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Concept of Civil Disobedience Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 30th, 2019

Abstract

Civil disobedience is an act where people of a particular country fail to follow the laid down rules and regulations in order to force the government to give into their demands. In most cases, this kind of disobedience comes through organizing people to act in a nonviolent manner to force the government to heed to their demands. This is usually done in cases where the government takes a stand that contravenes the stand and will of the majority.

Although civil disobedience is mostly peaceful, it does not always mean that the people do not engage in activities meant to stop the government’s action. By closely examining civil disobedience, one realizes that the criteria used can make it work or fail. This research paper looks at the criteria under which civil disobedience can work and when it will fail to achieve its objective. The materials used in the research are mostly secondary sources from credible internet sites.

Introduction

Civil disobedience is an act where people of a particular country fail to follow the laid down rules and regulations in order to force the government to give into their demands. In most cases, this kind of disobedience comes through organizing people to act in a nonviolent manner to force the government to heed to their demands.

This is usually done in cases where the government takes a stand that contravenes the stand and will of the majority. Although civil disobedience is mostly peaceful, it does not always mean that the people do not engage in activities meant to stop the government’s action. By closely examining civil disobedience, one realizes that the criteria used can make it work or fail. This research paper looks at the criteria under which civil disobedience can work and when it will fail to achieve its objective. (Civilliberties.org)

The concept of civil disobedience dates back to the fourth century. In fact, Socrates ranked civil disobedience higher than civil law. Apart from Socrates, majority of Greek tragedies uphold this notion. According to Socrates and the Greek tragedies, wherever civil law is placed at the same level with civil disobedience, people are allowed to obey the higher law and disobey the lesser one.

This concept has been developed further to state that unjust laws should not be allowed to cloud the conscience of good citizens. Scholars further claimed that since the people gave authority to the government, then the government was supposed to protect the human rights of the citizens. (Faucher)

According to John Locke, the people have a right to overthrow any government that fails to provide this right. In a situation where people decide to overthrow a government that is in power, this act of civil disobedience might not bear much fruit. In history, many governments have been known to do anything to maintain their power.

If citizens result to civil disobedience to force the government out of power, this might result to violence and hence make the civil disobedience lose its essence. It therefore follows that the criteria of using civil disobedience to overthrow a government might not present the expected results. In most cases, it degenerates to violence and makes the concept of civil disobedience lose its essence. (Thoreau)

The criterion that gives civil disobedience success is the one presented by Henry David Thoreau. This scholar gave a lecture titled “On the Relation of the Individual to the State” where he highlighted his ideas concerning the subject. According to Thoreau, the government cannot exist without the people. Since this is the case, Thoreau proposes that the citizens should approve whatever authority the government wields.

Secondly, he states that a government’s role to execute justice should be given preeminence over any other law that the government sets up. This gives every citizen the right to examine if the set laws respect and uphold their rights. If the citizen in any manner finds the law to deny him/her justice, then he/she has a right to disobey that particular law. In doing this, the citizen should be prepared to face the repercussions of breaking that particular law.

According to Thoreau, the citizen is supposed to do so without any acts of violence. Since the person disobeying this law is ready for any punitive measures, it makes this act of civil disobedience a workable one. This is much easier and workable than a situation where people are called upon to overthrow a government. (Thoreau)

Thoreau put this concept into practice when he refused to obey a law, which legalized slavery. Another law that he refused to obey was the one that legalized the Mexican War that lasted from 1846-1848. Because of his actions, he was forced to spend one night in a prison cell.

Thoreau’s concept of civil disobedience was also proved workable by great figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, King encouraged black Americans clergy to rise and deal with the segregation laws but do so in a nonviolent manner.

This encouragement from King led to the changing of many laws that were viewed as unjust toward the African Americans. This also led to the acceptance of civil disobedience among political circles. This just shows that the concept of using civil disobedience to fight unjust laws as outlined by Henry Thoreau is capable of producing results. This is unlike the Greeks formula of civil disobedience that allows people to overthrow a government that they feel is not providing for their rights. (Pine)

Conclusion

The concept of civil disobedience is an olden policy that calls for the use of nonviolence by citizens to make their demands to be heard by the government. Depending on how it is applied, the concept can give results or fail to be effective. The situation where people are called to overthrow a government that fails to protect its rights might degenerate into violence and therefore fail the concept of civil violence.

However, the concept outlined by Thoreau that calls people to disobey laws that they feel are unjust has been found to bring about positive results.

Works Cited

Civil Disobedience. Civil Disobedience Movement, 2010. Web.

Faucher, H. What is the Meaning of Civil Disobedience? 2010. Web.

Pine, C. 2010. Web.

Thoreau, H. Civil Disobedience. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, 2002. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Concept of Civil Disobedience." October 30, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/civil-disobedience-2/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Concept of Civil Disobedience'. 30 October.

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