Letters to the Editor

The importance of civil disobedience

Seeing as history has been developed under various mindsets, it’s evident that laws carry different weight throughout the world. From the socialism of Canada to the communism of China, entire governing bodies of people operate in different fashions. However, one trait remains the same worldwide: there is never 100% compliance to laws. From peaceful demonstrations to violent revolutions, disobedience is a common human occurrence. The philosophical principles of Henry David Thoreau promote the idea that disobedience promotes changes in society. Although characterized as unnecessary in some regards, disobedience behooves society because of the pressure it creates on governments and the social awareness that is brought about.

The fact of the matter is that when a large group of people bring attention to a cause, people are forced to listen. Especially in democratic societies where the role of the government is to institute the wishes of the people. In this sense, disobedience creates intrinsic pressure that forces policies to change. This was the case in Birmingham, Alabama, where thousands of Black protesters peacefully demanded respect during America’s Civil Rights Movement. Through this, the United States government was forced to reconsider its policies. Black social leaders pushed for equality and an end to unjust segregation laws. Applying pressure to the government, they created a national movement that sparked an era of Civil Rights progression. However, as with all concepts in life, this disobedience had its critics. White clergymen were perplexed at the idea of civilly disrupting the means of government. The argument against disobedience for centuries has been this thinking of “why not wait for change to be made?” However, what these critics fail to consider is the fact that social progress has never been historically made on the waiting time of the oppressors. As Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently stated in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, it is completely illogical to suggest that people should comply with “unjust laws”. He states the differences between a just law and an unjust law, citing human morals as the highest legal standard. Furthermore, Dr. King demonstrates this public need for disobedience. In order to make long-lasting change, people have to demand it.

This intrinsic pressure from the government also benefits society through social awareness. Sometimes in history, entire movements have been pioneered by people who disobey the government with the intention of restoring social order. This was the case during the Montgomery bus boycotts during the Civil Rights era. When Black people made the conscious decision to disobey the societal norms of America, they raised awareness about the deeply segregated South. This further exemplifies the societal need for disobedience. Sometimes, the kairotic moment of disobedience creates an amazing platform for underrepresented communities. Additionally, it can be seen through philosophy that acts of disobedience serve great moral functions. As previously mentioned, philosopher Henry David Thoreau advocated for civil disobedience to disrupt illogical policies. He even spent a night in jail for refusing to pay his taxes, which he believed to be unnecessary at the time. However, one of the most crucial components of Thoreau’s philosophy is where he states that anyone who actively chooses to disobey society must openly accept his consequences. This further negates the potential rebuttals to the inherently moral philosophy of disobedience. As people put pressure on society to listen to their struggles, they actively uphold the structure of government altogether, in the most moral regard.

Through unexpected measures is how society truly determines its ability to uphold moral authenticity. Disobedience fully exemplifies this moral dignity by enacting change and creating societal tension. When people adhere to sociopolitical standards, they often are put in the same category as those who don’t hold their same beliefs. However, when members of society possess the ability to so audaciously challenge societal customs, long-lasting progress is made.

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