Institutional Scholarship

Terrorist or revolutionary? : an enquiry into the moral and legal grounds for political violence

TriCollege Digital Repository

Title: Terrorist or revolutionary? : an enquiry into the moral and legal grounds for political violence
Author: Lee, Ye Jin
Advisor: Beltran, Cristina
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Political Science
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Running Time: 419731 bytes174753 bytes
Issue Date: 2004
Abstract: Political theory tends to automatically rule out the use of legitimate political violence in the hands of citizens. Thus, theorists separate "terrorism" from the "legitimate" use of violence in certain instances. Violence against the liberal state, for example, is usually considered not only reprehensible in itself (as all violence is), but illegitimate, since democracies provide non-violent means of expressing dissent or even changing the system itself. I argue that the exclusion that is performed within the field itself reflects a larger exclusion that operates at the very heart of liberal democracy. The chief aim of this paper is to address the distinction that theory makes between the terrorist and the revolutionary and explore what this distinction reveals about our assumptions about the law, the legitimacy of the state, and the right to protest. Thus, the non-normative basis for Law means that we do not always have to obey the Law, particularly if doing so interferes with our moral beliefs. I end by suggesting that in a situation in which our sense of "right" clash with the law, we may have to act when we are moved to. We will never be sure whether our course of action is sound, but that cannot preclude action for all time. Perhaps the only honest and moral prescription a political theorist can give is this: When an unconscionable situation arises, we must act (after reflection), if only to remain true to our personal convictions; afterwards, we must accept the consequences of our actions, both good and bad. This paper is not, therefore, an excuse for terrorism or revolutions, but is rather an attempt to call attention to the uncertain grounds on which political theorists (and dissidents, and governments) tread when defending or condemning the use of violence for political ends. The philosopher's role is to exhort her fellow men to greater heights in order to improve the world, but in doing so, she herself takes a leap into a moral void, since she knows not whether she "is in danger of providing the alibi for a criminal." Thus for anyone who wishes to act in the public sphere, "[c]ourage is indispensable because in politics not life ... the world is at stake."
Subject: Political violence
Subject: Terrorism
Terms of Use:
Permanent URL:

Files in this item

Files Description Size Format
2004LeeY.pdf Thesis 409.8Kb PDF
2004_Lee_release.pdf ** Archive Staff Only ** 59.42Kb PDF


Lee, Ye Jin. "Terrorist or revolutionary? : an enquiry into the moral and legal grounds for political violence". 2004. Available electronically from

This item appears in the following Collection(s) Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as


Advanced Search


My Account