Changing the way we think about our political obligation
In a time of academic disorder, from student protests of graduation speakers to controversy over course materials, and in a state with the highest rate of domestic violence against women in the nation plus increasing violence against LGBT youth, Candice Delmas lives and writes.
An assistant professor of philosophy and director of Clemson’s law, liberty and justice program — an emphasis area of the philosophy major designed for students interested in careers in law or public policy — Delmas aims to combat these injustices by identifying the duties we have as citizens in the face of injustice in a new book titled Duty to Disobey.
The book delves into ongoing scholarly debates about political obligation, injustice and civil disobedience. Delmas sides with exemplars of civil disobedience like Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. while citing real-world examples of disobedience from the Underground Railroad to Edward Snowden’s leaks. Her work is the culmination of a passion for problem solving that she first recognized at a young age.
“I remember entertaining philosophical questions in one form or another since I was a child,” said Delmas, a native of Nice on the Côte d’Azur in the South of France. “I discovered philosophy in high school and realized that it offered a way of posing and answering problems that I found deeply stimulating.”
Delmas went on to study philosophy in college and found that the political was her niche. She earned a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Paris-X Nanterre and went on to obtain a Master of Ethics and Politics from the University of Paris-IV Sorbonne, where she studied French Enlightenment political philosophy. She then moved to the United States to pursue further graduate studies. After examining social, legal and political philosophy at Georgia State University, she went on to earn a Ph.D. from Boston University, where she would explore civil disobedience and political resistance and produce a doctoral thesis that would later become her book project.
“I have been doing this research for the past five years, and it came about because of my frustration with a disconnect between theory — what philosophers say — and practice — what civil disobedients did and thought,” Delmas said. “The philosophers focused on the moral duty to obey the law, even in the face of unjust law, and would only go as far as saying that some very constrained forms of civil disobedience could ever be permissible. So my battle, in a nutshell, is to argue that we, citizens, have a moral duty to resist injustice and disobey unjust law.”
Delmas’ desire to increase awareness and provoke thought about not only what grounds political obligation, but also what we ought to do under unjust political conditions fuels her role as an educator and director of the law, liberty and justice program.
Along with teaching philosophy courses such as philosophy of law, social and political philosophy and ethics of civil disobedience, she organizes the Lemon Lectures in Social, Legal and Political Thought, which brings prestigious scholars to campus to discuss current issues such as immigration and health care. Additionally, she develops and coordinates pre-law internships. The department currently houses three internships: one at the Supreme Court of South Carolina, one on Capitol Hill at the congressional office of Rep. Trey Gowdy and one at the Solicitor’s Office in Greenville.
For Delmas, working with and learning from students is just as rewarding as putting pen to paper with thought-provoking political points.
“Clemson students are engaged and smart, hardworking and curious,” Delmas said. “I’m in touch with each and every one of them throughout their internship, and that’s the best part of the job. They have the time of their lives in those internships, and sometimes I wish I could be an intern, too!”
She hopes that the abundance of Tigers, in education and spirit, will bring about change in the state of South Carolina.
“It’s very clear that all of the Upstate, if not all of South Carolina, bleeds orange,” Delmas said. “I’ve been able to develop internships despite being a junior philosopher with a pronounced French accent and no connections whatsoever in the Upstate, which goes to show that doors open easily when you want to do things for Clemson students.”