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Languages of the Unheard
Why Militant Protest is Good for Democracy
Martin Luther King once insisted that 'a riot is the language of the unheard.' Since 2011 swathes of protest, rebellion, and rioting have covered the globe. A new, disenfranchised generation is fighting for its voice as once again scores of police line the streets and pop icons demand a political revolution.
Challenging us to consider arson attacks against empty buildings, black bloc street-fighting tactics, and industrial sabotage, amongst an array of other militant action, philosopher Stephen D'Arcy asks if it is ever acceptable to use or threaten to use armed force. Drawing a clear line between justifiable and unjustifiable militancy, Languages of the Unheard shows that the crucial contrast is between democratic and undemocratic action, rather than violence and non-violence.
Both a consideration of the ethics and politics of militant protest and the story of dissidents and their actions post 1968, this book argues that militancy is not a danger to democratic norms of consensus-building. Instead, it is a legitimate remedy for elite intransigence and unresponsive systems of power that ignore, or silence, the people.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
'Cutting across politically unhelpful and pernicious media-led divisions between supposedly "good" and "bad" protesters, Stephen D'Arcy presents a rigorous and convincing defence of militancy. By reframing the debate around democracy rather than violence, D'Arcy presents the case for tactics that oppose elites and give voice to the unheard and neglected. Anyone who takes protest and riot seriously needs to confront the issues that D'Arcy identifies - his arguments should give you much to think (and act) upon.'
Nina Power, Roehampton University
'Are riots good for democracy? Stephen D'Arcy answers provocatively in the affirmative. With implacable logic, engaging prose, and a sensitivity to moral and ethical complexities, Languages of the Unheard demonstrates what radicals of all stripes intuitively know: to rebel is justified, and democracy - if it is to be found anywhere - is in the streets. By reframing debates concerning ''violence'' and militant protest in new and fertile ways, D'Arcy has made an invaluable contribution to the intellectual arsenal of activists everywhere.'
Nikolas Barry-Shaw, co-author of'Paved with Good Intentions
'Contrary to those liberals and social democrats who argue that militant activism is antidemocratic, Stephen D'Arcy makes a sustained argument coming from within democratic theory that forms of militant disruptive protest can instead be seen as crucial to defending and expanding participatory forms of democracy. Giving voice to those who have not been heard and developing political autonomy, direct action politics can be seen as a civic virtue and a crucial part of democratic forms of revolutionary social transformation.'
Gary Kinsman, author of The Regulation of Desire
'In this wide-ranging discussion of militancy, Stephen D'Arcy takes the reader through an argument that begins with civil disobedience and ends with armed struggle. To a democrat, D'Arcy argues, none of these should be taboo. You may part company with him at some stage, but if you are really committed to democracy you will have to consider his arguments.'
Justin Podur, author of Haiti's New Dictatorship
'I highly recommend this book to all people, young and old, and especially to Indigenous youth who are at the forefront of this generation of activists. It is important to know when and where protests, blockades, or militant actions have been successful. And why!'
Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Ontario Native Women's Association