Tacit Consent and Civil Disobedience

  • Thomas Schestag Brown University
Keywords: Private and public ears, civil disobedience (in Thoreau and Arendt on Thoreau), two prisoners (Socrates in Athens; Thoreau in Concord), Pilate (in Arendt and Eichmann), Plato (Crito, Gorgias), homología (in Plato), tacit consent (in Arendt)


Refering back to the (juridical) cases of Socrates (in Athens) and Thoreau (in Concord), which both discuss dissent, Hannah Arendt’s essay “Civil Disobedience” elaborates on the question of a strict distinction or complicity between a single person’s moral decisions, and its participation, as member of a group, in political decision-making. How to approach the relation between morals and politics, ethics and jurisdiction; or, still otherwise, between Polis and Ethos, both words pointing (in different ways) towards places or sites? Both these topoi turn out to be linguistically determined through and through, constantly haunted by the question of how to speak (or not to speak), of how to listen (in order to obey or disobey, to consent or dissent) to what the laws do have to say (though not speaking at all). At the core of this tense and obscure paralinguistic relation to the (moral and juridical) law, between express and tacit consent (or dissent), silence and speech (or silence as speech), language and mutism, phasis and aphasia, lies the notion of homología, as discussed by Socrates in Plato’s dialogues Crito and Gorgias (to which Arendt’s essay constantly refers). This contribution takes on the Platonic notion of homología (as a promise of consent about a law’s content), and its relation to Hannah Arendt’s original and challenging version of the political and juridical notion of tacit consent, as discussed in “Civil Disobedience.”

Author Biography

Thomas Schestag, Brown University

Thomas Schestag teaches German at Brown University. He published a book on Hannah Arendt’s theory of poetry, Die unbewältigte Sprache (Language indeterminate, Urs Engeler Editor, 2005). Forthcoming are two books: the critical edition of an unpublished dossier by French writer Francis Ponge, Le Soleil/Die Sonne (The sun, in French and German, Matthes & Seitz), and “Namenlose” (the title could be translated as The Nameless but also as Lots of names, Matthes & Seitz).

How to Cite
Schestag, T. (2018). Tacit Consent and Civil Disobedience. Stasis, 6(1). Retrieved from http://stasisjournal.net/index.php/journal/article/view/79