Civil Disobedience Essay Example
Civil disobedience refers to the refusal of a citizen to obey the laws of the state or the controls of a government that are imposed. People, who disobey the law in this way, want to ignore certain orders that are imposed on them in a non-violent manner. This is why this term has sometimes become equated with non-violent resistance. Civil disobedience expresses the contempt for the rule of law, yet has also been regarded as a practice of reverence for the law. Advocates of civil disobedience, such as Martin Luther King Jr., have expressed the use of civil disobedience. There are various theories and schools of thought about this issue. The practice can take violent or non-violent, revolutionary or non-revolutionary and collective versus solitary parts.
A man named Zaghloul Pasha, an Egyptian revolutionary in 1919 was arguably the first person to come up with the idea of civil disobedience. This person was a middle-class political activist, parliamentary and ex-minister who exercised his right to protest. He campaigned with his party who managed to achieve independence for Egypt by 1923. Later on, many other governments and parties would follow through with the ideas of civil disobedience, for instance, the Georgians in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
When one is disobeying civil society, one can choose to break laws deliberately, for instance, forming a peaceful blockade to a building or site. One could also occupy a facility in an illegal manner. When carrying out these illegal activities, people can often be attacked and beaten by members of the authority, so it has been usual for protesters to train themselves to react to attacks or to expect them to occur.
Civil disobedience is usually classified according to one citizen’s relation to the state they’re within and the laws in that state. This is different from the constitutional impasse, whereby different public agencies conflict with one another, usually two branches of government. For example, if the head of a state government would refuse to go ahead with a decision that the highest court in the country would rule. This would not be a case of civil disobedience because the head of this government would be acting in their own capacity as a public official, not as a private citizen.
One school of theory on social disobedience states that the definition is related to the individual. Because only an individual can act in an unjust way – the person has the final judgment of whether they are right or wrong. If for example, a government employee turns up to your house making demands, it is that individual who makes the demands, not the government. A scholar called Thoreau gave an example of this whereby a man came to collect money at his door and thought how he would act if Thoreau refused to pay; Thoreau would tell him to resign. Thoreau was making a point that governments should be expressing the will of the majority, but often they display nothing but the will of elitist politicians. Governments in his eyes need to represent the voice of the people, however, this would not necessarily mean that people should be obedient to this, and not be able to disagree with what the government says. Thoreau says that the moral majority case is powerful but may not necessarily be right.
The American philosopher Ronald Dworkin came up with three different categories of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience can be integrity-based, whereby a citizen doesn’t obey the law if they think it is moral to do so, for instance with slave abolitionists refusing to obey slave laws. Civil disobedience can also take the justice-based part, whereby citizens disobey laws so that they can claim rights to them, for instance when black people protested as part of their civil rights campaigning; this was illegal at the time but led to more rights for them in the future. The final category is policy-based civil disobedience, which happens when a person knowingly breaks some law so that they can change the policy itself.
A lot of theory about civil disobedience maintains that it can only be justified when it is against governments. Some people also take this and use it to justify action against non-governmental companies, e.g. action against banks. Failing to comply with banking laws could be justified in civil disobedience. Usually, people recognize that lawbreaking needs to be made public in order to count as civil disobedience itself, however people also refute this. Some people think that one can practice civil disobedience not in public if it helps with morality. As an example, a lawyer could fabricate a piece of evidence in court to protect one client’s natural rights and not make this public. This could be more effective than openly telling everyone about the plans to fabricate evidence.
Civil disobedience can be either violent or non-violent. Many people have debated whether violence needs to exist in order to have civil disobedience. Some definitions include non-violence, whereas others don’t. People often point to the fact that rebellion can be very destructive towards society, so in order to justify rebellion, this would be a very serious matter. If one is not able to give their reasons to engage in rebellion, one can’t justify the use of force in civil disobedience. People have also argued that peaceful civil disobedience usually helps society to preserve its tolerance of civil disobedience.
Non-revolutionary use of civil disobedience questions laws that exist and states that as wrong, based on individuals conscience, or either argue that the laws are ineffective. This kind of civil disobedience can campaign to change laws or reform them, in order to make things better. On the other hand, a revolutionary style of civil disobedience encompasses the active attempt to overthrow forms of government or to change social customs and other traditions. The best example of this has been Gandhi’s acts. Gandhi campaigned long and hard to change various parts of the culture and law around him, before tragically being assassinated.
People can exercise civil disobedience in a collective or solitary manner. In terms of history, the earliest collective forms of civil disobedience were carried out during Roman times with Jews gathering to prevent pagan pictures being installed within their temple in Jerusalem. Nowadays, many civil disobedience activists regularly come together in groups in order to practice together. The practice of exercising civil disobedience in a group often strengthens that the group’s bargaining position and can form a solid pact between the group that helps it throughout its cause. On the other hand, one could exercise civil disobedience on an individual level, for instance refusing to pay for taxes when the taxman comes knocking on the door, such as in the example with Thoreau mentioned earlier.
Although it seems slightly hypocritical in some way, a lot of people advocate of civil disobedience so that the protester needs to comply with the authorities on some level, aiming to cooperate with them in order to meet their demands. This is greatly different to people that advocate the use of violence, resisting arrest or responding to hinder the activities of the authorities during a protest. Some even think that resisting arrest and becoming arrested in the process provides the public and the authorities with the best opportunity to make an impression and get their cause heard. If no one was to voice their concerns, how would the government be able to know what people thought about certain aspects of the law? Many people civil disobedience feel that punishment needs to be accepted because of their belief in the social contract, binding them to obey government laws or else suffer consequences and penalties. There are many civil disobedience who do not believe this, for instance anarchists who do not recognize government legitimacy and so do not accept that they needs to be punished for violating a law. All of these factors tie into whether a person pleads guilty or not guilty in court. Do they accept that they are guilty for their actions or do they not recognize that the laws are legitimate thus seeing themselves as not guilty even though they legally would be?
In conclusion, civil disobedience is a touchy subject and there is a lot of debate into whether it is right or wrong. Should individuals allow governments to overrule what they believe wholeheartedly to be right? If one thought that an action was ethically right but the government would not allow them to do it, should that person carry out the action or not? Many advocates of civil disobedience have become motivated by the injustices of governments in the past, for instance, Thoreau was motivated by the horrific practice of slavery in America. Right now, society condemns slavery and almost certainly slave-owning is illegal around the world, yet at the time in America, it was not. If people were not civilly disobedient, perhaps, slavery would still exist today. We can now see how civil disobedience can lead to a better society in some cases. Examples can be made about people protesting against the government and being civilly disobedient at the expense of society, for instance refusing to obey laws about murdering people and going on rampages. It is clear that the debate about civil disobedience will last until the end of time.