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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 36, 2020

Home: Sanctuary, Shelter, and Justice

Margaret Betz
Pages 179-194

The Spectre of Nat Turner
A Philosophical Analysis of the Legitimacy of Resistance Violence

We have a complicated, sometimes contradictory, perception of the use of political violence. This article discusses the possible legitimacy of a particular kind, referred to as “resistance violence,” or violence carried out by vulnerable targeted social groups. After providing distinctions regarding who, when, and why resistance violence happens, this article considers two examples that highlight different factors. By considering the work of various philosophers including Locke, Arendt, Fanon, and Fricker, this article proposes two theses: first, that epistemic contextualization requires that the legitimacy of resistance violence always be evaluated with the understanding that vulnerable social groups often reside outside the parameters of legal/criminal/judicial protection. And, second, that resistance violence is a politically legitimate option and need not promise practical success to be worth pursuing due to the fact that resistance actors often see violence as establishing their dignity and humanity.

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