Center for Ethics


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?

Directed by Brian Mello, Associate Professor of Political Science, and Christine Sistare, Professor of Philosophy.


Preliminary Fall 2014 Schedule:


Tuesday, September 2, 2014                          
7:30PM    Miller Forum, Moyer Hall

Barbara Cruikshank
U. Mass Amherst
Cruikshank studies the history of reform, social movements, the politics of sex and sexuality, and relations of power and knowledge. She is the author of the forthcoming book Neopolitics: Activism, Reform, and the Practices of Freedom.
Library Resources for Barbara Cruikshank

Friday, September 12, 2014                            
2:00PM    Location TBA

Muhlenberg Alumni Activism Panel
Adrian Shanker (’09), Alex Lotorto (’09), and Kelly Howe (’03)
Three Muhlenberg graduates discuss different forms of activism. Presented in conjunction with Homecoming Weekend.
Library Resources for Activism Panel

Wednesday, September 17, 2014              
7:30PM     Location TBA

Scott Lemieux
St. Rose College
Lemieux writes about blogging as activism and voting rights. He contributes to the blogs Lawyers, Guns and Money, and The American Prospect.
Library Resources for Scott Lemieux

Tuesday, September 23, 2014                       
7:30PM      Location TBA
The Molly Maguires
Film screening
A 1970 film directed by Martin Ritt and starring Sean Connery, Richard Harris and Samantha Eggar, The Molly Maguires is based on the historical secret society of 19th century Irish-American coal miners who led a worker’s uprising in Pennsylvania coal country. Some of the film scenes were shot in nearby Jim Thorpe.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014              
7:30PM    Location TBA

Eric Loomis
U. Rhode Island
Loomis studies U.S. environmental history and labor activism. He is working on the forthcoming book Empire of Timber: Work and Nature in the Pacific Northwest Forests. This visit will include a field trip to tour Pennsylvania coal mine country on Wednesday Sept 24 before the public talk, and will reference the Molly Maguires film screening the previous evening.

Saturday, October 11, 2014                             
8:00PM   Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion

Ursula Rucker
Ursula Rucker is a poet and hip-hop recording artist whose work deals with confronting social injustice, especially as it relates to race and womanhood. She has released 5 critically acclaimed solo albums, and her musical collaborations include work with the Roots, the Silent Poets, King Britt and Josh Wink. She has toured extensively and is featured in the 2008 film The Black Candle, narrated by Maya Angelou. Co-sponsored by the Department of Theatre & Dance.

Monday, October 20, 2014                              
7:30PM   Location TBA

David Pellow
U. Minnesota
David Pellow's interests include environmental justice studies, racial and ethnic inequality, transnational social movements, and labor studies. He is the author of the forthcoming book Total Liberation: The Power and Promise and Animal Rights and the Radical Earth Movement.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014                              
8:00 PM   Location TBA

An evening of original performance by Muhlenberg students, curated by Ursula Rucker.
Guest artist Ursula Rucker premieres an evening of new spoken-word performances created by the First Year students in Muhlenberg's Emerging Leaders program. Set to live music and themed on notions of civility, disobedience and identity. Co-sponsored by Theatre and Dance.

Oct 27-30 TBA

Carroll Bogert
Associate Director of Human Rights Watch
Bogert studies human rights in the U.S. and abroad and media coverage of protest and human rights issues. Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow.

Thursday, Nov 13, 2014                     7:00PM

Nancy Fraser
The New School
Fraser is a critical theorist who studies justice and feminism. She is the author of Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis. Co-sponsored by Women’s Studies.