Martin Luther King and Socrates on Civil Disobedience | My Paper Hub

Martin Luther King and Socrates on Civil Disobedience


Civil disobedience is nonviolent resistance manifested by an active, perceived refusal to obey certain laws, demands, or commands of a government. It involves the symbolic violation of a particular law and not a rejection of an entire system. Ind...Read More


~Posted on Jun 2018

Martin Luther King and Socrates on Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is nonviolent resistance manif...

Civil disobedience is nonviolent resistance manifested by an active, perceived refusal to obey certain laws, demands, or commands of a government. It involves the symbolic violation of a particular law and not a rejection of an entire system. Individuals that engage in civil disobedience often than not found themselves on the wrong end of the law. It is because, those in power feel threatened by such acts and feel the need to enforce the law at all cost. It has led to the branding of a civil disobedient individual as an enemy to the state and not the hero and martyr they are to the society. It is a concept that has historically led to controversy and hence the perceptions that we hold about it. However, analyzing the arguments and the historical outcomes of the civil disobedience movements, it is clear that it is an avenue that brings better than harm to the society in the long run. The paper below is an analysis of arguments in support of the justness of civil disobedience backed by the writings of Plato in the Crito and the Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.

In most cases, civil disobedience is the only option that individuals remain with to get the attention of the government. We can be fast to judge the civil disobedient as being radical and rush in making decisions. However, the changes that the civil movements over the years have affected are not imaginable in any other way. In most scenarios, the individuals left with no option following failed negotiations for social change. It is widely known that an oppressor cannot give up freedom to the oppressed on a silver platter. Historically, it has not happened, and it is bound not to happen in the present. Martin Luther King, Jr points out that the whole point of civil disobedience is to make it impossible for the authorities to ignore the cries of the marginalized African Americans. He even documents that all the negotiations and promises given to them in the past were not fulfilled. In fact, the black people had waited for change for over 300 years, and none was forthcoming and hence the need for civil disobedience. King states that the intention was to create a “Non-violent tension that is constructive and necessary for growth.” An issue reiterated by Socrates when he stated that there is a need to create tension in the minds of the people to stir them to think and make creative appraisals learn the truth. It is the social tension brought by disobedience that prompts the needed change in the end since the authorities cannot ignore blocked streets and a direct threat to their power and influence.

In some cases, the laws that govern people are inconsistent with their beliefs and hence are wrong. It is wrong to follow blindly laws just because we want peace. It is because; human beings are social and moral beings, guided by our morals. At times, laws are made to suit particular groups and their interests at the expense of the common interests of the people which poses a threat to social order/. It is, therefore, important not to follow laws blindly even when they conflict the beliefs interests of the people. King states that it is worse to accept negative peace just for the sake of avoiding social dissonance. Justice is more on what is right regardless of what the outcomes are hence some laws are unjust. The unjust laws need to be changed under all circumstances. In the Crito, Socrates is willing to die for what he believes in and outwardly states that he will continue to tell people the truth. He acknowledges the need to follow laws, and that is why he did escape from prison even when he had a chance. He insists on following laws that are just and not the wrong ones. There is a need to engage in civil disobedience to be able to uncover such hidden injustice in the laws that we follow.

Civil violence is an avenue to avert a possible civil violence and even civil wars in some instances. In the letter by King, he stated, “the oppressed cannot remain oppressed forever.” It is a fact proved by history and in most cases, if people realize that nothing is changing, they become frustrated and desperate resulting to violence. The tension that exists because of unjust laws may be hidden with the government or those in power suppressing any form of resistance. However, it gets to appoint where individuals cannot watch the injustice any longer and may focus their anger on violent acts against those they feel are oppressing them. Therefore, the civil disobedience is a crucial way to unmask and offer people a way to bring out their frustrations and anger nonviolently. King reports of the civil movements that had come up with very violent ways as a way to revenge the humiliation faced by the white people. He documents that with the civil disobedience he offered an alternative to the people to let out their anger and speak out. Similarly, Socrates insists on following the laws at all times but not to accept the wrong ones, and he did not result in other alternatives such as escaping from prison. Civil disobedience creates tension but in the non-violent form to push those in power to offer audience and ultimately social change that is far better and cheaper way to resolve the problem than if they resulted in violence.

Civil disobedience in its respect is not a crime at all. It is because, it involves the exercising of the democratic rights of a citizen to demonstrate or speak out. What amounts to crimes in civil disobedience are the acts that may be forbidden by law such as blocking roads, trespassing, and disturbing peace. It makes even the judges not to punish the disobedient the same way that they would punish another offender that commits a similar crime such as disturbing peace or trespass. Breaking the law is a clear signal of being contrary to the authority mostly in pursuit of their audience for possible negotiation and resolution. King acknowledge the fact that his acts would lead to some form of legal action against him, and that is why he accepts his fate of ending up in jail as a result of his intense campaign and disobedience. A case was accepted by Socrates when he chooses to face the law with the jury sentencing him to death than dropping his course.

In conclusion, it is imperative to accept that civil disobedience is one essential tool that the public and the citizens hold against any form of oppression by their leaders. It is because; a majority of those in power may make laws that suit personal gains and those of the minority at the expense of the public. However, with civil disobedience, it is a proven tool to bring about social change without resulting in violence or further harm to the people. It may be a route that has some price to pay for the disobedient but is an effective method of ensuring social change and fostering justice for the people. Therefore, social disobedience is a justifiable means to achieve change.  

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Martin Luther King and Socrates on Civil Disobedience

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Martin Luther King and Socrates on Civil Disobedience