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The Problem of Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience has appeared to be the problem since the democratic form of government arouse in society. Authoritarianism, monarchy, and tyranny are types of government, which took place in the history, did not give any chance for disobedience. Civil disobedience is the opposite notion to the morality and duty in society. Government is created to maintain order in society, but there are people who are not satisfied with the rules implemented and try to avoid the law, which lines them in the category of civil disobedience.

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Considering civil disobedience we may define that “it falls between legal protest and raising of test cases on the one side and conscientious refusal and the various forms of resistance on the other” (Rawls, 2005, p. 367). Citizens of the country should follow the constitution of their country, they should be ruled by the laws of that country, and do their duty in reference to that country. Those people who do not want to follow all these rules should be punished.

Rawls (2005) defines civil disobedience as “a public, nonviolent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law of policies of the government” (p.364). Morreal disagrees with this notion in the part of nonviolence of civil disobedience and offers his classification of it.

On the ground that the civil disobedience may be of different nature, Morreal (2002) distinguishes between violent and nonviolent civil disobedience. Focusing more on violent disobedience Morreal (2002) just notices that nonviolent civil disobedience may de considered as justifiable. The examples of nonviolent disobedience which he presents in his article are illegal boycotts, sit-ins, illegal blocking of automobile or rail traffic. Considering the named problems in details, it is possible to find the reasons for such behavior and to justify it (Morreal, 2002).

Morreal (2002) agrees with the Bedau’s examples of violent civil disobedience, such as street fighting, property destroying, inciting to riot, sabotage, endangering life and limb, assassination, and many other situations. Ii is possible to disagree with Morreal’s position that violent civil disobedience may be defined as justifiable one.

The problem of civil disobedience appears when “individuals decide that morality requires them to disobey the law” (Garth & Sarat, 1998, p. 226). What does it mean? Every person has his/her own moral rules, according to which personal behavior is structured. Government also imparts some rules on people in order to provide some order in society. There are situations, when person’s intentions are forbidden by law. In this case the person decides whether to follow the law or ignore it. The government’s ideology plays an important role in this situation. People who live in society with strong ideology are more inclined to obey the law.

There are situations when person’s ideology does not correspond to the government’s one. If it should happen that personal morality is on the low level, the person feels free for moral disobedience. People, without the feeling of duty before their country, and people, who received bad upbringing and who have no moral rules, more frequently commit the cases of civil disobedience, as their consciousness does not know the difference between good and bad actions.

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Focusing on the civil injustice from the philosophical perspective, Rawls (2005) dwells upon the “sense of justice” (p. 367), what usually becomes the reason for civil disobedience. The consideration on philosophical perspective is impossible without understanding the social justice. The question, “Why do people commit civil disobedience?” is purely philosophical. People commit civil disobedience when they disagree with some processes, which occur in the society. Let us take the example of elections. There is constitutional obligation: citizens must vote. Under the circumstances in which person does not see the deserving candidate, he/she thinks that there is no any reason to go to the elections.

The problem of justice appears in close interconnection with civil disobedience. When person disagree with some processes which appear in the society, he/she tries to protest by means of civil disobedience. The problem of philosophical understanding of civil disobedience lies in the fact that every concept may be understood as a justified one. Joseph Raz (2001) offers the example of Soviet Union when people had the right to express their thoughts but this right was very limited. Every extra word in the direction of the leaders and the disagreement with the Communist Party was regarded as civil disobedience, but was it really fair? No, people just expressed their thoughts, they had the right to think and to speak and the limitation of it was illegal, as the person did not commit any disobedience.

The modern world is also full of different rules, the breaking of which is considered as civil disobedience in one country and as a common state of affairs in the other. The ideology has a very strong influence on the consideration of the question which action should be regarded as civil disobedience and which not. The ideology of the state provides some limitation to the freedom. The stricter is the ideology of the country, the more actions are considered as civil disobedience. People’s behavior is not always moral, and morality is the main restraint in people’s actions.

So, to consider whether the action was civil disobedience or not, it is crucial to consider this action from the point of view of justice and morality. Very often state government considers actions to be civil disobedience without taking into consideration that it was justice action and right from the point of view of morality. Government focuses on law while such decisions making and people first treat the action of the point of view of justice. The named above example of illegal blocking of automobile or rail traffic (Morreal, 2002) could happen to civil disobedience on the one hand, as it is illegal and therefore is forbidden by law. On the other hand it can be regarded as justified, if people’s troubles are not heard and they have nothing to do, but to go in the streets, to block the traffic and in such a way to attract government’s attention to the problem, which puts people to inconvenience.

Before regarding this or that action as civil disobedience, it should be considered very carefully. It is impossible to deny that some actions cannot be named as justice, but the there are a lot of situations when it is possible to justify the others. Law is taken as a starting point for solving all actions, as law was designed taking into consideration ethics, state ideology and moral duties of people.

People posses some sorts of liberties, which are “limited in a liberal, ruling class democracy” (Quinney & Shelden, 2001, p. 145). Focusing on civil rights, civil disobedience is coordinated by the ruling class and ideology they implement while their ruling. “The idea of civil disobedience presupposes the concept of legality” (Quinney & Shelden, 2001, p. 145). It is our confidence that ideology of the country should be accounted to its law, which, in its turn, should be accountable to the morality. The system of state laws must be honored and followed, no matter whether the decision is considered as justice or not. Those people who provide civil disobedience violate the law and must be punished, of the point of view of Quinney and Shelden (2001), and it is also my strict consideration.

So, civil disobedience may be both law violation and justice implementation. Different scholars have different opinions about the concept. Every case of the civil violation should be considered separately, and it is not the reason for violence allowing, but still there are situations when people have to make that violation as other methods do not help. Civil disobedience is subordinated to the law, which is morally structured, however there are still some cases when civil disobedience is dictated by justice. Civil disobedience may be of different nature: violent (which is impossible to justify) and nonviolent, which always has its justice explanation. Civil disobedience should be always considered from the philosophical point of view and should be supported by the state ideology which comprises the moral duties of citizens. The law is provided with the purpose of reducing civil disobedience, therefore citizens of the country should obey it without any restrictions.

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Reference List

  1. Garth, B. G. & Sarat, A. (1998). Justice and power in sociolegal studies. Northwestern University Press.
  2. Morreal, F. (2002) “The Justifiability of Violent Civil Disobedience”. In Civil Disobedience in Focus by Hugo Bedau. Routledge.
  3. Quinney, R. & Shelden, R. G. (2001) Critique of legal order: crime control in capitalist society. Transaction Publishers.
  4. Rawls, J. (2005). A theory of justice. Harvard University Press.
  5. Raz, J. (2001). “Civil Disobedience” in Civil disobedience in focus by Hugo Adam Bedau. CUP Archive

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