dissent comes in many forms, from peaceful protest to open violation of official rules. But strict obedience to official rules may also serve as a dissenting act. Professors Jessica Bulman-Pozen and David E. Pozen examine obedience as dissent in their article, Uncivil Obedience. The term “uncivil obedience” is meant to capture what Bulman-Pozen and Pozen consider the paradox expressed by “insolence toward law” through conformity to law. This inversely mirrors the paradox expressed by a civil disobedient’s fidelity to law through violation of law.

Conceptually, ‘uncivil obedience’ is best understood as a form of civil disobedience. An uncivil obedient’s departure from societal expectations or norms serves the same purpose as a civil disobedient’s departure from an official rule: both expose the gap between law and societal expectations or norms and draw attention to what is just, right, or good to close the gap. Analyzing what Bulman-Pozen and Pozen term “uncivil obedience” as an act of civil disobedience also avoids theoretical problems when confronted with general jurisprudence questions pertaining to the concept of law, and avoids practical problems, namely, sleight-of-hand political maneuvering.