Civil Disobedience Essay, Research Paper
There is a rich tradition in this country of civil disobedience. Nonviolent civil disobedience was a critical factor in gaining women the right to vote in the United States as well as the U.S. labor movement with striking effectiveness such as the Industrial Workers of the World, the Chicano community s UFW grape and Lettuce boycotts. .
My understanding of civil disobedience was shaped by images of civil rights activists in the 1960s using passive resistance as a means to create pressure for overturning the laws and customs of racial segregation. On the surface, this demonstration appeared to prove only that the protesters could call attention to the newspaper strike and attract a crowd of television journalists to film them as they broke the law. Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” in 1849 after spending a night in the Walden town jail for refusing to pay a poll tax to support the Mexican War. He advocated passive resistance as a form of pressure that could lead to reform of unjust laws or government practices. Thoreau’s ideas had a powerful influence on the passive resistance adopted by Mohandas Gandhi as a tactic against the colonial rule of the British in India and by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in leading the movement to end racial segregation in the United States. Both men inspired reforms and the overturning of unjust laws and customs. It is difficult to find any legitimate or rational connection between the civil rights movement as a form of civil disobedience and the protests in support. The civil rights movement sought to create change and reform.
Thoreau saw government as the established order that resisted reform and change. “Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary.”
In our community, certain unions have become an established order of the very nature addressed by Thoreau. They seek to preserve their established order, to hold on to their entitlements: to strike with reason. Some actions have been taken to reform the old order. These are revolutionary and express the best ideals of Thoreau. These are acts of civil disobedience that are bringing pressure on the established order: And that steadfast purpose certainly is civil disobedience to an establishment that resists change. The best that can be said of their actions is they produced a media event that was meant to draw attention to them as individuals. But it is for them to claim that this is civil disobedience in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau or Martin Luther King.
Just like opponents of the Vietnam War employed the use of draft card burnings, draft file destruction, mass demonstration, sit-ins, blocking induction centers, and draft and tax resistance. Today s increasing non-violent activity is against nuclear arms race and nuclear power industry. The strength of nonviolence comes from our willingness to take personal risks without threatening other people. The ethic of real love is at the center of nonviolence. The believer in nonviolence has a deep faith in the future and the forces in the universe are seen to be on the side of justice. He does not seek to defeat the evil but become friends
One of the great orators of our times and greatest lovers of democracy our nation has produced, Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader in the civil justice movement, King saw himself as a politically concerned preacher.The individual that believed that nonviolence was not only a pragmatic way but also a moral one.
Martin Luther King defense for civil disobedience appeals to us by much emotion. Socrates, in a couple of ways becomes a useful figure for King. First, his willing acceptance of the death penalty handed by the Jury of Athens for corrupting the youth prefigures King s assertion is that Birmingham protesters must be ready to accept penalties for their actions. He also employs a Socratic method of interrogation, taking the clergymen argument and redefining their words. This results in a sort of creative tension . For example, You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme King will deny that his extremist by what is really meant by the word extreme then decide he is an extremist after all by mentioning those historical figures and that more people should join in his brand of extreminism. King did what he did in Birmingham because he believed that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere which essentially leads to the question of nonviolence and the Birmingham police as it, relates to King s theorizing of just and unjust laws . King brings to bear the argument by definition and redefinition, argument by appeal to moral authorities (of both Jewish and Christian tradition), and employing biblical figures, American Revolution, and the Holocaust. This passage resonates through out the rest of his letter. Dr. King faced criticism on all sides: from members of his race, and others, who felt that civil disobedience could not be justified.
In his letter, King reasoned that it is possible for laws to be either just or unjust. Laws are unjust when they are contrary to God s law; or contrary to the moral law; or degrading to human personality; or imposed by a majority, but are not binding on that majority. Whenever laws are unjust, people have a moral responsibility to disobey them. Therefore, it must be right to disobey unjust laws; civil disobedience can be justified. One of the strongest objections to King’s view was that acts of civil disobedience would encourage disrespect for law and order, which are essential for a society. But Dr. King offers an interesting reply: By agreeing that he should be punished for his civil disobedience, he was showing his respect for law and order.
Rousseau s social contract theory seems to provide a clear and simple explanation why civil disobedience can be justified. It would explain that the reason we should obey any law because as rational members of our society we agree to do so, in order to receive the benefits of society. There are two points worth noting: If people are denied their benefits of social order, then the social contract has been broken. So they no longer have a reason to obey the law. Second, when we enter the social contract, we agree with every other member of our society to observe moral rules: rules that can be discovered by thinking about ideal rational contractors in the “original position.” But if people in the government pass laws that conflict with those moral rules, then those laws are unjust, therefore we are right to disobey unjust laws, because the people in the government who passed them have, on these points, broken the social contract. Socrates saw himself in an implied contract with the government of Athens, or, as he says, with “the laws.” This is why he believed it would be wrong for him to disobey the laws, and, probably why he would have thought no law could be unjust. But the modern social contract theory explains that citizens in a society enter a social contract with each other. We do not make any agreements with the government itself. Our government is, in fact, formed by our agreement in the social contract by “consent of the governed,” as Thomas Jefferson put it. Those among us who pass laws that are unjust therefore break the social contract.
When attempts by the people to correct wrongs in the society that were not being effectively addressed by the legislative and legal system then in place. As a man/woman of a very strong faith, they believed in the goodness o f people, even those who were hurting them. Their followers allowed themselves to be beaten and even killed with out offering resistance.
Non-violence requires a leap of faith , the belief that things can change, as well as people.
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor;
it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Martin Luther King, Jr.