Last modified on October 17, 2020, at 12:29

Civil disobedience

Civil disobedience is refusal to obey the law deliberately and publicly.

The phrase and the concept were popularized by Henry David Thoreau's famous essay, Civil Disobedience.

In the 1960s, it was common for defenders of those African Americans who openly defied the law to appeal to the concept of civil disobedience. The Bible commands civil disobedience when obedience to the state would require disobedience to God, as in Daniel 6, where Daniel refuses to obey the king's order to worship the king instead of God. Needless to say, the African Americans who were breaking the law in the 1960s were not demanding the right to worship God; they were breaking the law for other, nefarious, purposes, and then seeking post hoc scriptural justifications for their lawlessness. The Bible commands that rulers be obeyed in circumstances other than those of Daniel 6. See, e.g., Romans 13:1; Peter 2:13.

Ideas of Henry Thoreau

Thoreau emphasized non-conformity and rebelling against society. He wrote in Civil Disobedience that we cannot lie to ourselves. We must be whoever we are, regardless of ours flaws and personality. He said we shouldn't conform to society's standards, we are all individual.

The second message of Civil Disobedience is rebelling against the government. Thoreau argued against the usefulness and moral legitimacy of a standing government. He says that if a person's conscience and the law conflict, the person should obey his own conscience. You don't have to change the law yourself, just don't obey it. That's a revolution by itself. The pinnacle of Civil Disobedience is that if a law "requires you to be an agent of injustice, then I say, break the law."

Ideas of Mahatma Gandhi

  • In South Africa Gandhi worked to improve living conditions for the Indian minority. This work, which was especially directed against increasingly racist legislation, made him develop a strong Indian and religious commitment, and a will to self-sacrifice. With a great deal of success he introduced a method of non-violence in the Indian struggle for basic human rights. The method, satyagraha – "truth force" – was highly idealistic; without rejecting the rule of law as a principle, the Indians should break those laws which were unreasonable or suppressive. Each individual would have to accept punishment for having violated the law. However, he should, calmly, yet with determination, reject the legitimacy of the law in question. This would, hopefully, make the adversaries – first the South African authorities, later the British in India – recognize the unlawfulness of their legislation.[1]