Henry Thoreau came up with the term civil disobedience in 1948 in an essay he wrote in support of his refusal to pay taxes to the state that would have facilitated the American government to get into a war with Mexico and to put into effect the Fugitive Slave Law. He stated that few heroes, patriots, and martyrs are real reformers that use their conscience to make decisions on what rules to follow in society and are branded as enemies of the state. He spent an enormous part of his life in jail but because of his protests, the issue of civil disobedience came into being. In definition, civil disobedience is a public, non-violent and based on the conscience of an individual to breach the law with an aim of bringing people together and to challenge policies or government laws bringing about the desired change. Historically, those that have engaged in civil disobedience have been branded as enemies of the state and often than not end up in jails or face the full force of the law resulting in the death of others. However, it is not a case of injustice as the conformists and governments would want to convince the public. Those that engage in civil disobedience should be branded as the heroes and not enemies to state. It is this view that I will systematically take you through a series of arguments and evidence in support of civil disobedience. The essay below shows the “justness” of civil disobedience about Plato’s documentation of Socrates’ death in Crito and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Historically, the acts that follow civil disobedience of some individuals or a section of people have led to the significant reassessment of society’s moral parameters leading to even better outcome in the end. It is because of civil disobedience of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all his followers that there was the change in racial discrimination in the United States in the later years. The white population and the black population alike came to understand and appreciate the work of the then civil rights activist. There were police brutality and his being jailed in the short run and many felt that the course was meaningless. In fact, the course led to his assassination later but today with the massive reform that the United States have experienced regarding the fight against racism, many come to brand Martin Luther King, Jr. as a hero. He is a significant figure in the country in the present and today; the US enjoys a high order of equality that led to massive political and economic gains due to the contribution of the formerly marginalized race in the growth of the country and not being emerged in the struggle for freedom and hatred among the races. Therefore, civil disobedience is an essential driving tool for social change in society. In his letter from Birmingham Jail King Jr. echoed the fact that civil disobedience was not unique to his time. He cited the case of the early church leaders such as Paul, who stood for what they believed in about Christianity. It is their sacrifice and disobedience of the Roman Empire decrees to end Christianity that made the religion stand to date.
Civil disobedience is about accessing and making a conscience decision to do what is morally right and not just following the law blindly. In the Crito, Plato emphasized on complying with the truth that one believes in and not just the truths that are imposed on them by the law. King also reiterated a factor in the letter when he states that it is important for the church to follow their God given rights and morals. Therefore, a majority of the disobedient, their breach of law is because of not just self-respect and moral consistency but also on their perception of what is in the best interests of their society. Echoing the words of St. Augustine, “an unjust law is no law at all,” King emphasizes the need to discern between the laws that are just to all and those that are unjust. It widely accepts the common knowledge that all human beings are equal and deserve to be treated with dignity. Therefore, having laws that contravene that belief leads to injustice to some people. Therefore, any individual claiming to advocate for justice should be ready to go against any laws that promote injustice at any given point.
Civil disobedience is an act that is never secretive. It is done with publicity and in the open for both the people, the law enforcers and all the affected to know, see and participate at will. It also offers fair notice to the legal authorities. In fact, civil disobedience has no form of violence. The civil disobedience is a form of communication to the authorities and all those affected by the need for social change to some of the laws that the dissenters feel are against the common interests. King emphasizes that before his dissent the local authorities were always aware of the discontent with the oppression faced by the African-American community following the humiliation and racial discrimination they faced both by law and in the social sphere. According to him, the dissent is sending a message in a way that the authorities will listen. It is because they had exhausted all other avenues for dialogue in the past and hence had to result to civil disobedience e to create tension and hence lead to the authorities listening to them. Plato in the Crito reiterated a factor. Even though Socrates was about to face the consequences of his dissent through death, he insisted on the need for the young people and all citizens typo know the truth. They needed to be informed to make judgments on their own a factor that made the government feel that he was inciting the youth. The publicity achieved in civil disobedience works to open the eyes of those in power and the public on the injustice that certain laws enforced on them as individuals and to the society. It works to educate and call for social change a factor that has worked well to show the willingness for the disobedient to work with authorities. It shows that the disobedient are not working against the interests of the state or society but rather seeking for the audience to address certain issues.
It is also important to note that civil disobedience is an avenue for the public to take action in opposition to certain laws without causing bloodshed or violence. The dissent aims at creating tension in a constructive way that gives room for growth as King puts it in the letter. It is the same way that Socrates created tension in the minds of the people to stir them to think and rise from the bondage of myths and half-baked truths. Without this form of civil disobedience, there is a danger of people to channel their anger, resentment, and pain through violence that can result in civil wars and revolutions. Therefore, it is the best way to address social tension.
In conclusion, civil disobedience has important features for both the government and the people. It has a great impact on society and governments due to its positive outcomes in the end. It is a more morally defensible form of offense since it leads to growth and social change in society. It is an excellent tool to avert the danger posed by a citizenry that is dissatisfied with each other or with the government and hence prevent the possibility of a violent civil war. Civil, disobedience therefore, has exemplified features that make it potentially justifiable for any breach of law in pursuit of common good.