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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 31, 2015

Power, Protest, and the Future of Democracy

David A. Borman
Pages 7-22

Protest, Parasitism, and Community
Reflections on the Boycott

T. M. Scanlon defines intolerance as the “enforcement of morals,” particularly of controversial moral norms, and especially (though not exclusively) through the law. If this is correct, then the “boycott” is a form of “intolerant” protest: indeed, it is part of a long social tradition of intolerant protest practices, often aiming at the exclusion of norm-violators from the community, which developed in the course of the still unresolved historical struggle over the boundaries of the moral domain. Drawing on Marcuse’s account of “repressive tolerance,” I argue that the fact that the boycott is indeed intolerant in this sense is in no way a reason for condemning it, and that such condemnation in fact reflects an implausibly ideal view of politics and the law in our actually existing societies. On the contrary, such “intolerant” tactics should be seen by progressive movements today as attractive tools, especially for those which, like Occupy, the environmental and anti-globalization movements, attempt to exert pressure on purportedly norm-free or norm-excluding economic practices.

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