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Resistance from the Inside: Institutional and Constitutional Dissent

March 23, 2018
9:00 am – 5:30 PM

Since the 2016 American presidential election, a great deal of both public and academic energy has been channeled into direct and individual resistance against the new administration: protest marches, demonstrations, social media campaigns. The main question on the minds of many has been what private individuals can and should do, alone or in concert with one another, to oppose what they fear is the agenda of a potentially unconstitutional government. Such individualized, self-expressive resistance is visible and provocative; it is designed to be. A sea of women in pink hats can easily capture media attention.

But these forms of resistance, however attention-getting, can lead us to overlook other and sometimes more effective methods of opposition from within institutions. Instead of looking at external and visible campaigns of resistance, we are interested in the activities of resistance that come from inside of governments and from other elites and establishments. The locus here is not just modern America and liberal democracy, but the entire historical practice of resistance from the inside, from subversive personal advisors, courts and ministers, and competing constitutional bodies like parliaments, to branches and powers expressly designed to serve as checks on ambitious executives. In contrast to contemporary mass protest, such institutional resistance will often go unnoticed by the public. In some political systems, it actually must remain hidden in order to be effective, as when courtiers try to manipulate their sovereigns. Nonetheless, these activities undertaken by institutional and constitutional actors have often had far more profound political consequences for states than the most visible public activities of citizens, and, in instances like the Glorious Revolution, they have led to wholesale regime change.

The Program on Constitutional Democracy in the Politics Department, in conjunction with faculty in the History Department and the Law School, will host a multi-disciplinary, day-long conference to recover and examine some of these inside and more institutional strategies of resistance against central governments and executives. We are interested in resistance that begin from institutional actors rather than private citizens or subjects, and that utilizes existing governmental and constitutional mechanisms of political action rather than superseding them in either nonviolent or violent ways. Drawing on scholarship from history, politics, and law, we will look at new work illuminating the ways that parts of “the establishment” have historically been and can continue to be  “antiestablishment” in opposition to perceived constitutional threats. The format of the conference will include paper presentations followed by comments from our faculty and advanced graduate students.


9:00 – 11:00 am: Managing Monarchs (Gibson Room, Cocke Hall)
Advisors to Tyrants in Ancient Greece (Nicholas Lindberg, UVA)
Machiavellian Advice to Princes (Erica Benner, Yale)
The English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution (Steve Pincus, Yale)
Discussant: Ted Lendon, UVA Department of History

11:00 – 11:30: Break

11:30 – 1:30: Republican Resistance (Gibson Room, Cocke Hall)
Intermediary Institutions in French Political Thought (Aurelian Craiutu, Indiana)
Could a Parliament Have Prevented the French Revolution? (Will Selinger, Harvard)
The Rise of Party Government (Daniel Klinghard, Holy Cross)
Discussant: TBA

1:30 – 3:30: Lunch

3:30 – 5:30: US Constitutional Levers of Resistance (Nau Hall 342)
Federalism (Ernest Young, Duke Law)
Free Exercise (Douglas Laycock, UVA Law)
Bureaucracy (Adam White, Hoover Institution)
Discussant: Connor Ewing, UVA Department of Politics

5:30 – 6:30: Reception

This conference is open to students, faculty, and the public. To request copies of the papers in advance, please contact Rita Koganzon at koganzon(@)virginia.edu.