The Virtues of Exit

On Resistance and Quitting Politics

Successful democracies rely on an active citizenry. They require citizens to participate by voting, serving on juries, and running for office. But what happens when those citizens purposefully opt out of politics? Exit — the act of leaving — is often thought of as purely instinctual, a part of the human “fight or flight” response, or, alternatively, motivated by an antiparticipatory, self-centered impulse. However, in this eye-opening book, Jennet Kirkpatrick argues that the concept of exit deserves closer scrutiny. She names and examines several examples of political withdrawal, from Thoreau decamping to Walden to slaves fleeing to the North before the Civil War. In doing so, Kirkpatrick not only explores what happens when people make the decision to remove themselves but also expands our understanding of exit as a political act, illustrating how political systems change in the aftermath of actual or threatened departure. Moreover, she reframes the decision to refuse to play along — whether as a fugitive slave, a dissident who is exiled but whose influence remains, or a government in exile — as one that shapes political discourse, historically and today.


Jennet Kirkpatrick is an associate professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University.

Praise for this book

From Plato to African American political history, from Thoreau to multiculturalism, Jennet Kirkpatrick’s masterful book blends careful scholarship with contemporary concerns and manages a rare achievement: the introduction of a new political category. This is what all political theory should be: powerful, urgent, and important.

James Morone Brown University

In The Virtues of Exit, Jennet Kirkpatrick brings one of the more important conceptual approaches to political behavior in recent years--one that employs the notions of exit, voice, and loyalty--into dialogue with canonical works of political theory and pressing twenty-first century issues. Insightful and wide ranging, this book has important things to say.

Andrew Murphy Rutgers University
The Virtues of Exit: On Resistance and Quitting Politics
Date published
University of North Carolina Press

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