The Harvard Review of Philosophy

Volume 28, 2021

Political Resistance

Bernardo Caycedo
Pages 107-124

Masked Protesting
On Anonymous Civil Disobedience

The rise of digital technologies has made possible a variety of anonymous acts of disobedience. Although the use of anonymity in political contestation is not new, online anonymous disobedience—such as that of the hacktivist collective Anonymous—urges political thinkers to reexamine the concept of civil disobedience. Important questions need to be asked about the extent to which anonymous, principled law-breaking is compatible with the definition, tradition, and justification of civil disobedience. This article argues that the understanding of civil disobedience employed by liberal thinkers, which rejects the notion that anonymous actions can be classified as civil disobedience, should be reviewed. Both the context in which actors break the law and the extreme risks they might face for doing so in illiberal and undemocratic societies need to be considered when thinking about what constitutes civil disobedience. The article takes these factors into account and offers a radical democratic account of civil disobedience according to which anonymous disobedience is indeed compatible with civil disobedience.