Center for Ethics

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Center for Ethics

  1. Civility and Disobedience

Thoreau wrote, “Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.” Societies and organizations depend on compliance and obedience in order to function. Markets suffer if rules are not followed, and societies do not thrive in a state of chaos. But governments and organizations can be morally corrupt; the United States once allowed people to be enslaved, and the tobacco industry deliberately withheld the risks of their potentially lethal product. Under these circumstances, obedience becomes complicity and disobedience becomes the ethical course of action. Thus groups of people and individual whistle-blowers are often called to acts of disobedience and subversion by injustice they observe or experience. Martin Luther’s reformation, the American Civil Rights Movement, environmental activism, military draft-resistance, WikiLeaks, Occupy Wall Street, the African National Congress, Gandhi’s Indian independence movement, the Chiapas Rebellion, and the Arab Spring all represent significant rebellions against dominant authorities. The targets of dissent are not limited to governments, but also include economic, educational, religious, and social institutions that expect adherence to ideologies. In some cases, individuals and organizations engaged in disobedience may themselves engage in morally questionable activities. When is it ethical to rebel against authority? When do moral causes become more important than the rule of law or compliance with norms? What is the role of dissent in healthy democracies?  Should protest always be peaceful or is violence sometimes the right thing to do? When is “working within the system” the best thing to do?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014               
7:30PM     Miller Forum, Moyer Hall

Scott Lemieux
St. Rose College

"From the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Calhoun: The Supreme Court and Voting Rights in Historical Perspective"


S LemieuxIn 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that an important provision of the Voting Rights Act exceeded the powers of Congress. This talk will explain how the Supreme Court came to believe that a statute that passed with nearly unanimous support of Congress and is explicitly authorized by the 15th Amendment was unconstitutional. I will view Shelby County in the context of other attempts by the Supreme Court to limit the ability of Congress to protect civil rights. I will also discuss how mobilization (often in the fact of state violence) was crucial to the original Voting Rights Act, and the potential for mobilization to mitigate the damage of Shelby County. 


Lemieux writes about blogging as activism and voting rights. His research interests include public law, constitutional law, comparative law and institutions, and American politics. He has written or co-written articles for Polity, Studies in Law, Politics and Society, the Journal of Supreme Court History, the Maryland Law Review, and the American Journal of Comparative Law, and also contributes regularly to the American Prospect and the Guardian Online.
Co-sponsored by the Provost's Office and Political Science for Consitution day. 
Library Resources for Scott Lemieux 



  1. The 2014-2015 academic year Center for Ethics program will focus on the theme of Civility and Disobedience, under the direction of Brian Mello, Associate Professor of Political Science, and Christine Sistare, Professor of Philosophy.

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Bruce Wightman

  1. Director of the Center for Ethics
    Professor of Biology
    2400 Chew Street
    Allentown, PA 18104
    (ph) 484-664-3254
    wightman@muhlenberg.edu

Muhlenberg College gratefully acknowledges
the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation's support
of the Center for Ethics.