Uncivil Obedience: The Tactics and Tales of a Democratic Agitator


225 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 1-895555-08-6
DDC 324'.4





Reviewed by Simon Dalby

Simon Dalby is a research associate at the Centre for International
Studies at Simon Fraser University.


Borovoy has spent most of his adult working life as an advocate of civil
liberties and human rights, first as a secretary to the National
Committee on Human Rights of the Canadian Labour Congress, and
subsequently as General Counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties
Association. His career has spanned more than three decades, giving him
numerous insights, and a rich font of often-humorous anecdotes, with
which to analyze the political processes of reform in Canadian society.

This book is the companion to his more-philosophical consideration of
political matters, When Freedoms Collide. Uncivil Obedience concentrates
on the practical options available to activists who wish to right
obvious injustices or to reform society without resorting to either
illegal or violent actions. Indeed, the rationale for, and the whole
case made in, this very readable and jargon-free volume is to argue that
legal pressure politics is the only really feasible strategy for gaining
social reform in a society that, despite its numerous inadequacies, has
basically democratic forms of government.

Borovoy argues that the essence of social action is “raising hell,”
but doing so in ways that ridicule or undercut the opposition to
constructive change. He concentrates on the tactics used in concrete
situations—from tenant eviction disputes to Supreme Court cases—and
on the possibilities of using careful research, coalition-building,
careful timing, and publicity to “fight city hall (and win).”

An essential part of this book’s overall approach to political change
is political pragmatism linked to a keen sense of humor. In these days
of widespread cynicism about the political process, Borovoy offers a
welcome practical antidote to those who argue that political change is a
miasma. He does not suggest that changing things is easy, just that with
determination, some basic political savvy, and a sense of humor,
ordinary citizens can both make changes and, in the process, strengthen
democratic politics to the benefit of all.


Borovoy, A. Alan., “Uncivil Obedience: The Tactics and Tales of a Democratic Agitator,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/11244.