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Civil Disobedience (Thoreau) - Wikipedia

As for adopting the ways of the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man’s life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition, what should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no way: its very Constitution is the evil. This may seem to be harsh and stubborn and unconcilliatory; but it is to treat with the utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit that can appreciate or deserves it. So is all change for the better, like birth and death, which convulse the body.
I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.

In the case of an iniquitous law, the harm of disobedience can be the lesser evil.

Against Raz, one could argue, as David Lefkowitz does, that when aperson appeals to political participation rights to defend herdisobedience she does not necessarily criticise the law for outlawingher action. Lefkowitz maintains that members of minorities canappreciate that democratic discussions often must be cut short so thatdecisions may be taken. As such, persons who engage in politicaldisobedience may view current policy as the best compromise betweenthe need to act and the need to accommodate continueddebate. Nonetheless, they also can observe that, with greaterresources or further time for debate, their view might have heldsway. Given this possibility, the right to political participationmust include a right to continue to contest the result after the votesare counted or the decisions taken. And this right should includesuitably constrained civil disobedience because the best conception ofpolitical participation rights is one that reduces as much as possiblethe impact that luck has on the popularity of a view (Lefkowitz2007; see also Ceva 2015).

Thoreau's Civil Disobedience - 1

Martin Luther King, Jr., who also performed civil disobedience in a democracy, asks us to look more closely at the legal channels of change.

If they are open in theory, but closed or unfairly obstructed in practice, then the system is not democratic in the way needed to make civil disobedience unnecessary.

While civil disobedience in a broad sense is as old as the Hebrew midwives' defiance of Pharaoh, most of the moral and legal theory surrounding it, as well as most of the instances in the street, have been inspired by Thoreau, Gandhi, and King.

Thoreau and “Civil Disobedience” - Constitutional …

King, for example, did not advocate indiscriminate disobedience; he advocated disobedience of unjust laws and obedience to the just.

The final issue to consider is how authorities should respond tocivil disobedience. The question of appropriate legal response applies,first, to the actions of law-enforcers when deciding whether and how tointervene in a civilly disobedient action, whether to arrest, whetherto charge, and so on. It applies, second, to the actions of prosecutorswhen deciding whether to proceed to trial. Finally, it applies to theactions of judges (and juries) when deciding whether to convict and(for judges) how much to punish. The focus here will be the issue ofappropriate punishment.

Together the three above positions bring out some key points ofdisagreement amongst philosophers on the issue of a right to civildisobedience. First, philosophers disagree over the grounds of thisright. Is it derivative of a right to participate in the politicaldecision-making process? Is it derivative of other rights? Is itfounded on a person's equal status as a being worthy of concernand respect? Second, philosophers disagree over the parameters of theright. Does it extend to all acts of civil disobedience or only tothose acts that meet certain conditions of justifiability? Third,philosophers differ over the kinds of regimes in which the rightarises. Does it exist only in illiberal regimes or does it hold in allregimes including just regimes? A final issue, not brought out in anyof the above views, is whether the right to civil disobedience extendsto indirect civil disobedience. Presumably, it should, but none of theabove positions offer arguments on which one could base such aclaim.

But surprisingly many disobedient activists affirm that theory, making this an objection they must answer.
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Essay on Civil Disobedience 1397 Words | 6 Pages

There is some dispute over the kinds of policies that civildisobedients may target through their breach of law. Some exclude fromthe class of civilly disobedient acts those breaches of law thatprotest the decisions of private agents such as trade unions, banks,private universities, etc. (Raz 1979, 264). Others, by contrast,maintain that disobedience in opposition to the decisions of privateagents can reflect a larger challenge to the legal system that permitsthose decisions to be taken, which makes it appropriate to place thisdisobedience under the umbrella of civil disobedience (Brownlee 2012;2007). There is more agreement amongst thinkers that civildisobedience can be either direct or indirect. In other words, civildisobedients can either breach the law they oppose or breach a lawwhich, other things being equal, they do not oppose in order todemonstrate their protest against another law or policy. Trespassingon a military base to spray-paint nuclear missile silos in protestagainst current military policy would be an example of indirect civildisobedience. It is worth noting that the distinction often drawnbetween direct civil disobedience and indirect civil disobedience isless clear-cut than generally assumed. For example, refusing to paytaxes that support the military could be seen as either indirect ordirect civil disobedience against military policy. Although this acttypically would be classified as indirect disobedience, a part ofone's taxes, in this case, would have gone directly to support thepolicy one opposes.

Henry Thoreau wrote the essay on ‘civil disobedience’ in 1849

These observations do not alter the fact that non-violent dissentnormally is preferable to violent dissent. As Raz observes,non-violence avoids the direct harm caused by violence, andnon-violence does not encourage violence in other situations whereviolence would be wrong, something which an otherwise warranted use ofviolence may do. Moreover, as a matter of prudence, non-violence doesnot carry the same risk of antagonising potential allies or confirmingthe antipathy of opponents (Raz 1979, 267). Furthermore, non-violencedoes not distract the attention of the public, and it probably deniesauthorities an excuse to use violent countermeasures againstdisobedients.

Thoreau and “Civil Disobedience ..

Non-violence, publicity and a willingness to accept punishment areoften regarded as marks of disobedients' fidelity to the legalsystem in which they carry out their protest. Those who deny that thesefeatures are definitive of civil disobedience endorse a more inclusiveconception according to which civil disobedience involves aconscientious and communicative breach of law designed to demonstratecondemnation of a law or policy and to contribute to a change in thatlaw or policy. Such a conception allows that civil disobedience can beviolent, partially covert, and revolutionary. This conception alsoaccommodates vagaries in the practice and justifiability of civildisobedience for different political contexts: it grants that theappropriate model of how civil disobedience works in a context such asapartheid South Africa may differ from the model that applies to awell-ordered, liberal, just democracy. An even broader conception ofcivil disobedience would draw no clear boundaries between civildisobedience and other forms of protest such as conscientiousobjection, forcible resistance, and revolutionary action. Adisadvantage of this last conception is that it blurs the lines betweenthese different types of protest and so might both weaken claims aboutthe defensibility of civil disobedience and invite authorities andopponents of civil disobedience to lump all illegal protest under oneumbrella.

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