People are forced to face moral challenges in making day-to-day decisions. When it comes to benefitting individual and societal good, the great question of politics is raised: what is the right thing to do? In Sophocles’ Antigone, there is a dilemma whether to abide by the laws of the gods above the laws of the state. Antigone makes a decision that not only affects her future but the future of the state under her uncle’s rule. Antigone gains a high moral sense in that she followed the laws of the gods and therefore did the morally right choice going against state laws, either case can be deemed as morally correct.
In this essay it will be argued that citizens should be free to disobey state laws when conscience dictates. Sophocles’ play enacts the moral conflict of power between the laws of the gods and the laws of state. He presents the reader with a dilemma involving religious rituals passed down in the family and a new law passed by a ruler of the state. Antigone and her uncle, Creon, have a different set of values. Creon, the ruler of Thebes, values the constant order of the state and the public good.
Antigone values family and religion, and views these commitments as superior to the laws imposed by her uncle. She claims, there is an “unchangeable unwritten code of Heaven,” (Sophocles, Antigone, 17) and she decides to act against the laws of her uncle to fulfill the laws of the gods, by giving her brother a proper burial ritual against Creon’s will. Antigone considers her uncle’s laws as sacrilege. Creon thought that his decision would bring stability to his state, as he claimed that “by corruption few men thrive and many come to mischief,” (Sophocles, Antigone, 12).
Creon places the ‘polis’ above family and religious values and disregards the values that Antigone holds sacred. Sophocles positions Antigone as being the heroine of the play and allows her to justify her decisions, with the taking of her own life Antigone made a statement and accentuates the power she held and that Creon lacked. In the end, Creon is left with feelings of regret and no family, thus punished by the gods for not abiding by their laws. Antigone believed that her rights were not given to her by Creon but rather given to her by the gods.
She was only doing what she thought was morally right. Antigone is a religious being and clearly values the gods higher than the state; she is willing to face the consequences. Antigone was willing to “meet with nothing more grievous, at the worst, than death, with honour,” (Sophocles, Antigone, 4) she courageously fulfilled her duties as a religious being. Many people would applaud Antigone’s bravery, for any private interest should be allowed to challenge the public good. In doing so, I believe that those private interests could eventually turn into a public interest.
In the play, a prophet visits Creon to warn him of the consequences that have been brought about from his unjust laws. If it had not have been for Antigone publicly objecting to Creon’s law, it would probably not have been such a big issue that brought the concern of others. Antigone allowed for others to question Creon’s law and debate if it is morally right to go against the laws of the gods. Publicly refusing to follow a law brings attention to an issue that otherwise would have been ignored. One great example in our society is during the Civil Rights era; Martin Luther King Jr.
’s actions brought great attention to the issue of racial segregation. He believed that it was right to openly break a law that was not supposed to be a law at all. His actions although non-violent broke many laws that were made to impede success among the African American population in the U. S. He believed that by publicly and consciously breaking the law exposes brutality and promotes participation. In doing so, the people against the law were perceived as being brave and those watching were forced to question what was just.
When issues become public and catch the interest of the majority of the people in the ‘polis’, the government is forced to do something about it. Creon responded with a stern and much too harsh punishment that led to the death of his niece, son and wife but if Antigone would not have contested his law he could have eventually reached complete domination of political power. The general population supported Antigone but they were too afraid to say anything until they finally felt that something must be done. Creon was running a totalitarian government and was corrupting the state.
He was unable to see how unjust his law was until others brought it to his attention and tried to convince him that his use of power was wrong. Antigone’s defying actions instilled courage in the people to also speak against their ruler. It might be objected that when someone disobeys state laws whenever their conscience dictates they are only helping themselves, the person breaking the law is not thinking about the common good but rather fulfilling their own good or promoting anarchy. Civil disobedience may seem reasonable when we consider Martin Luther King Jr. ’s situation but it may not always be driven with good intentions.
By disobeying, regardless of good or bad intentions, they are hurting the stability of the state. Creon argues, “Obedience is due to the state’ officer in small and great, just and unjust commandments… (Sophocles, Antigone, 26). ” Creon did not bother to judge his laws as just or unjust, he simply did what he considered was good for the state. It is thought that if people continue to please themselves in breaking the laws of the state that they will eventually break every law and lose all respect for the state. Civil disobedience may not always serve the public good and only serve to undermine order.
Breaking a law weakens the state and it’s order, it promotes anarchy and disrespects authority. It should not be encouraged or tolerated. It is a civic virtue to abide by the laws of the state it is what leads to its success and stability. By breaking the law Antigone was faced with death, she claimed that she was honoring the gods and that they would honor her in the end. But one must question if honor is worth the permanence of death. Many people feel so strongly about their opinions that they are wiling to die just as Antigone did in Sophocles’ play.
One notable person in history is Socrates; he willingly faced all punishments administered to him. He claimed to have had a contract with his state of Athens that obliged him to accept punishments for taking advantage of the state in the first place. This shows that even though Socrates may have broken some law, he still held respect for the state. Not every person that breaks a law is completely recalcitrant. Like Socrates, those who fight for civil rights and follow what they believe to be morally correct are aware of their wrongdoings and make it a statement when they finally submit to the law.
They are submitting to punishments even if they are deemed unjust only to prove to the state that their morals are important and can withstand any punishment. In facing moral challenges one is often forced to face it is always difficult to decipher what is right and what is wrong. Everyone has different values and obligations. Here, Antigone’s values outweighed Creon’s overwhelmingly unjust laws. One must always question what is more important and find a balance between the two. Civil disobedience is allowed when the conscience dictates in situations that lead to a greater good.
Not all private interests are egocentric some may also reflect the interest of the general population. Antigone, although harshly punished just as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Socrates were as well, have all rose among the common people and proved to be great. They encompassed a passion and bravery for their beliefs that was able to attract attention to conflicts in the law. Without their brave actions the state would not have been open to change and reach a new level of stability.