Duty to Disobey: Modernism, Autonomy, and Dissidence in the Global 1930




Saikumar, Rajgopal

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The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice


This essay constellates a set of modernist texts to pursue a question predominantly considered the provenance of legal philosophical studies, namely, a one’s obligation to obey the laws of the state that one belongs to, and its corollary concerning the subject’s autonomy and their duty to disobey unjust authority. By providing examples from the Black radical tradition (Zora Neale Hurston’s 1931 Barracoon), European antiwar pacifism (Virginia Woolf’s 1938 Three Guineas) and South Asian anti-colonial thought (M. K. Gandhi) in the interwar years, I explore heterodox conjugations of commitment (duty, bond, fidelity, attachment etc.) and disobedience (breach, withdrawal, betrayal, insurgence etc.) to juridical authority.



Second Place Winner, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice (2021). Rajgopal Saikumar is doctoral candidate at NYU Department of English. His research interests include early-twentieth century political thought, interwar literature, Indian constitutional law, and critical theory. This paper, based on his PhD dissertation, is a work-in-progress. His writings have appeared in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, and Routledge Human Rights in India. His article on the minor jurisprudence of Judge Daniel Paul Schreber is forthcoming in Laws of Transgression: The Return of Judge Schreber.

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