Acta Cogitata: An Undergraduate Journal in Philosophy


Civil disobedience has been a well-known tool for many of the political movements over the past century. Once such movement is called Black Lives Matter (BLM), and its aim is to bring attention to and challenge violence and anti-black racism at a structural and personal level. Like other political movements before them, BLM is often criticized as being immoral when they engage civil disobedience. This is a famously Hobbesian interpretation of morality--that if you break a law, you are immoral. However, this interpretation of Hobbes is oversimplified; in fact, I will argue that, if properly informed, Hobbes would likely support BLM. J. D. C Carmichael, a Canadian philosopher, points out the limits of Hobbes’ authoritarian sovereign in his article “Hobbes on Natural Right in Society: The ‘Leviathan’ Account.” Because of our natural right to self-preservation, our obedience to the sovereign is contingent on the sovereign’s ability to protect us. If the sovereign punishes violators of a law that harms them, he has done so unjustly. Therefore, any violators of such a law, while still subject to punishment by the sovereign, are not behaving immorally. I argue that BLM fits this criterion: using statistics and testimonials, I will show that BLM members are not currently protected by the sovereign, and therefore they are just in their violation of laws during acts of civil disobedience. I conclude that a properly-informed Thomas Hobbes would not condemn the BLM movement as immoral or unjust.

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