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This report begins by examining the positions of several prominent American historical figures on the question of civil disobedience. The persons whose viewpoints and arguments are scrutinized include Martin Luther King, Henry David Thoreau and Susan B. Anthony. The analysis concludes by examining my own personal thoughts on civil disobedience. People are morally entitled to disobey the law set by government with an aim of pressuring the government to make just law.
Civil disobedience is defined as a refusal to obey governmental laws, in an effort to bring changes in governmental policies or legislation.
The concept derives from the fact that human beings of noble intention are moral creatures who try to act out of their goodwill in a manner that is helpful to and supportive of other persons. Yet, civilly instituted and enforced laws can sometimes —or even often—be frankly at odds with individual perceptions of morality. Acts of civil disobedience serve to call attention to these ostensible government outrages and to both attract sympathy and foment insurrection among the cognizant public.
By “insurrection” is not necessarily meant armed revolt, but whatever measures may serve to right the perceptible wrongs being perpetrated by the government in the prosecution of its authorized laws and objectives.
Dr Martin Luther King was not happy with the racism and discrimination against the black people living in the United States of America. Although he was a pastor, he became the leader of a civil rights movement. Like Mahatma, Dr King used peaceful means to defy the unjust acts (King 122).
Luther king and Gandhi believed in negotiating with the government before participating in acts of civil disobedience. Everyone should follow the laws and rules which can be only disobeyed in the case of oppressing human beings. However, according to Luther King people should act nonviolently. “They must consistently refuse to inflict injury upon another; if you are hit do not hit back, if you are cursed do not curse back” (King 123). Individuals should avoid internal violence of spirit as well as external physical, “because it ends up creating many more social problems than it solves ( King 122). This quote states that the violence will improve nothing, but instead it will worsen a situation. Luther King was greatly influenced by the teachings of the Bible. King derived his notion of civil disobedience—pointedly nonviolent civil disobedience, one hastens to point out—from the precepts and admonitions of the Bible and, in particular, the teachings of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Bible, persons of strong moral character often stood silent and underwent privation, suffering, or even death in order to stand up for what was just and right. Juesus Christ—who stood silent at His trial and ended up being crucified though adjudged guilty of no crime—served as the shining example of civil disobedience in King’s view (King, 124).
It was also the case that King was strongly influenced by non-Christian philosophies such as those of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi demonstrated to King that it was possible to fight for civil rights without resorting to the violence that occasionally marred group protests. Rather, love and truth were the weapons that would deliver their peoples and save the day. Adopting this model, King organized a number of boycotts throughout the American South. This boycott was motivated by the fact that Negroes were required to ride at the back of the bus so that their white “superiors” could ride in front. Luther led the blacks to boycott boarding the city buses unless they were allowed to sit anywhere they wanted. He led the people in many marches, protests and conferences all aimed at disobeying the unjust government policies. King’s doctrine of nonviolence eventually succeeded in restoring full parity to American citizens of color. Although there is still a racial divide, such citizens are guaranteed full Constitutional rights on a par with white Americans. Critically, King encouraged his followers never to rely upon violent or even unpleasant tactics, but always to conduct their struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.
When the United States declared war against its southern neighbor, Mexico, Thoreau performed his first act of civil disobedience. Rather than recognize the implicit right of the United States to wage war against hostile nations, he insisted that the war constituted a pernicious plot to expand the institution of slavery toward the southwest. Thoreau chose to protest this movement by ceasing payment of municipal taxes since he believed that he had a moral obligation to himself to do what he thought was right. “The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right” (Thoreau 24). Stating that Thoreau believes that the protesters have the obligation to themselves and can directly disobey an unjust rule in order to attain that obligation. Although this action was ignored for a while, the tax collector took action and had Thoreau jailed after he began publicly condemning the United States for prosecuting what he felt to be a morally unjustified policy (Thoreau,34). Thoreau was much more positively inclined toward acts of destructiveness and even violence than King was. He openly concluded that one could not merely be philosophically opposed to a given movement. Instead, as he wrote, “it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize” (Thoreau 26). He really turned heads when he spoke out in favor of Abolitionist John Brown’s violent 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, in which several persons were killed and for which Brown was eventually executed.
Thoreau insisted that, as long as the government pursues actions that one may consider unjust, individuals of conscience may adopt whatever measures are within reason to defy the dictates of the legally seated government. In particular, he made it crystal-clear that people should break the law even if they ended up in prison, noting that, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison” (Thoreau). Of course, this mellifluous doctrine overlooks the fact that it is rather difficult to advocate for—let alone achieve—societal transformation from behind prison walls. Many may disagree that there can be nothing change from jail and sacrificing yourself will not help to solve the problems. However, Thoreau believes that staying in jail, individuals will force the authority to discuss their laws and change them rather than to maintain just men in prison.
Suffragist Susan B. Anthony pursued a course toward civil disobedience that lay between King’s and Thoreau’s paths. Anthony and her peers were concerned with granting women the right to vote, a right that they felt was implicitly—if not explicitly—guaranteed by the Constitution. Anthony arranged pickets and demonstrations that encumbered men’s access to legally established polling places. They also raided polling places and voted en masse, essentially overtaking the infrastructure of the polling places and forcing their votes through in frank violation of applicable law (Anthony). Anthony and her ilk attracted the most attention when they were imprisoned for their actions and promptly staged a hanger strike. Anthony eventually succeeded in getting the right to vote granted to the nation’s women by giving a speech against unjust laws and policies. She argued that people were not denied of rights for protecting themselves. All people have the right to be treated equally, therefore, if the statement is broken,” it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it” (Anthony). She makes the clear statement that people have to disobey the unjust law and institute a new government which will allow them living in safety and happiness.
Civil disobedience is not only necessary but vital in eliminating unjust rules. People should not blindly follow the laws that are established even when those rules are unfavourable. During the course of civil disobedience, it is necessary to ensure peace and to command a large following. In the contemporary society, civil disobedience is likely to achieve great success. This is because the media has developed greatly and would expose such an issue to the whole world. For instance, when Ukrainian people protested the corrupt government nonviolently tending to remove the president, the authorities became to suppress them. After failing in suppression, the president fled to Russia. Eventually Russia become an aggressor against Ukraine. However, most governments around the globe, together with the United Nations likely intervened in suppressing Russia by imposing many sanctions on Russia. Therefore Ukraine opposed to Russia. On this example is clear that It is hard for any government fail to give in to pressure of most governments of the world.
Civil disobedience refers to a situation where individual(s) refuse to obey the laws set by a government with an aim of pressuring the government to make a more just law. There are individuals known worldwide for their civil disobedience approach. These include Dr Martin Luther King, Thoreau Henry and Susan B. Anthony.
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