M. Eraldo Souza Dos Santos
À propos de moi
I am a philosopher, political theorist, and historian of political thought with research interests in the history of ideas and the politics of social movements. My research explores how political concepts have come to shape political discourse and political practice, and how political actors have come to contest the meaning of these concepts in turn. In my current project, I trace the global history of the idea of civil disobedience.
My first book, which provides both a historical and a critical analysis of Hannah Arendt’s 1970 influential New Yorker essay on civil disobedience, will be published in German as part of Lukas Verlag’s Hannah Arendt Series in 2024.
I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Panthéon-Sorbonne University. I received my B.A. in Philosophy from the University of São Paulo and pursued an M.A. in French and German Philosophy at the Charles University in Prague, the University of Wuppertal, and the University of Bonn as an Erasmus Mundus Scholar. I will be joining the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics in the fall of 2023 as a postdoctoral fellow.
I have been the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Académie française, the Maison française d'Oxford, the Leuven Institute for Advanced Studies, the Munich Centre for Global History, the Friedrich Nietzsche College of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, the Hannover Institute for Philosophical Research, the German Research Foundation (SFB Cultures of Vigilance), the French-Dutch Network for Higher Education and Research, and the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel. I have also held visiting positions at the Center for Law and Philosophy at the Université catholique de Louvain, the Ethics Institute at Northeastern University, and the Chair of Political Theory and the History of Political Thought at the University of Lausanne. Between 2015 and 2018, I was one of the members of the research project Critical Theory and Religion at the Goethe University Frankfurt (Institute for Social Research and Martin Buber Chair for Jewish Studies).
In addition to my research activities, I have taught history, philosophy, and political science at the Sorbonne, Sciences Po Paris, Bielefeld University, the Leibniz University Hannover, the University of Potsdam, and the Charles University in Prague, in both undergraduate and graduate programs. In the spring and summer of 2022, I was an Erasmus+ visiting lecturer at the University of Southampton and at the University of Vienna. I also taught at the University of Chicago's Vienna Human Rights program in 2022 and 2023.
My public writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Jacobin Brasil, Nexo, World Politics Review, The Diplomat, The Philosopher, and elsewhere.
In my dissertation, I offer the first conceptual history of civil disobedience by focusing on the historical process by which it has become a key political concept in the United States. I aim thereby at contributing to recent debates in political philosophy and political theory on the ethics and politics of civil disobedience.
In addition to this project, I have written on the political thought of the German anti-Nazi resistance group “The White Rose,” ideas of forbiddenness and transgression in political theology, Evangelical conceptions of (dis)obedience to God, poverty and resistance in the history of political thought, the politics of social movements against airport construction and expansion, the meanings of the idea of the state monopoly on violence, and the political phenomenon I call Gandhian Bolsonarism. In my most recent work, I have explored how HIV/AIDS activism and queer civil disobedience have enriched our political repertoire since the late 1980s and reframed the relationship between health and political freedom in an original fashion. A review essay on this topic is forthcoming in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. In another recent essay, I discuss how radical democrats have appropriated liberal genealogies of civil disobedience in uncritical ways. In an article in preparation for a special issue of the Annual Review of Law and Ethics, I also explore how liberal philosophers tamed in their theories of civil disobedience the radicalism of anti-nuclear movements. Moreover, I have a deep interest in interpretative methods, especially ethnography, and the ways in which they can contribute to shedding light on how activists conceptualize civil disobedience and (non)violence. This has led me to explore the relationship between philosophy and anthropological fieldwork in an essay forthcoming in American Ethnologist. Driven by interpretive questions, I also problematize in a review essay in preparation for Comparative Political Theory the ways in which American conceptions of civil disobedience are used to analyze or theorize about the practice of civil disobedience beyond the United States. In Lausanne, I contributed to the drafting of a Swiss National Science Foundation research project on the history and politics of militant democracy. In an article currently under review by a political theory journal, I critically assess Jan-Werner Müller’s theory of (un)civil disobedience and resistance as forms of militant democracy.
Militant democracy refers to the adoption of illiberal measures to protect democracy against efforts to subvert it. These measures typically include restrictions on the right of participation of antidemocratic political actors and bans on extremist political parties and associations. With this new project, I aim to contribute – by mobilizing elements from my previous one – to recent debates about whether civil disobedience and other forms of popular resistance can be framed as militant democracy as well as the legal framing of climate and antiracist disobedience as terrorist activity. I also intend to explore the relationship between militant democracy and processes of racialization, by tracing the racial underpinnings of the idea that it is necessary to defend the democratic order against its “enemies” or against “threats” to it. In doing so, I aim to shed new light on a series of political phenomena: from African American disenfranchisement to anti-refugee and anti-terrorism policies, from the global spread of Islamophobia, Arabophobia, and Sinophobia to right-wing populism, from the geopolitics of the Mexico-United States border to the political (re)configurations of the carceral state in the form of concentration, detention, and internment camps since WWII.
Beyond academia, my next book project is an (auto)biography of my illiterate mother and a meditation on the lived experience of Blackness and enslavement in modern Brazil. At the age of seven, my mother was sold into slavery by her white foster sister. It was 1968—eighty years after the abolition of slavery in Brazil and four years into the anti-communist coup d’état, during the month in which the military overruled the Constitution by decree. By weaving in extensive archival research and interviews, the book narrates our journey to Minas Gerais—where she was born—and Bahia—the Blackest state in Brazil, where she was enslaved on a farm for three years—to investigate why the family that enslaved her has never been brought to justice. It also narrates my grandmother’s journey to find her missing daughter. I have offered intensive craft seminars and masterclasses based on this project at the Writing Workshops, the Center for Fiction, and the UEA Creative Writing Course. My creative writing has recently appeared in O Sabiá.
As an editor, I currently serve as the fact-checker for Aaron Robertson’s nonfiction debut, The Black Utopians (Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Chatto & Windus, 2024), which has been characterized as “a philosophical, historical, and deeply personal account of the role of race in American utopianism.” I am an alumnus of the Los Angeles Review of Books Publishing Workshop.
Papers in Progress
What Is Complete Civil Disobedience?
An unexpected yet readily identifiable common theme binds Egyptian activists together in their call for Mohammed Morsi and his government to step down in 2013, Sudanese protesters in the aftermath of the 2019 Khartoum massacre and the 2021 coup d’état, members of the ‘yellow vest’ movement in France, and supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Despite evincing utter disparate political stances, all four movements appear to rally under an ostensibly new watchword: “complete civil disobedience.” Yet, complete civil disobedience has an extensive history. It is an idea that Mohandas Gandhi developed early on to conceptualize nonviolent resistance. In his words, “Complete civil disobedience is a state of peaceful rebellion—a refusal to obey every single State-made law. It is certainly more dangerous than an armed rebellion.” In this paper, I situate the idea of complete civil disobedience in Gandhi’s legal and political thought as well as contextualize it in the history of anti-colonial anarchism. I also explore the moral, legal, and political challenges that arise from this form of disobedience.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s Examples of Civil Disobedience
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail” (1963) is usually considered, along with his well-known speech “I Have a Dream,” one of the most important documents of the civil rights movement. Between 1967 and 1999, the “Letter” was reprinted at least 50 times. Since the 1990s, this figure has surely increased. Until this date, however, little attention has been paid to the variations between its different versions. By starting from a variorum edition of the letter, I analyze in this paper the different genealogies of civil disobedience formulated by King during the 1950s and 1960s and argue that they can help shed light on the development of his conceptions of nonviolence and legitimate resistance during this period.
This paper traces the global history of United States Supreme Court Justice Abraham “Abe” Fortas’s 1968 book, Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience. Published months before a scandal that would eventually force Fortas to resign from the Supreme Court, the book criticized the use of civil disobedience by activists opposing the Vietnam War. I show that Fortas’s book contributed to reconfiguring the debate on the justification of civil disobedience in the United States, both inside and outside academia. Drawing on largely overlooked archival materials, I also reveal that this debate had repercussions throughout the world and played a key role in American foreign policy during the Cold War era. With support from the U.S. government, the book was translated and published in countries such as Brazil, France, Germany, and Japan—and shaped debates about civil disobedience in the context of international struggles against student radicalism. Reframing the history of civil disobedience around this little known legal figure has, I argue, broad implications for the work of historians, philosophers, political scientists as well as activists and political commentators, who follow unknowingly in Fortas’s footsteps when they argue whether civil disobedience should be public (and never clandestine), nonviolent (and never coercive), and reformist (and never revolutionary)—features of civil disobedience that became commonplace in the course of worldwide debates about Fortas’s book. Fortas—and not Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr.—remains until today the most influential theorist of civil disobedience. In retracing this history, I aim to theorize how idea(l)s of law and order, predominant in the American discourse on civil disobedience in the late 1960s and early 1970s, entered the international sphere amid fears that radical movements of resistance inspired by anticolonial struggles and the African American civil rights movement could destabilize the liberal international order. I also seek to probe the fundamental role of books as well as publishing and translation projects in the development of American soft power during the Cold War.
English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish
History of Political Concepts
Civil Disobedience and Resistance
Afro-Asian, Hemispheric, and Transatlantic Intellectual Exchanges
What Is Civil Disobedience?
History of Black Political Thought
Twentieth-Century Social Thought
Authority and Resistance (Knox, Hobbes, Locke, and Berkeley)
African American Encounters with Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean
As a Teaching Assistant
Florence Haegel, Introduction to Political Science
Annabelle Lever, Introduction to Political Theory
Aleksandar Rankovic, Politics in the Anthropocene: Science, Power, and Justice
Sergei Guriev, Political Economy of Populism and Autocracy
Nicole Klein, Case Studies in Public Policy: The ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes
Nicole Klein, Case Studies in Public Policy: The ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes
Anthony Dworkin, Human Rights in International Politics
Tawanda Mutasah, Promoting Human Rights: History, Law, Methods and Current Controversies