Resistance is troubling. In an ideal community, all parts fit together, with citizens and government smoothly and agreeably regulating each other. To resist such an ideal community would appear perverse. Of course, most communities are not ideally constructed, in which case adding some “friction” may do “enough good to counterbalance the evil” inherent in communal machines, as Henry David Thoreau thought—unless the machine in question were so evil, as Thoreau believed was the case in slaveholding America, that the maximal friction of revolt and rebellion was demanded.
Recognition of a right of resistance to oppression clearly helped modern Western polities accept constitutional forms of order. Drawing on Locke's canonical discussion in the Second Treatise, influential Anglo-American political theorists also suggest that the establishment of modern constitutional states required outlawing resistance practices. A francophone perspective, however, raises a problem for such generalizations about modern Western political philosophy and practice: the French “résistance” differs in meaning from the English “resistance” in important ways. Reconstructing the histories of the cognate concepts, I show that “résistance” emerged out of feminized discourses concerning moral conscience and that, as a result, excluding résistance from politics seems implausible, a conclusion that sheds light on the discussion of résistance in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. The article closes with the suggestion that, following the Second World War, French understandings of “résistance” may have influenced American politics and thought in unrecognized ways.