Monday, March 17, 2008

Civil Disobedience, or Law and Structure

The essential question raised by today's question is simple:

"Should you disobey laws you are morally opposed to, or by disobeying those laws do you destroy the state/country/nation in which you live?"

Thoreau made it simple: if you morally oppose a law, you are justified in breaking it. You do more damage to yourself and your conscience by perpetuating an unjust system and an unjust law.

This, of course, is a result of the fact that law, by the 1800s, begins to reflect a series of rights instead of a series of rules. Thanks to the Enlightenment (which built off the great steps forward that occurred throughout the ancient world), the fundamental manner in which people conceived of the law changed. No longer a series of rules that would simply insure survival and/or benefit the ruling person or group, law was thereafter a set of rights common amongst all people living in that society.

Of course, as said in class today, this opens up a number of other dilemmas with which the modern world has to deal. Thoreau raises a very important issue, that is, if the law is open to ratification by all citizens, and citizens seemingly have the power to create law, what happens when one of those citizens feels the law is wrong, and is s/he justified in breaking that law?

So, what are your thoughts about Civil Disobedience? Are you more Thoreauian or Socratesian? (Yes, I made up both those words)


Rafael said...

Just a thought, It seems like our country has kind of conformed to a social norm of Socratism. Although there is still a lot of disgust and opposition to our system of rights, there haven't been many cases of civil defiance since the Civil Rights Movement. I think our rights have evolved enough to the point where we don't have to resort to violence or even break laws to make them. When somebody encounters a law that truly contradicts his/her conscience, the most s/he will do is send a letter to his/her alderman, or even in extreme cases, start a protest with other followers. Anybody who goes out says they're a Thoreausian is a poser, unless they break laws by principle ,not just for the hell of it.

Even the KKK, white supremests that want to abolish ammendment 18, don't go out and enslave people because they believe in it. They know that the Civil War is over and slavery has become pretty much universally immoral.The KKK are the most pathetic Thoreausians because they see the futility in what they do and do it anyway. (Traffic, anyone?)

Our collective morality and natural law has advanced enough that laws and rights no longer have to be disputed on a national level to maintain peace

Josh "cary's dad is a beast" milgrom said...

I think that civil disobedience is one of two ways you can really go when it comes to following laws. Civil disobedience talks of breaking the law if it goes against your morals. This is what Thoreau believed in and what he did in the sense of not ppaying the poll tax because he believed that it went against his morals because the poll tax was going to support slavery which Thoreau was against.

Now the other way youy can go when dealing with a law that goes against your morals is to suck it up and just follow it as Socrates did. He had the chance to easily break out of jail, but he chose not to because even though he disagreed with the current law and decision for his exectution, he decided to follow them in order to set a good example for the rest of society. If he had indeed brokent he law and escaped from jail, than there is no telling what could happen to the Greek society. It could have easily ddestroyed greek society as people who followed Socrates would see him breaking the law because he found it immoral, and that would give everyone else an excuse to break the law becuase they found it immoral. Socrates would feel that this would ruin Greek society and basically end it. So it can be seen that Socrates and thoreau both had their different views based on this topic of obeying laws based on one's morality.

Cole"Josh lets hope jason comments" Slaw said...

Josh, I completely agree with you. people underestimate the two sides presented. If you are actually fighting for a purpose that goes against your morals in a bigger standers such as civil rights for African Americans or slavery being dibolished that is the right time to go against the law. You should fight for what your morals are right in extreme cases. It was right for one to be put in jail for the freedom of slave because those start to deal with human rights, and human rights morals. Therefore you start to have this situation where you are like, help this bad cause or stand out and try and fix it. thats when i believe "Thoreauism" should be correctly applied. However, when people see the smaller issues that are minor, they shouldn't just go around and say o this is against my morals so i should disobay the law when it is minor. Thats when "Thoreauism" is applied incorrectly. You might as well pay it if it is small, or if you really want to fight for something small then go to jail but it is not necessary. For instance like take a small issue like littering, you get a ticket for littering and you don't want to pay it because your morals say you know what the garbage men would sweep it up anyway and so i am not paying it. Well, just be mature and pay the ticket, don't go to court or aviod the ticket and spend time in jail, because you know you are not making a statement, and nothing will be amended in the future and you will be continued to be thrown in jail, that is when it is appliad incorrectly.

Now to cary's point. i agree, that there could be racist that take the theory of "Thoreauism" to the max like the KKK. However, slavery and not giving African Americans human rights was wrong and unmoral... You can not use "Thoreauism" and try to fight for something that is unmoral and go against the law... The idea is to fight for something that is moral and just, so i think those are extreme cases, which could happen, but "Thoreauism" Is applied incorrectly. But then again it could really help like i said before fighting for human rights for slaves or civil rights, then "Thoreauism" Is used correctly, and you where actually fighting for something that is just and moral.

PS. I put Thoreauism in " " because i wasn't sure if it was a word or not

Cydney H. said...

Yes, if you think that somthing is morally wrong, such as slavery, you should definately go against it and try to protest. Thoreau did this by going to jail, and even though it might not have seemed like alot, it was brave of him. However, I think you always must ask yourself the question, does the ends justify the means? If you are taking a huge risk in protesting somthing and risking harsh consequences, what you are protesting must be pretty bad. If you are doing this all to stop, lets say, high gas prices that pretty worthless.
I do agree with Thoreau only to an extent.

aon hasnain said...

Josh basically summed up what civil disobedience is so i wll just say something. Josh said that civil disobedience is when you break laws because they go against your moral beliefs. Many people in society have gone on this path like Rosa Parks during the civil rights movement when she did not give up her seat on the bus when a white man boarded. THis was going against the rules, but she felt that these segregation laws were immoral and did not better society in any way. She did go to jail because of this because she broke one of the major laws of Alabama at the time, but it was worth it because she got her voice heard by millions of people across America. Even today, i am sure there are laws which people feel are immoral and take a stand, thus risking going to jail. NOw, going to jail is the big reason why most people choose to suck it up(cited from josh milgrom) and live life because you do not want to go to jail. This was just an elaboration and an example of civil disobedience. Josh carys dad is a beast did the rest.

Michael Dumas said...

I whole heartily agree with Th.

He is not arguing that any disagreement you have with the law because of preference is a valid reason for disobeying it.Th. is stating that is something you find seriously wrong within the law you are obligated to stand against it. Only when we over analyze his work do we see him as a man who promotes anarchy and lawlessness. He solely is concerned with the publics submission to laws which violate their conscience. He is not saying that if you stop at a red light and you want to go you should go .

Some. argue that Th. should have obeyed the law or fought to change it. He did fight as best he could to change it. If you look at any major change in law or society it is not the direct result of merely one person. It takes numbers to change the mind of the people especially in a democracy or semi-democratic government such as ourselves. Th. did not have a vast amount of supporters. Many thought he was a nuisance and regarded his political beliefs and action as anarchy and insanity. He wrote his argument not to himself or a few group of friends which thought the same way that he did but he published it to an even larger part of society that did not think in the way he thought nor had excepting feelings towards his views. He published this work despite that and by writing and publishing something to an audience in-order to change their minds especially in the format of the essay, which is what civil disobedience is written in. Not only does the essay attempt to change the mind of the reader but to prove the statement (thesis) that the author is partisan to. YOU CANNOT SAY that Th. only broke the law and was pathetic because he did not fight to change it. The first step in change in a Democracy or revolution, the birth of our nation is by changing the minds of the people. Th. attempted to change the minds of the people and was unsuccessful for the most part.

No one wants to hear this analogy but it is true. If we blindly follow the law whether we agree with it or find it morally wrong we will merely endure the same consequences that were endured in Europe during WWII. Germany had many people where opposed the NAZI regime but the majority of people submitted to the leadership and laws of the NAZI party for the betterment of the entire nation. The German People had the choice to either submit to the NAZI rule and allow the decimation of not only Jews but millions of other people including gypsies, nuns, priests, Poles, Germans, and so on OR they could endure the hardship of potentially starving because of the fledgling german economy or be put to death for opposing the party when the nation became more powerful. Jews only maid up 1% of the population of Germany then and would on rather die for 1% of the population or have the nation improve as a whole by its brutal conquering of other nations resulting in the betterment of the clear majority of the nation.

Th. would argue that you are morally obligated to stand out against this because of its clear evil. MAny say that this is out of the question to oppose the NAZIs. Saint Franz Jaegerstaetter was one who did and suffered the mortal consequences. He was born in Austria and was a deeply religious man. THe NAZIs annexed and Franz said after the pastor consulted with him "The pastor officially advised
Franz to vote "yes" to the German annexation of Austria; but Franz

responded "Father, I respect and love you as a priest of God, but my

conscience will not let me vote Yes" (Hanley; 1983" When the NAZIs took over Austria he was ordered to join the army. He refused. He saw the NAZIs as pagan and evil. Especially when they Hailed Hitler instead of God. He was Ordered to Join the army and refused. Because of his refusal he would be killed and his ashes would be sent to his family.

Many say this is extreme but when the members of society have a mindset that submitting to injustice for the betterment of the nation the consequence become higher. The agreement to unjust laws erodes the conscience of the people and with the continually erodement of the people they will eventually have a severely damaged conscience. With out a conscience how can one stand up against Life or Death laws of injustice. We can not afford to ignore our conscience when we know something is wrong. People without a conscience lead to an immoral society and that leads to an immoral government which will produce dangerous and severe consequences.

For the sake of others, our own humanity, and our own salvation we must always listen to our conscience and when something is blatantly wrong we must oppose it.

Rafael said...

Profound dumas, I fully agree.
Germans HAD to blindly follow laws, just to live. The factor of consent of non-existent, Germans had no choice whether to support or oppose the Nazi regime. If anybody said, "F-this, I don't want to help you fascists," they would be executed. The only chance of survival was to help the Nazis. I can assume that many Germans opposed the Nazi's sadistic ideals, but there was no way to stand up in what you believed in because it was join or die. Germans were confined to two simple choices:

-Abide, serve and contribute to the Nazis by some way possible to get by.
-Oppose, execution or Auschwitz

Sometimes we have the choice whether to kill our conscience or kill ourselves.

Coleslaw said...

carry i like the quote

andres said...

i totally agree

andress said...

umm, I'd like to expand on my last comment. I think is has to do a helluva lot with laziness. I don't think most people choose to be Socratirian or whatever the term, but they are anyway. I figure that a lot of people complain and say that they oppose something. I don't think the question is do you oppose this or that, I think that the question should be what are you doing to change it. One example could be "Oh, I don't like Bush." Well, what are you going to do about it? Just because you oppose something doesn't mean you are like Thoreau in any way. If you oppose something, and you do something about it, then you are like Thoreau. There's a huge difference between what you do and what you think. In conclusion, people would say they are against something rather than trying to do something about it.


ps. i know i got kinda late on the conversation

DOUBLE ps. does anyone else see Socrates and Thoreau as kind of selfish??

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