An essay on civil disobedience

What makes a breach of law an act of civil disobedience. Some coordination of activities is required, says Rawls, to regulate the overall level of dissent (Rawls, 1971, 374–5). The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow-one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming into the world, is to see that the almshouses are in good repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund for the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in short, ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance company, which has promised to bury him decently. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man. After Thoreau’s release and unpleasant experience with his   neighbors, the children of Concord had brightened his mood by urging him to join a huckleberry hunt. “[ 23] By this definition, civil disobedience could be traced back to the Book of Exodus, where Shiphrah and Puah refused a direct order of Pharaoh but misrepresented how they did it. Most thinkers who have considered civil disobedience defend a limited right to such protest. When deciding how best to defend a legitimate cause, a person must give thought to the appropriate strategy to adopt. They take too much time, and a man’s life will be gone.

The personal quality of “Civil Disobedience” also contributes to its impact, as the essay exudes sincerity more commonly found in diaries and correspondence than in political tracts. This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases. I will breathe after my own fashion. All of these factors bear on the appropriateness of a given action and the manner in which it is performed, and thus determine to what extent the reasons that support it provide a justification. Since, as noted above, people may engage in dissent for numerous reasons, acts of civil disobedience like Gandhi’s that are guided by conscientious commitments can also be driven by revolutionary aims. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. But it is not the less necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have. Even a good form of government is “liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Two final factors concerning a disobedient’s choice of action are non-violence and directness. When I came out of prison- for some one interfered, and paid that tax- I did not perceive that great changes had taken place on the common, such as he observed who went in a youth and emerged a tottering and gray-headed man; and yet a change had to my eyes come over the scene- the town, and State, and country- greater than any that mere time could effect.

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The night in prison was novel and interesting enough. United States, which held that the judge need not inform jurors of their nullification prerogative, and United States v. It puts to rest many questions which he would otherwise be taxed to answer; while the only new question which it puts is the hard but superfluous one, how to spend it. But such was the case, they think, in the Revolution of ’75. But Stephen Eilmann argues that if it is necessary to disobey rules that conflict with morality, we might ask why disobedience should take the form of public civil disobedience rather than simply covert lawbreaking. Briefly, the right to civil disobedience could be grounded on something other than participation rights such as a right to object on the basis of conscience. I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name- if ten honest men only- ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. What sort of life were that to live.

He also notes that some major civil disobedience campaigns which have been classified as non-violent, such as the Birmingham campaign, have actually included elements of violence. Whether rule departure actually involves a breach of law is unclear. In cases where the government supports unjust or immoral laws, Thoreau’s notion of service to one’s country paradoxically takes the form of resistance against it. Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded. ” [He] is unable to take a fact out of its merely political relations. A parallel may be drawn between the communicative aspect of civil disobedience and the communicative aspect of lawful punishment by the state (Brownlee, 2012; 2004). Rule departure is essentially the deliberate decision by an official, for conscientious reasons, not to discharge the duties of her office (Feinberg, 1979). It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. Because of this, it is “not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing that you are cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, and see that you are never cheated again.

There are really no blows to be given him but defensive ones. I was shown quite a long list of verses which were composed by some young men who had been detected in an attempt to escape, who avenged themselves by singing them. Reform keeps many scores of newspapers in its service, but not one man. He well deserves to be called. [53]     This is a crucial distinction. Because this essay is often associated with passive civil disobedience, some have assumed that Thoreau’s support of John Brown was a change from his earlier position.

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It is not so important that many should be good as you, as that there be some absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump. They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce and manufactures and agriculture. The very acts with which we seek to do good cannot escape the imperfections of the world we are trying to change. I am but too ready to conform to them. There are reasons to believe that civil disobedients should be dealt with more severely than ordinary offenders are. You are no longer living safe and in harmony. Sometimes greater punishment than that required for ordinary offenders would be in order since disobedients who are serious in their moral conviction may not be deterred by standard punishments.

I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man a musket to shoot one with–the dollar is innocent–but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. The slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur. Civil disobedience played a major role in history. Rule departures resemble civil disobedience in that both involve dissociation from and condemnation of certain policies and practices. Majority is not always right and men should let their conscience govern them and not the government itself. The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.

an essay on civil disobedience

an essay on civil disobedience

On a communicative conception of punishment, the state aims to engage with the offender in a moral dialogue so that she appreciates the moral reasons she has to follow the law. For my own part, I should not like to think that I ever rely on the protection of the State. ” My neighbors did not thus salute me, but first looked at me, and then at one another, as if I had returned from a long journey. 1/4/2007 · What makes a breach of law an act of civil disobedience. Thoreau wanted to incorporate principles into daily life; he wanted to taste and feel principles in the air around him. Additionally, even when general success seems unlikely, civil disobedience might be defended for any reprieve from harm that it brings to victims of a bad law or policy. The night in prison was novel and interesting enough.

O for a man who is a man, and, as my neighbor says, has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand through. ” When the door was locked, he showed me where to hang my hat, and how he managed matters there. Forced to keep all men in prison or abolish slavery, the State would quickly exhaust its resources and choose the latter course of action. ” After his landmark lectures were published in 1866, the term began to appear in numerous sermons and lectures relating to slavery and the war in Mexico. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. If a man is thought-free, fancy-free, imagination-free, that which is not never for a long time appearing to be to him, unwise rulers or reformers cannot fatally interrupt him. Still, his quality is not wisdom, but prudence. Thoreau ascribes their behavior to ignorance and concludes, “They would do better if they knew how. This is not to say that you have an obligation to devote your life to fighting for justice, but you do have an obligation not to commit injustice and not to give injustice your practical support. The message being conveyed is that people should follow what they think is right instead of going with the crowd/majority even if it means going against the government.

[11]     Transcendentalism became Thoreau’s intellectual training ground. Justice aside, civil disobedience and dissent more generally contribute to the democratic exchange of ideas by forcing the champions of dominant opinion to defend their views. In the conclusion of breaking the laws, you have gotten into serious trouble. So is all change for the better, like birth and death, which convulse the body. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases can not be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Public and typically peaceful resistance to public power would remain an integral tactic in modern American minority-rights politics. I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. The first pertains to her reasons for supporting this cause.

But if government is “the voice of the people,” as it is often called, shouldn’t that voice be heeded

[ 18] It has been claimed that the Hungarians under Ferenc Deák directed revolutionary civil disobedience against the Austrian government. The two other options for civil disobedience Subjectivism and Cultural. On the other hand, he refuses to tolerate the status quo. [15]     Prior to his arrest, Thoreau had lived a quiet, solitary life at Walden, an isolated pond in the woods about a mile and a half from Concord. He cites as a prime example the regulation of trade and commerce, and its negative effect on the forces of the free market. A man may grow rich in Turkey even, if he will be in all respects a good subject of the Turkish government. I do not hear of men being forced to live this way or that by masses of men. Frederick, in “Transcendental Ethos: Thoreau’s Philosophy & Antebellum Reform,” explains why this was not the case. Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation. This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other. Third, philosophers differ over the kinds of regimes in which the right arises. There are really no blows to be given him but defensive ones.

Whether it was Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. In his chapter on the “Duty of Submission to Civil Government,” resolves all civil obligation into expediency;. One might also question whether it necessarily would be a bad thing if civil disobedience had these consequences. It was that view, after all, which led him to prison in the first place. Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the Church, and commanded me to pay a certain sum toward the support of a clergyman whose preaching my father attended, but never I myself. I had soon read all the tracts that were left there, and examined where former prisoners had broken out, and where a grate had been sawed off, and heard the history of the various occupants of that room; for I found that even there there was a history and a gossip which never circulated beyond the walls of the jail. The final possible view is that civil disobedients should be dealt with more leniently than ordinary offenders are, at least when their disobedience is morally justified. The SparkNotes Civil Disobedience Study Guide has. Civil disobedience, refusal to obey a law or follow a policy believed to be unjust. This is the neighbor who says, “If I deny the authority of the State when it presents its tax-bill, it will soon take and waste all my property, and so harass me and my children without end. A further difference between civil disobedience and common crimes pertains to the willingness of the offender to accept the legal consequences. [ 33] Some civil disobedients, such as the proprietors of illegal medical cannabis dispensaries and Voice in the Wilderness, which brought medicine to Iraq without the permission of the U.

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But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. He considered it an interesting experience and came out of it with a new perspective on his relationship to the government and its citizens. While a civil disobedient does not necessarily oppose the regime in which she acts, the militant or radical protester is deeply opposed to that regime (or a core aspect of that regime). If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations. It is an open question then whether the refusal or inability of other groups to cooperate should affect the ultimate defensibility of a person’s decision to engage in civil disobedience. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self Reliance” and Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience,” both transcendentalist. ” Bedau also notes, though, that the very harmlessness of such entirely symbolic illegal protests toward public policy goals may serve a propaganda purpose.

Civil Disobedience Civil Disobedience is the protest or refusal to obey certain laws, in a. In contrast to deterrence systems, monistic desert systems and communicative systems of punishment would only punish civil disobedients if, and to the extent that, they deserve to be punished. Finally, deterrence theories are criticised for making the parameters for appropriate punishment excessively broad in allowing that whatever punishment is needed to deter people is the justified punishment. Thoreau declared that, if the government requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. A man can be compelled only by one who possesses greater morality. A parallel may be drawn between the communicative aspect of civil disobedience and the communicative aspect of lawful punishment by the state (Brownlee, 2012; 2004). Therefore, everyone must be free to act according to his conscience in order to find the truth buried within. Such laws often have more severe penalties than those that protect individuals against violence.

It was formerly the custom in our village, when a poor debtor came out of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him, looking through their fingers, which were crossed to represent the grating of a jail window, “How do ye do. When the right to participate is understood to accommodate only legal protest, then the right conscientiously to object, which commonsensically includes civil disobedience, must be viewed as distinct from political participation rights. To ward off such challenges, Rawls suggests that, if past actions have shown the majority to be immovable or apathetic, then further attempts may reasonably be thought fruitless and one may be confident one’s civil disobedience is a last resort. In some cases, there will be no time or opportunity to coordinate with other minorities. ” Otherwise, it is completely devoid of moral or intellectual authority, and even with its brute force, cannot compel him to think a certain way. In the American tradition, men have a recognized and cherished right of revolution, from which Thoreau derives the concept of civil disobedience. [15]     Prior to his arrest, Thoreau had lived a quiet, solitary life at Walden, an isolated pond in the woods about a mile and a half from Concord. Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole.

Does not America offer any inducement for men to settle here

Statesmen and legislators, standing so completely within the institution, never distinctly and nakedly behold it. They may be men of a certain experience and discrimination, and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems, for which we sincerely thank them; but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. ” my answer is, “If you really wish to do anything, resign your office. The claim is that jaywalking across an empty street, for example, is hardly reprehensible and its illegality does not make it more reprehensible. By the 1850s, a range of minority groups in the United States—blacks, Jews, Seventh Day Baptists, Catholics, anti-prohibitionists, racial egalitarians, and others—employed civil disobedience to combat a range of legal measures and public practices that to them promoted ethnic, religious, and racial discrimination. However, the government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it. “[ 61] During the Vietnam War, courts typically refused to excuse the perpetrators of illegal protests from punishment on the basis of their challenging the legality of the Vietnam War; the courts ruled it was a political question. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. [3]     Thoreau declined to pay the tax and so, in July 1846, he was arrested and jailed. It gave people courage to stand up for their rights. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. ” – Martin Luther King, Jr, Autobiography. Civil Disobedience – Part 1 of 3. According to other, less monistic communicative theories, communication of censure alone is insufficient to justify punishment; added to it must be the aim of deterrence (von Hirsch, 1998, 171). On the most widely accepted account of civil disobedience, famously defended by John Rawls (1971), civil disobedience is a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies.

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