Should citizens have a right to rebel?

Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez writes: Thailand’s Red-Shirt and Yellow-Shirt factions don’t agree on much, but they do have one thing in common: invoking Section 69 of the now-suspended Thai Constitution, which grants citizens a “right to peacefully resist any act committed to obtain powers to rule the country by means not in accordance with the modus operandi as provided in the Constitution.”

For years, during the slowly escalating crisis of protests and political polarization that eventually precipitated Thailand’s recent coup, leaders of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling party warned against elite plots to subvert the democratic process—an outcome for which the “right to resist” served as a shield. Meanwhile, opponents of Thailand’s former government also invoked the provision, arguing that the real interruption of the constitutional order occurred with the hijacking of national institutions by a harsh and subversive majoritarian populism — one machinated from afar by the exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies.

Thailand is not alone. In a study I co-authored with Tom Ginsburg of the University of Chicago and Emiliana Versteeg of the University of Virginia, we scoured the world’s constitutions looking for similar rights to resist. At present, 37 countries, representing roughly 20 percent of all nations, have such rights. The percentage is growing, having more than doubled since 1980.

For Americans, who are often by nature suspicious of government, this right may not sound like a bad idea. Granted, there is something paradoxical in the idea of a constitutional provision empowering individuals to resist, or in some cases openly rebel, against the very same authorities and institutions so meticulously established elsewhere in the same document. Nevertheless, it makes sense that the final say on matters of governance should lie with the people, and that such a clause might well serve as a valuable insurance policy in the future. [Continue reading…]

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