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Call for Papers: The Moral Dilemmas of Resistance

Democratic Expeditions Workshop # 1
27–28 September 2024

Call for Papers

The Moral Dilemmas of Resistance
Political Ethics in the Face of Democratic Regression and Electoral Authoritarianism

Convenors: Zoltan Miklosi (CEU Democracy Institute, Budapest, CEU Department of Political Science, Vienna) & Attila Mráz (ELTE Institute of Philosophy)

Confirmed speakers: Candice Delmas (Northeastern University), Alexander Kirshner (Duke), Ten-Herng Lai (Stirling), Annabelle Lever (Sciences Po Paris), Fabio Wolkenstein (University of Vienna)

Submission deadline for paper proposals: March 15, 2024

Democratic political ethics has traditionally focused on the rights and duties of political agents – officeholders, candidates, voters, activists, and so on – in ideal or at least reasonably well-functioning democracies. The emergence of so-called electoral authoritarian regimes, as well as the growing number of democracies showing signs of regression or even a looming authoritarian turn, necessitate expanding the horizon of political ethics to include reflection on the normative situation of political actors of all kinds in such settings. While the growing number of electoral authoritarian regimes and regressive democracies is much discussed in empirical political science research, this development is not yet reflected in systematic normative theorizing. These regimes raise novel and complex moral questions that are arguably distinct from, or relate in theoretically interesting ways to, both the established concerns of democratic theory and the traditional questions of resistance in full-fledged dictatorships. These novel challenges are not merely pressing questions for academic research but reflect the practical dilemmas of democracy-supporting activists, politicians, and citizens. This workshop invites systematic studies in the political ethics of electoral authoritarian and regressive democratic regimes.

The Political Ethics of Resistance to Electoral Authoritarianism and Democratic Regression

Existing scholarship has paid little attention to the specific moral challenges that characterize electoral authoritarian and regressive democratic regimes. Such regimes share some of the institutional characteristics of well-functioning democracies—including regular elections, a multiparty system, and the absence (or containment) of political violence. Yet they also have unique regime-specific features—such as highly asymmetric power relations between the regime party and its opposition, the effective pooling of state and (regime) party resources, highly restricted freedoms of political expression, assembly, association and information, and heightened personal risks and costs of political participation for opposition candidates and activists. These regimes simultaneously offer very high stakes for participation and resistance, including the restoration or establishment of democracy, while offering low probabilities of success in challenging the regime.

A rich and growing literature on the ethics of resistance —mostly following a defensive ethics paradigm inspired by the contemporary ethics of war—has recently addressed questions of non-ideal political ethics, including civil and uncivil disobedience, resistance, and protest. Yet, first, there has been little engagement within this framework with the specific challenges that electoral authoritarian regimes and regressing democracies pose for these forms of non-electoral politics. Second, the moral challenges of electoral politics are largely absent from this literature. Third, the role of democratic ideals and principles—such as political equality or self-rule—in guiding political action in electoral authoritarian or regressive regimes is also underexplored.

These gaps call for systematic normative research about abstract questions of methodology and moral substance in political ethics as well as theoretical reflection on applied questions. Such reflection can provide moral guidance for the restoration and establishment of democracy in the new autocracies of our time.

Core questions

We expect papers to focus on questions including (but not limited) to the following:

At a more abstract theoretical level:

  • To what extent can an ethics of political participation be grounded in ideal democratic principles where political conduct is not situated in the context of democratic institutions, practices and norms?
  • Can voting, running for, and serving in elected office be conceptualized and evaluated as acts of resistance or complicity?
  • How can the defensive ethics paradigm, widely used to reflect on the ethics of resistance, account for the specific challenges of protest and resistance in regressing democracies and electoral authoritarian regimes?
  • What are the normative challenges of electoral authoritarian and regressive democratic regimes that political ethics should address, based on the empirical findings of comparative political science?

At an applied level:

  • Should democracy-seeking citizens participate in autocratic elections and vote for democratic challengers, or should they instead opt for boycott and non-electoral forms of challenging the regime such as (un)civil disobedience or mass protest?
  • Should elected opposition politicians participate in official procedures such as voting, making motions and speaking in parliamentary sessions, or should they opt for extra-institutional activities?
  • Should citizens participate in mass protests, civil disobedience or other forms of resistance when these are ineffective means of engaging fellow-citizens or exerting pressure on decision-makers?
  • Should opposition parties with a liberal-democratic political outlook cooperate with anti-establishment or extremist parties that also oppose the autocratic regime?
  • Should opposition parties use extralegal and/or undemocratic means to restore or establish democratic institutions?
  • Should civil society actors use or avoid established legal procedures such as strategic litigation?
  • Should democracy-seeking citizens and activists use force in their protest against (mostly) non-violent autocratic regimes?

We expect papers following the methods of contemporary analytic political philosophy, political theory, and moral philosophy. We also welcome contributions which bring into that tradition philosophical contributions from other traditions, especially the philosophy and public thought or activism of countries that have experienced democratic regression or electoral authoritarianism. We also welcome papers in comparative political science that explicitly engage with some of the normative concerns above, and whose findings challenge or contribute to solutions to some of the moral challenges of democratic regression or electoral authoritarianism. We welcome papers that highlight the practical relevance of their analysis for voters, activists, politicians, or policymakers.

Democratic Expeditions

Expeditions are organized journeys into uncharted territory. Democratic Expeditions is a series of openly sourced, carefully crafted international research workshops to shed systematic light on underexplored issues of democratic crises and democratizing struggles. The initiative is a joint venture by the CEU Democracy Institute’s De- and Re-Democratization (DRD) Working Group, the CEU Department of Political Science, and the Regional Office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on Democracy of the Future in Vienna. “The Moral Dilemmas of Resistance” is the first event within this framework.


The workshop will take place on 27–28 September 2024 in Budapest. We anticipate a maximum of 12 paper givers, including the invited speakers. We plan to invite a few non-academic stakeholders (activists or politicians) to include as possible presenters or discussants. To ensure focused discussion, full paper drafts will be due 14 days prior to the workshop. This is a pre-read workshop; all participants will be assumed to have read all papers. We plan to publish selected, revised versions of workshop papers as a thematic journal issue or an edited volume. The academic findings of the workshop will also be used to produce concise and accessible summaries for dissemination purposes in non-academic venues, targeting policymakers and other non-academic stakeholders.

Funding for this workshop is generously provided by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and CEU Democracy Institute. There will be some funding available for travel and / or accommodation for some of the participants who do not have alternative sources of funding.

Paper proposals

Paper proposals should contain the following:

  • A tentative paper title
  • A brief description of the proposed paper (no more than 500 words)
  • Author information: name, institution, academic position, biographical note (no more than 100 words)
  • An indication whether you will need funding for travel and accommodation in case your paper is accepted for the workshop. In case of such need, please include a statement that you do not have other sources of funding available to you.

Please submit your proposal before March 15, 2024, 24:00 hrs CEU via the following Google form:

If you have any questions, please e-mail Flóra Hevesi <>, with copies to Zoltan Miklosi <>, and Attila Mraz <>.

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