Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Jonathan Garthoff

Committee Members

David Reidy, Georgi Gardiner, Alisa Schoenbach


Oppression based on social group membership has been and remains a major injustice which thrives in modern liberal democracies like the United States. Organized political resistance to oppression and the structures that perpetuate it has taken many forms throughout history, from the early acts of revolution that founded the United States, to the nineteenth century abolitionist movement against slavery, to the New Deal-era labor struggles and Black civil rights movement of the twentieth century and the LGBTQ+ rights movement of recent history. The moral and political legacy of these historical struggles, as well as the extent to which the surrounding culture has responded (or failed to respond) to them well characterize resistant attitudes toward our present social and political ills.

This dissertation critically engages with the project of resisting political oppression, inquiring after its forms and justification. In Chapter 1, I define and clarify the nature of oppression, with a particular focus on racial oppression at the site of criminal justice and policing in the United States. Chapters 2 and 3 criticize two common frameworks for understanding political resistance: civil disobedience and political violence. Given the shortcomings of these frameworks, I advance a novel if intuitive framework for understanding and evaluating resistance in Chapter 4. There, I argue that our understanding benefits from (a) a commitment to political constructiveness, which I think captures what is valuable about the liberal virtue of civility, and (b) a commitment to transformational societal change, which I think captures a central thread in more total or violent responses to oppression. To conclude, I recommend two initiatives to approach the problem of oppression from both ends, as it were: (a) what I call constructive political resistance, drawing on the framework I develop in Chapter 4, and (b) deliberative civic education programs which emphasize the modeling and practice of substantive equality and liberal reciprocity.

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