2022-03Discussion Papers, Comments, Book Reviews
What Can Justice-Seeking Social Movements Teach Us About Democracy?


/Review: Justo Serrano Zamora, Democratization and Struggles Against Injustice (London and New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2021), 232 pages./

“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice
rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

In amongst a plethora of memorable metaphors and other impressive rhetorical devices, we find in Martin Luther King Jr’s most iconic speech (delivered at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – commonly known as the “I have a Dream” speech): this biblical expression of the fluid quality of the pursuit of justice. Quoting the Jewish prophet Amos, who was outraged by wealth disparities in the ancient Northern kingdom of Israel, King taps into a common imagery of the forward march of justice as a matter of a watery bursting forwards, aiming ultimately for a calmer, more settled state of affairs.
This kind of imagery is widespread in popular culture. For example, people can be said to “flood” or “pour into” the streets at moments of mass mobilization; in response, the police often seek to “contain the flow” of crowds at protests; and a successful revolution is often thought of as a “turning of the tide.” This lexical field of water in motion evokes both a chaotic sense of the unexpected and the emergence of an underlying order seeking to overcome the existing political order. It also suggests that the justice-oriented masses are moved, at best, in a semi-conscious way by events that typically start outside of themselves – like a growing ripple caused by the proverbial pavé dans la mare.
The strategic benefit of this kind of talk is that it presents the struggle for justice as natural and, in some sense, inevitable; while injustice is presented as merely artificial and temporary, for nature eventually reclaims its rights. To put it simply: φύσις meets νόμος, φύσις defeats νόμος. This way of speaking is both dramatically and rhetorically powerful.

How to cite:

Forstenzer, Joshua. “What Can Justice-Seeking Social Movements Teach Us About Democracy?’” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 6, no. 3 (2022):  121-124. https://doi.org/10.14394/eidos.jpc.2022.0029.


Joshua Forstenzer
Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield
45 Victoria Street, Sheffield S3 7QB, UK

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