Languages of the Unheard

Languages of the Unheard

Why Militant Protest is Good for Democracy

By Stephen D'Arcy


Shop Local




View on Overdrive

“What we must see,” Martin Luther King once insisted, “is that a riot is the language of the unheard.” In this new era of global protest and popular revolt, Languages of the Unheard draws on King’s insight to address a timely and controversial topic: the ethics and politics of militant resistance.

Using vivid examples from the history of militancy—including armed actions by Weatherman and the Red Brigades, the LA Riots, the Zapatista uprising, the Mohawk land defence at Kanesatake, the Black Blocs at summit protests, the occupations of Tahrir Square and Zuccotti Park, the Indigenous occupation of Alcatraz, the Quebec Student Strike, and many more—this book will be of interest to democratic theorists and moral philosophers, and practically useful for protest militants attempting to grapple with the moral ambiguities and political dilemmas unique to their distinctive position.

More by this Author


“If you are looking for a book that argues that militant protest is good for democracy this is the book for you. Contrary to those liberals and social democrats who argue that militant activism is ‘anti-democratic,’ Stephen D’Arcy makes a sustained argument coming from within democratic theory that forms of militant disruptive protest can instead be seen as crucial to defending and expanding participatory forms of democracy. Giving voice to those that have not been heard and developing political autonomy, direct action politics can be seen as a civic virtue and a crucial part of democratic forms of revolutionary social transformation.”

– Gary Kinsman, author of The Regulation of Desire, co-author of The Canadian War on Queers, and editor of Sociology for Changing the World

“I highly recommend this book to all people, young and old, especially to Indigenous youth who are at the forefront of this generation. It is important to know when and where protests, blockades or militant actions have been successful and why! The Oka Crisis, Idle No More, pipeline, blockades and anti-fracking demonstrations are only the beginning of actions needed to bring awareness and change for people at the grassroots level.”

– Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, founding and honourary board member, Ontario Native Women’s Association

“Forcefully shows that militant protest is an indispensable aspect of democratic politics, without succumbing to the illusion that we can do without formal political and legal institutions.”

– Literary Review of Canada

“Cutting across politically unhelpful and pernicious media-led divisions between supposedly ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protesters, Stephen D’Arcy presents a rigorous and convincing defence of militancy. Anyone who takes protest and riot seriously needs to confront the issues that D’Arcy identifies—his arguments should give you much to think (and act) upon.”

– Nina Power, Roehampton University

“… an enjoyable and lively read, and for stimulating debate and new ways of thinking it is a most welcome addition to the field.”

– London School of Economics

“Are riots good for democracy? In Languages of the Unheard, Steve D’Arcy answers provocatively in the affirmative. With implacable logic, engaging prose, and a sensitivity to moral and ethical complexities, Languages of the Unheard demonstrates what radicals of all stripes intuitively know: to rebel is justified, and democracy—if it is to be found anywhere—is in the streets. By reframing debates concerning ‘violence’ and militant protest in new and fertile ways, D’Arcy has made an invaluable contribution to the intellectual arsenal of activists everywhere.”

– Nikolas Barry-Shaw, co-author of Paved with Good Intentions: Canada’s Development NGOs from Idealism to Imperialism

Languages of the Unheard illuminates a fundamental truth far too many of those who flatter themselves to believe they inhabit democratic societies wish at all costs to avoid: those who refuse by all necessary means to be silenced are the essential ingredient of democracy, while those who seek to repress them comprise its very antithesis.”

– Ward Churchill, author of Agents of Repression and Pacifism as Pathology

“In this wide-ranging discussion of militancy, Stephen D’Arcy takes the reader through an argument that begins with civil disobedience and ends with armed struggle. To a democrat, D’Arcy argues, none of these should be taboo. You may part company with him at some stage, but if you are really committed to democracy, you will have to consider his arguments.”

– Justin Podur, associate professor at York University and author of Haiti’s New Dictatorship

“This book is recommended for anyone interested in socio-environmental justice, deliberative democracy, and radical change.”

– UnderCurrents: Journal of Critical Environmental Studies


Introduction Militancy as a Civic Virtue
Part I A Standard of Sound Militancy
Chapter 1 The Militant's Vocation
Chapter 2 The Liberal Objection
Chapter 3 The Democratic Standard
Part II Applications
Chapter 4 Civil Disobedience
Chapter 5 Disruptive Direct Action
Chapter 6 Sabotage
Chapter 7 The Black Bloc
Chapter 8 Rioting
Chapter 9 Armed Struggle