Resisting Injustice: Arendt on Civil Disobedience and the Social Contract

  • William SmithEmail author
  • Shiyu Zhang
Part of the Philosophers in Depth book series (PID)


The idea of a social contract has often been used as a means of informing moral reflection on the scope of our right or duty to resist injustice. Hannah Arendt—perhaps surprisingly—also draws upon this tradition in her analysis of civil disobedience in the United States of America. The contention of this chapter is that her republican recasting of this tradition cannot speak to the injustice of arbitrary exclusion from the original contract. The resistance of the excluded is not a backward-looking attempt to enforce the original terms of the agreement, but a forward-looking attempt to remake that agreement. The political action made possible by their association allows the excluded to demonstrate their ‘right to have rights’, calling for the recasting of the polity along more inclusive lines.


  1. Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.Google Scholar
  2. ———. Crises of the Republic. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.Google Scholar
  3. ———. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1978.Google Scholar
  4. ———. On Revolution. London: Penguin, 1990.Google Scholar
  5. ———. Responsibility and Judgment. Edited by Jerome Kohn. New York: Schocken Books, 2003.Google Scholar
  6. ———. The Promise of Politics. Edited by Jerome Kohn. New York: Schocken Books, 2005.Google Scholar
  7. Balibar, Étienne. Citizenship. Translated by Thomas Scott-Railton. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  8. Barbour, Charles. “Between Politics and Law: Hannah Arendt and the Subject of Rights.” In Hannah Arendt and the Law, edited by Marco Goldoni and Chris McCorkindale, 307–19. London: Hart Publishing, 2012.Google Scholar
  9. Cohen, Jean L., and Andrew A. Arato. Civil Society and Political Theory. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.Google Scholar
  10. Hayden, Patrick, and Natasha Saunders. “Solidarity at the Margins: Arendt, Refugees, and the Inclusive Politics of World-Making.” In Arendt on Freedom, Liberation, and Revolution, edited by Kei Hiruta, 171–199. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.Google Scholar
  11. Laudani, Raffaele. Disobedience in Western Political Thought: A Genealogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Google Scholar
  12. Lyons, David. “Moral Judgement, Historical Reality and Civil Disobedience.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 27, no. 1 (1998): 31–49.Google Scholar
  13. May, Todd. Nonviolent Resistance: A Philosophical Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  14. Polletta, Francesca. Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.Google Scholar
  15. Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Revised edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.Google Scholar
  16. Raz, Joseph. The Authority of Law, 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.Google Scholar
  17. Sabl, Andrew. “Looking Forward to Justice: Rawlsian Civil Disobedience and Its Non-Rawlsian Lessons.” The Journal of Political Philosophy 9, no. 3 (2001): 307–30.Google Scholar
  18. Smith, William. “Reclaiming the Revolutionary Spirit: Arendt on Civil Disobedience.” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 2 (2010): 149–66.Google Scholar
  19. ———. Civil Disobedience and Deliberative Democracy. London: Routledge, 2013.Google Scholar
  20. Somers, Margaret R. Genealogies of Citizenship: Markets, Statelessness, and the Right to Have Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  21. Stears, Marc. Demanding Democracy: American Radicals in Search of a New Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.Google Scholar
  22. Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America Volume 1. Edited by Phillips Bradley and translated by Henry Reeve, Francis Bowen, and Phillips Bradley. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1945.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chinese University of Hong KongSha TinHong Kong

Personalised recommendations