Dr Demetris Tillyris reflects on his most recent publication “Dirty Hands as a ‘Weapon of the Weak’: ‘Heroism’, ‘Aristocratism’, and the Ambiguities of Everyday Resistance” in the Journal of Ethics – a personal highlight in his career to date.
I have been fortunate enough to publish numerous articles in world-leading and internationally acclaimed journals since completing my PhD 9 years ago, but this article is rather special for two reasons.
Firstly, when I was reading Michael Walzer’s seminal article on political morality and the problem of dirty hands as a third-year undergraduate student, I could have never imagined that, one day, one of my papers would be published in the Journal of Ethics, in a special issue which celebrated 50 years since the publication of Walzer’s paper and which featured an essay and interview by Walzer himself. This is an achievement of which I am immensely proud!
Secondly, the article makes an important and timely intervention in and contribution to contemporary debates on the problem of dirty hands. The article explores an insufficiently problematised aspect of conventional Dirty Hands (DH) analyses: the suggestion that such analyses are animated by a ‘heroic’ and ‘aristocratic’ favour. In doing so, the article suggests that the problem of DH should not be merely seen as a lamentable, sparse privilege of the powerful— those who, in certain temporarily static situations, are compelled to act immorally on behalf of the democratic state, for the sake of realpolitik, the common good, or the dictates of justice. Rather, it argues that some manifestations of that phenomenon might also constitute a habitually powerful ‘weapon’ in the pharetra of the weak—the excluded, the marginalised or the dispossessed who are compelled to act immorally, systematically, and covertly, against the democratic state, for the sake of resisting the injustices they encounter in their daily lives. By engaging with the philosophical literature on ‘everyday resistance’, and African–American social and political history—specifically, daily, evasive acts of subversion in the Jim Crow South—the article thus elaborates a novel account of DH-as-a-weapon-of-the-weak and offers a new perspective on scholarly debates about the ethics of resistance. Specifically, it enhances our understanding of the potentialities of resistance in the context of democratic politics without reproducing troubling myths of heroic agency: it illustrates how certain practices of everyday resistance gain their strength by virtue of their connection to the moral vices of subterfuge, and betrayal on the one hand, and their implication in forms of complicity on the other.
If you are interested in reading the article, you can access it via this link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10892-023-09446-5
Full citation: Tillyris, D. (2023): Dirty Hands as a ‘Weapon of the Weak’: ‘Heroism’, ‘Aristocratism’, and the Ambiguities of Everyday Resistance, Journal of Ethics [part of a special issue, ed. by S. de Wijze and C. Nick, celebrating 50 years since the publication of M. Walzer’s paper on dirty hands, featuring an interview and a paper by Walzer]
Dr Demetris Tillyris is Senior Lecturer in political philosophy. He teaches on undergraduate and postgraduate courses at CCCU. He specialises in Contemporary Political Philosophy and the History of Political Thought. Specifically, his research focuses on ethical questions and problems in contemporary public life. He welcomes applications for PhD supervision on these topics.