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Civil Disobedience Can Be Justified

There were times in history when breaking the law was justified: Great leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, broke the law and changed the world for the better.

All the Yes points:

  1. It makes governments more accountable
  2. Sometimes it’s the only tool in the box
  3. Sometimes it’s the only way to publicise an issue
  4. Sometimes the law is wrong.
  5. Understand laws before you obey them
  6. Yes, but yet slightly no.
  7. Practice comes before law.
  8. There is no agreement on what CD is.
  9. All forms of government including democracy are flawed.
  10. … but very rarely!
  11. Law is there to serve justice based on truth.
  12. french revolution

All the No points:

  1. It sets a bad example
  2. The debate can become overshadowed by the violence
  3. Civil disobedience is a form of civil war
  4. An act of civil disobedience sets a precedence of breaking the law.

It makes governments more accountable

Yes because…

just give up now
This is absolutely false in which you can’t “give up”. Civil disobedience has helped strengthen justice in America. The sole purpose in which it states is “breaking the law for a justifiable cause”. People are always going to have an opinion, and the reason for doing so is so you can, as Thoreau stated, “refrain from evil.”

No because…

1) The fact politicians want to hold on to power makes them accountable throughout their term in office. They wouldn’t do anything which would alienate people dramatically for fear of losing votes. And there are many more ways to show that votes will be lost than breaking the law.

2) There are also local elections between general elections, where parties can be rewarded or punished for their actions in government, acting as a very good barometer of public opinion without the need for civil disobedience.

3) Civil disobedience puts pressure on the state to privilege the interests of the civilly disobedient minority over the majority. Compare this with voting, in which anyone who chooses to exercise their vote has equal say. This is why it makes sense to say that voting makes governments “accountable to the people”, whereas civil disobedience in a democratic society is (often) anti-democratic.

Sometimes it’s the only tool in the box

Yes because…

Civil disobedience was practised to great effect by people such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King. It is difficult to imagine the change they effected coming about any other way – or certainly as quickly. Their civil disobedience corrected a huge injustice at a time when no politicians took them seriously. In fact Martin Luther King said that not only was it okay to break unjust laws but that we have a moral responsibility to do so. As St Augustine said, ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’

No because…

There is a difference between breaking the law to make a point and mass protest of an entirely legal kind. If Ghandi or Martin Luther King had been able to rally enough people they would have created enough publicity for their cause and they wouldn’t have had to break the law.

In a democratic society, civil disobedience is never the only “tool in the box.” There are always the power tools. In a democracy, the power tools are simply the legal channels. While the actions of Martin Luther King, Junior should certainly be applauded, we must look to two instances in which the legal channels were far more beneficial.

First, MLK orchestrated a great showing in his march from Selma to Montgomery. The spotlight shined brightly on this march. Often revered as a great act of civil disobedience, the fact is that MLK acted completely within the law. The legal channels cleared the way for him to march, and the issue rose to national prominence. No where did civil disobedience occur, so we see that it is never the only tool left in the box.

Furthermore, arguably the most significant Supreme Court case of the Civil Rights era occurred exclusively through the legal channels. Brown v. Board of Education occurred in 1954 without any civil disobedience. The issue of segregated schools rose to prominence and was properly addressed.

Quite simply, civil disobedience is never the only tool in the box in a democracy. There are always various avenues to obtain change. More often than not, these avenues are far more appropriate and capture the need for change much more than an often senseless act of breaking the law.

Sometimes it’s the only way to publicise an issue

Yes because…

Marches are a waste of time; witness the hundreds of thousands who marched fruitlessly against the war in Iraq. But people will notice someone getting arrested – especially a celebrity. We might not like the fact that this is true but we can’t deny it is so. Causes need the oxygen of publicity and one of the best ways to get that is to get someone famous arrested.

No because…

Civil disobedience can quickly turn into outright confrontation and even violence. Both Ghandi and Martin Luther King struggled to contain their followers and there aren’t very many leaders like them around.

Saying people should get arrested is tantamount to giving them free reign to do whatever they want to get publicity. And let’s not forget the term ‘oxygen of publicity was first applied to the IRA – hardly models for the civil disobedience movement.

Sometimes the law is wrong.

Yes because…

The law has been created by the controlling elites, to serve their purposes. When one has a different purpose, bringing one into conflict with the law, why would one not break it? What possible virtue is there in obedience for the sake of it?

THE KEY WORD IS CIVIL! We are not going to kill anybody when we protest and speak about a good cause! So read your facts more correctly! Thanks!

No because…

Laws are usually created for the general public. Besides, should we risk deaths just because a few people shake their heads

Understand laws before you obey them

Yes because…

Laws are a human construct: someone proposed them and implemented them for a reason and sometimes these reasons are completely unjustified. Therefore, disobedience can be justified.

No because…

Understand laws before you disobey them. Understand what they hold up. Sometimes, laws might not look like a great idea. But mostly, they actually hold up something important to the community.

Yes, but yet slightly no.

Yes because…

Civil disobedience doesn’t have to be violent; just look at Gandhi. It can be an effective way to essentially tell the government,”Hell No.”

Unfortunately however, not everyone is logical or full of common sense and sometimes the best intentioned non-violent disobedience can transform into a mob with mindless violence on their mind and foam frothing from their mouth; utter chaos out of order.

Still, even with that said, I believe orderly civil disobedience is justified. See: The Civil Rights Movement – Much of it was civil disobedience.

No because…

Your exactly right. Most of the time there will be a violent mob. Ghandi sometimes had followers who were violent and believed in the case so strongly they were violent. And without a strong leader (how many of those do you see) there will be more violence, just because someone couldn’t go through an actual proccess to get a law changed.

Practice comes before law.

Yes because…

The law tries to reflect what the society deems morally correct. But what is morally correct changes over time, and the law then has to follow suite. There is a gab in this chase, and that sometimes results in it being morally correct to break the law.

No because…

Practice comes before the law many will say. I completely agree, but as said before there are legal means of taking care of these things. But regardless, the law does try to reflect what society thinks is morally correct, and sometimes things change overtime. What may seem morally correct now doesn’t seem the way then. Completely irrelevant. Lets take something serious first, say murder. Is it wrong to murder somebody now? Absolutely. Was it wrong to murder somebody 60 years ago? Absolutely. Now lets go to something small. Back in the 50’s, it was deemed sociably acceptable to smoke at younger ages, such as 14. this was because then, we didn’t know the full extent of the harm smoking can cause you. Morals don’t change overtime, your knowledge of things do.

There is no agreement on what CD is.

Yes because…

All though people have some general ideas of what does and does not constitute civil disobedience they do not agree on specific cases. Therefore we can not even agree as to what it is that we are trying to justify or condemn. For example one definition of civil disobedience that I just read includes lawful nonviolent activities such as boycotts. A majority of people in the US say that burning the US flag is an example of trying to incite a riot or at least a fight. Yet an educated minority believe that it is an example of protected free speech. If I were to correctly say in public that soldiers of the US military are scum sucking traitorous murdering war criminals, for just saying what is true, I would be censored in the US by most people but in other lands I would be called one American who has not been fooled. If I were to send a letter to the Secret Service telling them that they will be held accountable for their treasonous actions, the US government would say that I had committed an act of psycho-terrorism. Yet I and the ACLU would say that I had simply expressed a religious prophecy protected by the 1st and yes also the second amendment to the Constitution.

Not engaging in civil disobedience no matter how you define it helps criminals maintain power behind a false idea that we should not insult someone or create strife in society. People should remember it is a criminal leadership that often times creates the strife. In other cases the strife is created by genuine disagreements as to what injustice is, such as the abortion issue.

No because…

Civil disobedience requires the outright and explicit breaking of law, breaching the contract we made with the government when we voted them into power. Law-abiding demonstrations and protests fall under the same category as lobbying, which is decidedly not civil disobedience. Rioting and other law-breaching activities which are often praised as morally upstanding and “justified” are in fact anything but. These practices infringe on the rights of other in many different and complex ways, sometimes these effects can be direct, such as destruction from rioters, and other times they can be indirect, such as ineffectual, useless, and non-controversial legislation passed in an effort to dissuade potential rioters. Even more damaging is legislation that is passed directly to appease rioters, which consequently harms those who are not demonstrating in illegal ways.

In a modern, developed state, i.e. Canada vs. Iraq, civil disobedience is a harmful shortcut that many cynics unfortunately resort to. People need to realize that civil disobedience has both short, and long term consequences. There is an abundance of acceptable paths to take in order to combat an allegedly corrupt government that need to be exhausted (which is theoretically impossible) before true civil disobedience (in the form of a coup) should morally take place.

All forms of government including democracy are flawed.

Yes because…

It has been said by those representing the no position that it is possible to correct injustices through normal channels of political conduct. While it may be possible it is often not likely. In a representative democracy the people who are elected to office do not have a clue as to why they were elected in the first place.

When the voters decide who to vote for they have to consider the the stand of each candidate on many different issues, and their chances of winning. A person may agree with candidate A on 3 issues be opposed on 7, with Candidate B agree on 5 and be opposed on 5, and with candidate C agree on 8 and be opposed on 2. This person may vote for candidate A because he is in agreement with him on the 3 most important issues. An ideological twin of this voter may vote for candidate B because they agree with her more often. Therefore the usual claims by a victor that she has a mandate to do this or that are nonsense. A candidate may claim that she pays attention to the polls of her constituents but studies have shown that the way a question is asked can determine the outcome of the answers.

Still another theory is that the people elected to an office should not be concerned with what the people of their district think today but that they should vote to do what they think is best reguardless of what the voters in their district think.

Furthermore many candidates only pretend to care about what their constituents think or what is in their best interests anyways. Studies done on game theory show that special interest groups will almost always come out the winners in the competition over government policies because for an investment of x amount of resources they can make a return of many hundreds of times their initial investment. Yet the people who represent the general welfare would go bankrupt if they tried to defeat these numerous and powerful groups. To even confront one of them is going to leave you worse off financially than if you had done nothing at all. Why because the costs of each special interest special treatment are spread over the whole society. It is these collective costs that destroy the general welfare. But if you confront one special interest you will bear most of the cost for your society. And since special interests usually win you will be charged twice.

Structural flaws as these cause those who have lost by playing by rigged rules to try to play by their own rules. Yes it is chaotic but chaos is unavoidable.

The only question is whether or not you will be personally affected by the chaos of government agents often acting on behalf of special interests or the chaos of some non-conformists trying to defend the common good. Or whether you think that it is the non-conformists who are the special interest group and it is the government defending the common good.

No because…

… but very rarely!

Yes because…

…but only in very limited circumstances.

If you think speed limits should be reduced, you should not break them as an act of civil disobedience but vote for politicians who promise to reduce them. If you want to end scientific experiments on animals, you should not commit acts of civil disobedience but vote for politicians who promise to ban them.

The flaw in this argument is that the way we elect MPs in the UK means that most people’s votes are ineffective because they live in safe constituencies and, even when they are effective, it is usually only betweeen the two leading parties in the constituency with no opportunity to choose between different candidates from the same party who may have different views on speed limits, animal experiments or whatever matters to us.

The disenfranchized black voters of South Africa were morally entitled to use civil disobedience in their campaign because democratic methods were not available to them. Oponents of the massacre of Jews by Nazis would similarly have been morally entiitled to use civil disobedience.

The present Government was elected by only 35% of the voters. Civil disobedience would be fully justifable now in the UK in favour of a more democratic voting system that resulted in more representative Parliaments and allowed us to choose between candidates of different views in the same party. Once that is achieved, civil disobedience should be less necessary and less justifiable for other causes.

No because…

Law is there to serve justice based on truth.

Yes because…

Law based on truth in itself cannot be broken, only violated. It is under all circumstances advisable not to follow any regulation of any law if it does not serve the truth. Law is to protect justice based on truth and the written codex “the law” formulated to regulate / set in order peoples conducts, who are equipped with equal freedom of choice and equal rights by their creator.

If any regulation of the “law” codex is in violation with its purpose, it is justified and even advisable not to obey or follow it.

No because…

Law based on truth in itself cannot be broken, only violated. It must be considered and obeyed under all circumstances in order to protect peoples equal freedoms of choice and equal rights, and consequently maintain justice.

french revolution

Yes because…

when the frech revalution was happening they talked at first but to get their put acrossed they had to start a war. so civil disobedience and the law can be broken

No because…

revolution? or is this a financial crisis? I dont really think it is a good example of civil disobedience rather of political conflict – which does not have to involve violence.

It sets a bad example

No because…

We can’t go around saying its okay to keep some laws and break others. The law is not a basket from which we get to pick the ones we like and ignore all the rest; that way leads to anarchy. We need to send a message that the only way to change the law is through legitimate means.

Yes because…

Sometimes we have to break an unjust law. The legislature is fallible, laws can be made for the interests of particular groups and they can become outdated. When this happens the very many people who benefit from the status quo will fight to keep it as is. In this case, there is often no alternative but to refuse to abide by a law which is morally wrong.

Laws are a basket from which we have to pick and choose because to obey unjust laws leads to anarchy just as fast as not obeying just laws.

Furthermore governments themselves often do not even obey their own laws then the population has no recourse but to resort to vigilante actions.

The debate can become overshadowed by the violence

No because…

Often the media focuses not on the civil disobedience but on the violence or lawlessness which accompanies such acts. When that happens the aims and objectives and often very good arguments get completely lost and the public, whose support is essential for change, tend to side with the status quo.

Yes because…

Whilst violence is always regrettable it is entirely possible the issue would not have got attention without it. And whilst some people will be dissuaded others are intelligent enough to look for the arguments behind the issues. Perhaps coming to a site like this to see how the other side thinks. When that happens the truth eventually emerges

Even violent CD can at times be justified especially when the government is breaking its own rules. Governments are institutions of violence. There has to be at least the threat of violence to force people to obey even just laws. The threat of violence is also the use of violence. If those threats are not sometimes carried out they will seen to be empty threats and criminals will run rampant over society. Yet often criminals capture the controls of the state. The state then wages war against society. Some people could conclude that such a situation exists in America in the early 21st Century. In such a situation if the people are not allowed to use violence to protect themselves from a morally bankrupt state it is like a conflict in which one side is waging a violent war against another side that seeks to defend itself solely by asking the criminals to cease and desist with their criminal behavior.

Civil disobedience is a form of civil war

No because…

When people engage in acts of civil disobedience they end up doing so against other members of society. The public suffers, the public pays the price. This is unacceptable.

Yes because…

It is unfortunate but sometimes we do need to act against other members of the public in order to achieve a society that is fairer for all. Civil disobedience must be non-violent and when it is so the public suffers only inconvenience. Which is surely a small price to pay to correct an injustice.

An act of civil disobedience sets a precedence of breaking the law.

No because…

If civil disobedience is used, a precedence of breaking the law in order to obtain change occurs. When this happens, any person with a personal belief in a cause can engage in civil disobedience and violate the law of the land. With the precedence firmly established, where is the line? If civil disobedience becomes an accepted form of lobbying for a law change, does the law not become useless? Does a constant cycle of law breaking with personal vindication ensue? To engage in civil disobedience is to walk on a slippery slope. The line is so unclear and so fragile that chaos and lawlessness may follow. Quite simply, to break the law in order to obtain change does nothing but create a false sense of justification for even more people to break laws in order to reach an end.

Yes because…

`We often want change. And if politicians won’t listen, sometimes the law must be broken for the greater good.

Not to engage in civil disobedience is also to walk on a slope that is just as slippery as engaging in civil disobedience.

There is no limit to the injustices that have been perpetuated by popular governments. Is that not Chaos?

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6 months ago
Reply to  Dave

Do you have any qualification