civil disobedience thesis - paftan

Legal Protest: The obvious difference between legal protestand civil disobedience is that the former lies within the bounds of thelaw, but the latter does not. Most of the other features exemplified incivil disobedience can be found in legal protest including aconscientious and communicative demonstration of protest, a desire tobring about through moral dialogue some lasting change in policy orprinciple, an attempt to educate and to raise awareness, and so on. Thedifference in legality translates into a more significant, moraldifference when placed against the backdrop of a general moralobligation to follow the law. If it is morally wrong to breach the law,then special justification is required for civil disobedience which isnot required for legal protest. However, the political regime in whichobedience is demanded may be relevant here. David Lyons maintains thatthe Jim Crow laws (racial segregation laws in force in the southern USuntil 1964), British colonial rule in India, and chattel slavery inantebellum America offer three refutations of the view that civildisobedience requires moral justification in morally objectionableregimes. According to Lyons, there can be no moral presumption infavour of obedience to the law in such regimes, and therefore no moraljustification is required for civil disobedience. ‘Insofar ascivil disobedience theory assumes that political resistance requiresmoral justification even in settings that are morally comparable to JimCrow,’ says Lyons, ‘it is premised on serious moralerror.’ (Lyons, 1998, 39). If one takes the view that there is nogeneral moral obligation to follow the law (irrespective of regime),then both adherence to the law and breach of law must be judged not ontheir legality, but on their character and consequences. And this wouldmean that, even in morally reprehensible regimes, justification may bedemanded for civil disobedience that either has significant negativeconsequences or falls below certain moral standards.

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Personally, there are definitely principles for which I would consider civil disobedience, although I would want, like King and the civil rights movement activists, to practice this form of resistance not just individually, but in community. I could see myself engaging in civil disobedience in an effort to bring greater attention to serious : the persistence and pervasiveness of poverty and the war are two problems that come to mind immediately. In my opinion, however, I see less of an enthusiasm for civil disobedience today than in this readings from the past, which causes me to wonder whether civil disobedience remains effective as an instrument for social and political change. There are some contemporary examples of civil disobedience that are incredibly inspiring, including the actions of Cindy Sheehan in her one-woman protests against the War in Iraq, but I do not see the kind of widespread support for civil disobedience that there was at one time in this country’s history.

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Another condition for civil disobedience to be justified, accordingto Rawls, is that disobedients coordinate with other minorities. Sinceminority groups are equally justified in resorting to civildisobedience when they have sufficiently weighty objections, thesegroups should avoid undermining each others' efforts throughsimultaneous appeals to the attention of society and government. Somecoordination of activities is required, says Rawls, to regulate theoverall level of dissent (Rawls, 1971, 374–5). While there is somemerit to this condition, civil disobedience that does not meet it mightstill be justifiable. In some cases, there will be no time oropportunity to coordinate with other minorities. And in other cases,other minority groups may be unable or unwilling to coordinate. It isan open question then whether the refusal or inability of other groupsto cooperate should affect the ultimate defensibility of aperson's decision to engage in civil disobedience.