Civil Rights And Disobedience Essay Research Paper

Civil Rights And Disobedience Essay, Research Paper

By acting civil but disobedient you are able to protest things you don?t think

are fair, non-violently. Henry David Thoreau is one of the most important

literary figures of the nineteenth century. Thoreau?s essay ?Civil

Disobedience,? which was written as a speech, has been used by many great

thinkers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi as a map to fight

against injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor that headed the Civil

Rights movement. He was a gifted speaker and a powerful writer whose philosophy

was non-violent but direct action. Dr.King?s strategy was to have sit-ins,

boycotts, and marches. Dr. King?s ?Letter from Birmingham Jail? was based

on the principles of Thoreau?s ?Civil Disobedience?. Both Martin Luther

King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau are exceptional persuasive writers. Even though

both writers are writing on ways to be civil but disobedient, they have opposite

ways of convicing you. Dr. King is religious, gentle and apologetic, focusing on

whats good for the group; while Thoreau is very aggressive and assertive for his

own personal hate against the government. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry

David Thoreau have the same ideas, but view them differently. Dr. King wants to

ultimately raise awareness and open doors for the better of a group. Thoreau

wants more individual rights for people. Dr. King is explaining his view of

conscience: I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells

him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse

the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the

very highest respect for the law (Martin Luther King, p. 521). This quote shows

Dr. King?s opinion on going to jail. King knows that he was unjustly put into

jail. He accepts going to jail even though he was put in jail wrongly. The

community then knows of the injustice and should pressure the government. The

other thing that happens is King is respecting the law by obeying it. He is a

peaceful man and wants justice, but believes in following the rules peacefully

to get the job done. Thoreau feels that conscience plays a more personal role.

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right

and wrong, but conscience?… Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the

least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a

conscience, then. I think that we should be men first, and subject afterward

(Henry David Thoreau, p.581). Thoreau is questioning why majorities make the

rules. He is questioning democracy. He?s telling us to question anything we do

and why we should give into the government if we do not agree with a rule. Why

should we be individuals with brains and have thoughts of our own if we are not

allowed to think for ourselves and do what we want? If we believe we are free,

why do we have so many rules? Thoreau believes we should be real to ourselves

and live for ourselves, not the government. King wants to change the laws

because they are morally wrong and Thoreau wants to change the law because he

personally doesn?t like it. Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King both

agree injustice exists. Thoreau thinks of injustice as friction or tension that

can wear the machine down. King thinks that injustice just exists and tension

must be created with direct action to negotiate with the machine. Thoreau

explians, If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of

government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth,- certainly that

machine will wear out…, but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to

be the agent of injustice to another , then, I say, break the law. Let your life

be a counter friction to stop the machine. (Henry David Thoreau, p.587).

Injustice is a cause of friction, which is brought on by the government. The

government has created something that is working against itself; if the friction

of the injustice is left alone it will continue to grind down the machine. Once

again Thoreau questions if you can wait that long and what are you personally

going to do about the injustice. Thoreau says use your life to stop the machine.

Dr. King explains, ? injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We

are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of

destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly? (King p.516).

If we allow injustice to affect any one place the government knows they can get

away with it. If people don?t fight injustice the government will continue to

allow it because they know they can get away with it. We are all tied together

in a mutual destiny; we are all in the same boat, what ever affects you affects

me. How can you sit and watch injustice happen, we are all connected; what

injustice happens to me happens to you. Both Thoreau and King are trying to

prove the point that we are our brother?s keeper. We all need to fight

injustice to save each other. Thoreau and King have said what role conscience

plays for them and that injustice exists but you must use your conscience to

decide what to do. Now they discuss just and unjust laws. Thoreau explains,

unjust laws exist: Shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to

amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them

at once. ( Henry David Thoreau, p.586) Thoreau is acknowledging that unjust laws

exist. I think he figured like the sun rises every morning there will be unjust

laws. How you deal with them if you do not approve of them is the question.

Thoreau asks, will you be happy to just obey the law for as long as it takes to

change the law by the government?s rules?Do you want immediate acton? If you

follow the government?s rules it will take a very long time to appeal the

unjust law in court and they still may not change the law. Can you wait that

long?Or, should you take drastic direct action to be heard at once. Are you

willing to be arrested? Can you handle the responsibility for your actions, or

are you scared. Thoreau is impleying that you should not wine about something

inless you are ready and able to take the conciquinces. Dr. King explains how he

justifies breaking some laws and following others; the fact is there are simply

two types of laws. Dr. King explains there are, just and unjust laws, One has

not only a legal, but moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one

has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. A just law is a man-made code

that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that

is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas

Aguinas, and unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural

law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human

personality is unjust. ( Dr. King p.519-520). King is saying that just laws

should be obeyed because they are the law and they are morally right. Morally

right is being or acting in accordance with established standards of good

behavior. So, if a law is legal and good you should fallow it. People should not

follow unjust laws because they are wrong; you owe it to yourself morally. A

just law is one that God would O.K; God is all loving, blind to any indifference

and will forgive. The constitution says that all men are created equeal; so

therefore if the law is not the same to everyone, it is not a just law. If

anyone is dehumanized it is an unjust law. Plain and simple, an unjust law makes

you feel bad about who or what you are . A just law should make you feel equal

and proud to be a human being. While Thoreau focuses on what you might do about

a law, Dr. King focuses on what makes a law just or unjust. Thoreau knows there

are unjust laws; I believe he thinks as long as laws exist there will always be

the possibility of being unjust laws. Thoreau says yes, unjust laws exist but

what are you going to do, just sit there or fight. Dr. King is trying to get in

to the heads of his fellow clergyman that unjust laws are morally wrong. But

they both want to get the point across that you must do something to change

unjust laws because they are wrong and can take your God given freedom away.

Even though both writers are writing on ways to be civil but disobedient, they

have opposite ways of convincing you. Their concepts are similar but their

approaches are totally opposite. Dr. King?s religious and moderate tone are

totally different from Thoreau?s intense hatred for authority, mostly the

government. They both want to point a finger at the government. Thoreau believes

the best government is one which governs the least. Dr. King believes the

principles of government are necessary to keep order, but need to live up to

?All men are created equal.? The underlying meaning that I got from reading

both essays was that you should follow your heart and your conscience against

injustice and unjust laws, no matter what approach you choose to take.

"Letter from Birmingham Jail" – Martin Luther King "Civil

Disobedience" – by Thoreau


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