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Civil Disobedience

From the Boston Tea Party to Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March, and from suffragists’ illegally casting their ballots to whites-only lunch counter sit-ins, civil disobedience has often played a crucial role in bending the proverbial arc of the moral universe toward justice. But what, if anything, do these acts, and countless others which we refer to as civil disobedience have in common? What distinguishes them from other forms of conscientious and political action?

On the most widely accepted account, civil disobedience is a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies (Rawls 1999, 320). On this account, people who engage in civil disobedience operate at the boundary of fidelity to law, have general respect for their regime, and are willing to accept the legal consequences of their actions, as evidence of their fidelity to the rule of law. Civil disobedience, given its place at the boundary of fidelity to law, is said on this view to fall between legal protest, on the one hand, and conscientious refusal, uncivil disobedience, militant protest, organized forcible resistance, and revolutionary action, on the other hand.

This picture of civil disobedience, and the broader accounts offered in response, will be examined in the first section of this entry, which considers conceptual issues. The second section contrasts civil disobedience, broadly, with other types of protest. The third focuses on the justification of civil disobedience, examining upstream why civil disobedience needs to be justified, and downstream what is its value and role in society. The fourth examines states’ appropriate responses to civil disobedience.

1.1 Principled Disobedience

1.2.1 communication, 1.2.2 publicity, 1.2.3 non-violence, 1.2.4 non-evasion, 1.2.5 decorum, 1.3 fidelity to law, 2.1 legal protest, 2.2 rule departures, 2.3 conscientious objection, 2.4 immigration disobedience.

  • 2.5 Digital Disobedience
  • 2.6 Uncivil Disobedience

2.7 Revolutionary Action

3.1 the problem of disobedience, 3.2 justificatory conditions, 4.1 punishing civil disobedience, 4.2 a right to civil disobedience, 4.3 accommodating civil disobedience, 5. conclusion, acknowledgments, other internet resources, related entries, 1. features of civil disobedience.

Henry David Thoreau is widely credited with coining the term civil disobedience . For years, Thoreau refused to pay his state poll tax as a protest against the institution of slavery, the extermination of Native Americans, and the war against Mexico. When a Concord, Massachusetts, constable named Sam Staples asked Thoreau to pay his back taxes in 1846 and Thoreau refused, Staples escorted him to jail. In a public lecture that Thoreau gave twice in 1848, he justified his tax refusal as a way to withdraw cooperation with the government and he called on his fellow townspeople to do the same. Thoreau’s lecture, titled “The Rights and Duties of the Individual in relation to Government,” formed the basis of his 1849 essay, “Resistance to Civil Government.” In 1866, four years after Thoreau’s death, the essay was republished under the title “Civil Disobedience.” Some scholars believe the new title was provided by Thoreau’s sister Sophia, his sole literary executor and sole editor of his posthumous edited works (Fedorko 2016). But others have provided evidence for Thoreau’s authority over the edits in the 1866 text (Dawson 2007).

Whereas Thoreau understood the “civil” in civil disobedience to characterize the political relations between civilian subjects and their civil government, today most scholars and activists understand the “civil” to relate to civility – a kind of self-restraint necessary for concord under conditions of pluralism. The next sub-sections review central features of civil disobedience.

Lawbreaking : First, for an act to be civilly disobedient, it must involve some breach of law. In democratic societies, civil disobedience as such is not a crime. When an agent who engages in civil disobedience is punished by the law, it is not for “civil disobedience,” but for the recognized offenses she commits, such as disturbing the peace, trespassing, damaging property, picketing, violating official injunctions, intimidation, and so on.

When civil disobedients directly break the law that they oppose – such as Rosa Parks violating the Montgomery, Alabama, city ordinance requiring African Americans to sit at the back of public buses and give up those seats to white riders if the front of the bus filled up – they engage in direct civil disobedience. By contrast, when disobedients break a law which, other things being equal, they do not oppose, in order to demonstrate their protest against another law or policy – such as anti-war protesters staging sit-ins in government buildings – they engage in indirect civil disobedience. The distinction between direct and indirect civil disobedience is mainly relevant to the possibility of mounting constitutional test cases, since one cannot test the constitutionality of a law in court without actually breaching it. Although some scholars argue that direct civil disobedience is preferable to its indirect counterpart because it is most clearly legible as an act of protest against the law breached (C. Cohen 1966, 4–5), most scholars maintain the acceptability of indirect disobedience given that not all unjust laws or policies can be disobeyed directly (M. Cohen 1970, 109–110; Rawls 1999, 320; Brownlee 2012, 19–20). For instance, a same-sex couple living in a jurisdiction that forbids same-sex marriage cannot get married in violation of the law. Black Lives Matter activists cannot directly disobey police brutality, stop-and-frisk policing, or the acquittal of police officers who killed unarmed Blacks. Also, even when a person can engage in direct disobedience of a law, doing so may be unduly burdensome, such as when the punishment for the breach would be extreme.

Principledness : An act of lawbreaking must be deliberate, principled, and conscientious, if it is to be civil and, hence, distinguishable from ordinary criminal offenses. Civil disobedience cannot be unintentional (say, done in ignorance of the fact that one is violating the law): it must be undertaken deliberately. Principled disobedience can be distinguished from ordinary criminal offending by examining the motives that underlie the disobedient act. The person must intend to protest laws, policies, institutions, or practices that she believes are unjust on the basis of her sincerely held moral or political commitments. The agent may not be correct or even entirely reasonable about her convictions, but she holds them sincerely. In these ways, principled disobedience is distinct from garden-variety criminal activity, which is generally self-interested and selfish, opportunistic and unprincipled.

Conscientiousness : The deliberate and principled features of civil disobedience are often brought together under the umbrella of conscientiousness and equated with seriousness, sincerity, depth of conviction, and selflessness – again, in order to contrast civil disobedience with criminal lawbreaking. In response, some scholars highlight the pervasiveness of self-interested civil disobedience – of the ‘not in my backyard’ variety (e.g., people protesting against a new highway passing through their neighborhood) – as a challenge to the supposed conscientiousness of all civil disobedience (Celikates 2016, 38). Others insist that civil disobedience need not be selfless: oppressed groups indeed have a lot to gain from their anti-oppression struggles, including better life prospects, improved material conditions, and heightened self-respect (Delmas 2019, 183–4). And, unsurprisingly, many of the most famous civil disobedients – Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela – were members of the groups whose rights they sought to champion. But conscientiousness – understood as sincerity and seriousness – does not require selflessness, and ordinary crime should not be equated with selfishness, as the example of Robin Hood illustrates. That said, some thinkers also challenge the requirement of seriousness by regarding, for example, the DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks undertaken by Anonymous, such as Operation: Avenge Assange , as acts of civil disobedience, despite their ‘lulz-seeking’, playful and non-serious motivations (Celikates and de Zeeuw 2016, 211–3).

1.2 Civility

What makes an act of disobedience civil ? Scholars commonly consider all or some of the five features below to define civil disobedience.

Typically, a person who commits an offense has no wish to communicate with her government or society. This is evinced by the fact that usually such a person does not intend to make it known that she has offended. In contrast, civil disobedience is understood as a communicative act – a kind of symbolic speech, which aims to convey a message to a certain audience, such as the government and public. Civil disobedients are thought to contribute arguments to the public sphere. Typically, their message is a call for reform or redress; and their audience is the majority. Civil disobedience is variously described as an act by which “one addresses the sense of justice of the majority of the community” (Rawls 1999, 320), as “a plea for reconsideration” (Singer 1973, 84–92), and as a “symbolic… appeal to the capacity for reason and sense of justice of the majority” (Habermas 1985, 99). Even when scholars expand the central criteria for civil disobedience, they agree that civil disobedience is essentially communicative. In comparison, other types of principled disobedience are not necessarily communicative. For instance, animal rescue primarily seeks to relieve the suffering of the rescued animals; the tactic of environmental sabotage known as ‘tree-spiking’ primarily seeks to prevent or stall the cutting down of trees (Delmas 2018a, 44–45). Both types of action can of course be understood in terms of their messages, too, but communicating such a message is not their primary aim in each case.

On many accounts, civil disobedience must be not only communicative, but also public in a specific way. Publicity may designate different features: (i) the openness of the act, (ii) non-anonymity of the agent, (iii) advance warning of planned action, (iv) responsibility-taking for the action, or (v) an appeal based in publicly shared principles of justice. The first four requirements may be classified together under the umbrella of publicity-as-visibility , while the fifth can be dubbed publicity-as-appeal . Since the latter requirement matters mainly for the justification of civil disobedience, it is discussed below (§3.2). That said, Rawls (1999, 321), for one, clarifies the publicity of civil disobedience by describing it as a “political act,” to wit, “an act guided and justified by political principles, that is, by the principles of justice which regulate the constitution and social institutions generally,” thereby suggesting that publicity-as-appeal is in fact part of the definition of civil disobedience.

Rawls and Hugo Bedau (1961, 655), on whom Rawls relies, defend all of the features of publicity-as-visibility, arguing that civil disobedience could never be covert or secretive but could only ever be committed in public, openly, and with advance warning to authorities (per (i)–(iii); and additionally that it involves responsibility-taking (iv). The thought is that publicity is crucial to the civil disobedient’s communicative aims and that any violation of these features of publicity would obscure or muddy the nature of civil disobedience as a communicative act. Critics have rejected the requirement to give advance warning as a defining criterion of civil disobedience. If a person publicizes her intention to breach the law, by giving advance notice about it, then she provides legal authorities with the opportunity to abort her action (Dworkin 1985, 115; Smart 1991, 206–7). For instance, anti-nuclear activists who advertise their planned trespass on military property would simply be prevented from executing their action. In this case, not giving advance warning is necessary to accomplish the communicative act.

Some theorists have also denied the first two publicity requirements above that civil disobedients need to act openly and non-anonymously. Some argue that publicity is compatible with covertness and anonymity, so long as agents claim responsibility for their actions after the fact (Greenawalt 1987, 239; Brownlee 2012, 160; Scheuerman 2018, 43–5). For instance, Edward Snowden’s leaks of classified information about the National Security Agency (NSA)’s massive surveillance programs constitute acts of civil disobedience in this view because, although Snowden obtained and leaked the documents covertly, he eventually claimed responsibility and sought to publicly justify his actions (Scheuerman 2014, 617–21; Brownlee 2016, 966). In this view, the only publicity requirement is (iv) that agents take self-identifying responsibility for their actions after the fact. The other requirements of publicity-as-visibility – openness, non-anonymity, and advance warning – can in fact detract from or undermine the attempt to communicate through civil disobedience and are therefore not necessary to identify civil disobedience. Given, however, that there is often widespread reluctance to regard as “civil” covert and anonymous acts of disobedience such as assistance to undocumented migrants or anonymous hacktivism, other thinkers accept (i), (ii), and (iv) as standard requirements of publicity-as-visibility and deem covert acts to be uncivil without pre-judging their degree of justifiability (Delmas 2018a, 44–5).

Like publicity, non-violence is supposed to be essential to the communicativeness of a civilly disobedient act, non-violence being part of its legibility as a mode of address. “To engage in violent acts likely to injure and to hurt is incompatible with civil disobedience as a mode of address. Indeed, any interference with the civil liberties of others tends to obscure the civilly disobedient quality of one’s act” (Rawls 1999, 321). (The strategic and tactical value of non-violence is discussed in §3.3.) Critics have objected to the supposed incompatibility between violence and communication, arguing that violence, depending on its form and targets, does not necessarily obscure the communicative quality of a disobedient’s act. Burning a police car or vandalizing a Confederate monument, as some protesters did under the Black Lives Matter banner, conveys a clear message of opposition to police brutality and anger at the state’s failure to address systemic racism. The compatibility between violence and communication is further underscored in cases of self-directed violence: self-immolation may provide “an eloquent statement of both the dissenter’s frustration and the importance of the issues he addresses” (Brownlee 2012, 21–2). On this basis, some scholars deny altogether the requirement that civil disobedience be non-violent (M. Cohen 1970, 103; Brownlee 2012, 198–9; Moraro 2019, 96–101).

Some scholars also see nothing inherently contradictory in the notion of “violent civil disobedience” independent of its communicative aims. John Morreall views a person’s physical assault on a slave owner chasing a runaway slave, in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, as a case of “justifiable violent civil disobedience” (1976, 42–3). Jennifer Welchman considers “violence, threats of violence, covert acts of sabotage, blackmail, and even assault” as means that civil disobedients can justifiably use to obstruct and frustrate injustice (2001, 105). But, arguably this route is too hasty, as it disregards what seems to be an essential and powerful association between civil disobedience and non-violence: the civility of civil disobedience seems to entail non-violence. The difficulty is to specify the appropriate notions of violence and non-violence .

This is a difficult task in part given its high political stakes: protests labeled as non-violent are more likely to be perceived favorably; protests labeled as violent are more likely to alienate the public and to be met with violent repression. In addition, the labeling of protests, as Robin Celikates notes, “far from being a neutral observation, is always a politically charged speech act that can reproduce forms of marginalization and exclusion that are often racialized and gendered” and tends to serve the interests of socially dominant or mainstream voices (2016, 983). On this basis, Celikates casts doubt on the usefulness of “a fixed category of non-violence … for a philosophical analysis of disobedience informed by its social and political reality” (ibid.). Nonetheless, specifying the categories of violence and non-violence is important to push back against disingenuous uses of these categories, as when the police declare a peaceful protest a ‘riot’ – a common occurrence in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests (ACLED 2020).

One way to conceive of violence is as the use of physical force causing or likely to cause injury (Rawls 1999, 321). However, non-violent acts or even legal acts may indirectly yet foreseeably cause more harm to others than do direct acts of physical force. A legal strike by ambulance workers or a roadblock on an important highway may well have more severe consequences than minor acts of vandalism (Raz 1979, 267). Psychological violence can also cause injury to others. Philosophers typically reject the childhood chant that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” recognizing that harm and injury do not come solely from the use of physical force. For one thing, words can incite physical violence. Words can also hurt even without the threat of physical injury, such as verbal insult and harassment, which can undermine the recipient’s sense of equal standing, self-worth, and safety. The implication for civil disobedience is that the requirement of non-violence prohibits the use of tactics likely to inflict psychological violence on one’s opponents. Aggressive confrontations designed to denigrate and humiliate (distinct from attempts to elicit shame through displays of unearned suffering and appeals to conscience) are incompatible with the civility and non-violence of civil disobedience.

Rawls does not mention, and it is unclear whether, non-violence prohibits certain actions that don’t physically or psychologically injure others but still cause harms, such as property damage (e.g., vandalism), violence to self (e.g., hunger strikes), and coercion (e.g., forceful occupation).

Property damage : Authorities, much of the public, and many scholars tend to conceive of non-violence strictly, as excluding any damage to property (Fortas 1968, 48–9, 123–6; Smith 2013, 3, 33; Smith and Brownlee 2017, 5; Regan 2004). Two broad reasons may explain the inclusion of property damage within the category of violence. One is the classical liberal understanding of private property as an extension of one’s person; the other is the assumption that property damage is likely to lead to violence against persons. John Locke formulates both when he argues it is “lawful for a man to kill a thief, who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life … [because] I have no reason to suppose, that he, who would take away my liberty, would not, when he had me in his power, take away every thing else” (Locke 1690, III §18). By counting all instances of property destruction as violent, such a view dissuades one from drawing evaluative distinctions among different cases, methods, targets, and aims. However, not all property damage is or should be viewed as equal: burning one’s Selective Service card to protest the military draft is not equivalent to burning crosses to intimidate African Americans and Jews; smashing a stained-glass window depicting enslaved persons in a cotton field (as a Yale janitor did in 2016) is not equivalent to smashing the windows of a store in order to loot it. For some thinkers, such differences are not only issues of justification. They insist that violence and non-violence simply do not exhaust the descriptive possibilities and that we should think of property damage as a third conceptual category distinct from the other two and requiring its own evaluative assessment (Sharp 2012a, 307; Delmas 2018a, 49, 244–5). Other scholars have instead argued that non-violence can encompass property damage (Milligan 2013, ch. 2; Scheuerman 2018, 46–7, 77, 87). They hold that civil disobedients can remain non-violent while engaging in selective destruction of property, assuming the damage is minor and relates clearly to the civil disobedient’s message, such as when pacifists hammer warhead nose cones.

Self-violence : Self-violent protests include tactics such as lip-sewing, self-cutting, hunger strikes, self-exposure to the elements, and self-immolation. When theorists list hunger strikes among the tactics of civil disobedience, they often do not address the question of whether self-violence is compatible with non-violence properly conceived, but simply assume an affirmative answer. Some scholars cast doubt on this notion, given the violence of self-destructive protests and given activists’ self-understanding of their own actions (see Bargu’s 2014 critical ethnographic study on the 2000–2007 death fast by left-wing militants in Turkish prisons). A notable exception to the theoretical neglect of self-violence is Gandhi (1973, 103–5, 120–5), who thought that hunger strikes were coercive and violent but that fasts of moral pressure and Satyagrahic fasts were persuasive and non-violent (Sharp 2012a, 134, 151, 262); and likewise, that self-immolation could accord with non-violence ( ahimsa ) and be fueled by satyagraha (‘Truth-force’ in Sanskrit) under the right circumstances (Gandhi 1999, 79.177; Milligan 2014, 295–9).

Coercion and persuasion : Theorists often complete the dichotomy between violence and non-violence by seeing violence as a means of coercion, non-violence as a means of persuasion, and the two as incompatible. Coercion can be defined as “any interference by an agent, A, in the choices of another agent, B, with the aim of compelling B to behave in a way that they would not otherwise do” (Aitchison 2018a, 668; see also entry on coercion ). Persuasion, by contrast, requires initiating a dialogue with an interlocutor and aiming to elicit a change of position or even their moral conversion. Coercive tactics impose costs on opponents. For instance, land occupation by environmental activists is designed to prevent or delay oil pipeline construction. Boycotts are also considered to be coercive tactics to the extent that they impose acute costs on businesses (through lost revenue) and sometimes involve intimidation and the threat of force to ensure maximum compliance with the boycott (Umoja 2013, 135–42). Some theorists of civil disobedience hold that civil disobedients cannot resort to coercion; they can only seek to persuade and appeal to their opponent’s moral conscience, which excludes confrontational and coercive tactics (Lefkowitz 2007, 216; Brownlee 2012, 24).

Practitioners and other critics maintain that this dichotomy between non-violent persuasion and violent coercion is false on the grounds that there is such a thing as ‘non-violent coercion’, which is furthermore compatible with the goal of moral suasion. Non-violence appeals to the conscience of the public, by eliciting shame and indignation at the witnessing of civil disobedients’ suffering and their discipline in the face of violent repression. After the 1955–56 Montgomery bus boycott, which unleashed spectacular white retaliatory violence, Martin Luther King, Jr., saw appeals to conscience as insufficient without disruption and “some form of constructive coercive power” (King 1968, 137). “Nonviolent coercion always brings tension to the surface”, he wrote (ibid.), affirming “the coercive face of nonviolence” along with its persuasive face (Livingston 2020a, 704; see also Terry 2018, 305). “The purpose of our direct action program,” King proclaimed in his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’, “is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation” (King 1991). Non-violent action is thus the means to the goal of both forcing negotiations – an essential “mechanism for social change” (Atack 2012, 139) – and of persuading – its corresponding mechanism for moral and cultural change. This leaves open the question whether confrontational attacks that single out particular persons through harassment, doxing, and ‘calling out’ are compatible with non-violence. Such acts are coercive and, like verbal insults, they may be said to inflict psychological violence on the target.

Civil disobedients are standardly expected to take responsibility for, and accept the legal consequences of, their lawbreaking. Their evading punishment would make their acts ordinary crimes or acts of rebellion; their willingness to invite punishment is supposed to demonstrate their endorsement of the legal system’s legitimacy and their “intense concern over the issue at hand” (C. Cohen 1966, 6; see also Brownlee 2012 ch. 1; Tai 2017, 146). Non-evasion is an essential correlate of the conscientiousness and non-violence of civil disobedience: submitting to law enforcement is part of the dramatic display of suffering required by non-violence. That said, theorists have fleshed out this requirement of non-evasion in different ways, arguing variously that the agent must (i) willingly submit to arrest and prosecution, (ii) plead guilty in court, (iii) not try to defend her crime, and/or (iv) not complain about the punishment received (Delmas 2019, arguing that only (i) is necessarily entailed by non-evasion). Some theorists reject (ii) and (iii), proposing instead that agents plead ‘not guilty’ in court, so as to deny the state’s characterization of the civil disobedient act as a public wrong (in this view, disobedients should either deny responsibility of having committed the action as alleged by the prosecutor or admit responsibility but deny criminal liability) (Moraro 2019, 143–7). Indeed, while the civil disobedient who pleads ‘guilty’ and does not try to defend her ‘crime’ highlights her willingness to self-sacrifice, a ‘not guilty’ plea accompanied by a defense of her action might be more effective at communicating her convictions and persuading others, including by inviting jury nullification. By contrast, some thinkers reject (i) and (iv) on the grounds that when civil disobedience is morally justified, the state’s imposition of punishment is itself problematic and arguably impermissible, so that further protests against civil disobedients’ arrests, prosecutions, and sentences are justified (Zinn 2002, 27–31). Critics have also noted that punishment can be detrimental to dissenters’ efforts by compromising future attempts to assist others through protest (Greenawalt 1987, 239) and that willingness to accept punishment cannot be reasonably expected when agents know they risk heavy fines or very long sentences for their actions (Scheuerman 2018, 49–51).

In some views, being civil means that civil disobedients behave in a dignified and respectful manner by following the conventional social scripts that spell out displays of dignity and ways of showing respect in their society. Some theorists understand civility itself as respect for “minimal civil norms” (Milligan 2013, ch. 2); others count decorum as an additional, implicit requirement of civility in line with manifestations of self-restraint (Delmas in Çıdam, et al. 2020, 524–5). Decorum may be understood to prohibit conduct that would be seen as offensive, insulting, or obscene (with the standards for each varying widely across cultures). In Scheuerman’s view, Gandhi and King, but not liberals and democrats, thought that politeness and decorum had a role to play (2018, 11–31). Yet one reason to think that decorum has seeped into the common understanding of civil disobedience is that it helps to explain why some protests by Pussy Riot, ACT UP, and Black Lives Matter, among others, which were conscientious, communicative, public, non-violent, and non-evasive, were denied the label civil : to wit, because protesters shouted down their opponents, expressed anger, used offensive language, or disrespected religious sites (Delmas 2020, 18–9). Critics, however, deny that civil disobedience needs to be decorous and push back against denials of civility, insofar as these are often deployed to silence activists (Harcourt 2012; Zerilli 2014). They deem expressions of anger and offensive or obscene displays to be compatible with civility (Scheuerman 2019, 5–7; Çıdam, et al. 2020, 517–8) and insist on dissociating the politics of ‘respectability’ from civil disobedience (Pineda 2021a, 161–3).

What makes an act of civil disobedience special? On some accounts, an act that satisfies the criteria of civility identified above, especially non-evasion, signals disobedients’ respect for and fidelity to the legal system in which they carry out their protest, in contrast with ordinary offenders and revolutionary agents (Rawls 1999, 322). Signaling one’s fidelity to law by abiding the demands of civility is seen as necessary to thwart fears of disorder or counter the impression that civil disobedients are contemptuous of democratic procedures. Critics point out that agents do not necessarily respect, nor have any reasons to respect, the legal system in which they carry out their civil disobedience (Lyons 1998, 33–6). It is thus useful to distinguish the outward features of the civilly disobedient act from the inward attitudes of the civilly disobedient agent.

Many thinkers argue that the link between the disobedient act’s civility and her fidelity to law or endorsement of the legal system can indeed be pulled apart. For one thing, agents intent on overthrowing their government may well resort to civil tactics simply because civil disobedience works (Sharp 2012b). Some theorists nonetheless hold on to the connection between civility and fidelity to law. For instance, some discard some of the requirements of civility but maintain that the civilly disobedient agent can still be motivated by respect for law and act within the limits of fidelity to law while disobeying covertly, evading punishment, damaging property, or offending the public (Brownlee 2012, 24–9; Scheuerman 2018, 49–53; Moraro 2019, 96–101). Others hold that it is worthwhile to maintain the link between the act’s civility and its conveying fidelity to law, whether or not agents actually endorse the system’s legitimacy, insofar as its self-restraint holds the key to civil disobedience’s place in democratic culture (Smith 2013, 32–5; Delmas 2019, 173–4).

Other theorists deny that civil disobedients need to demonstrate fidelity to law, taking what Scheuerman (2015) dubs an anti-legal turn . Civility, on a number of recent accounts (Brownlee 2012 ch. 1; Moraro 2019, ch. 2; M. Cooke 2021), is satisfied when agents aim to communicate with an audience and engage with the public sphere. On a radical understanding, the civility of civil disobedience is compatible with tactics “that will be regarded as uncivil because of their confrontational or even violent character, including massive disruption, the destruction of property, and the use of restrained force in self-defense,” only excluding para-military confrontation (Celikates 2021, 143).

This anti-legal turn goes along with what we may call a critical turn in scholarship on civil disobedience. Not only do theorists critique the liberal account of civil disobedience as unduly narrow and restrictive (as contemporary critics of Rawls already did) and articulate a more inclusive concept; but they also critique the ideology that undergirds the common account, uncovering the ways in which it distorts the reality of the practice, deters resistance, and buttresses the status quo (Celikates 2014, 2016; Delmas 2018a, ch. 1; Pineda 2021b, ch. 1). In this vein, several scholars have reassessed the complex legacy of Thoreau and Gandhi to the civil disobedience tradition, in order to both show the misappropriation of their writings on political resistance and to call for a reappropriation and appreciation of their visions (Mantena 2012; Hanson 2021; Livingston 2018; Scheuerman 2018, ch. 1, 4). Scholars have also reconsidered the historical record of the American Civil Rights Movement to excavate the radical understanding of civil disobedience forged by actors themselves, in lieu of the romantic and sanitized version that dominates public perception of the Movement (Hooker 2016; Livingston 2020a, 2020b; Pineda 2021b, ch. 2–5; Mantena 2018; and Shelby and Terry 2018). Setting the record straight matters not just for historical accuracy but also because the Civil Rights Movement is used as the benchmark to judge contemporary protest movements such as Black Lives Matter, unfavorably comparing today’s activists with an idealized standard with the effect of prejudicing the public against them.

2. Other Types of Protest

Although civil disobedience often overlaps broadly with other types of dissent, nevertheless some distinctions may be drawn between the key features of civil disobedience and the key features of these other practices.

The obvious difference between legal protest and civil disobedience is that the former lies within the bounds of the law, but the latter does not. Legal ways of protesting include, among many others, making speeches, signing petitions, organizing for a cause, donating money, taking part in authorized demonstrations, and boycotting. Some of these can become illegal, for instance when law enforcement declares an assembly unlawful and orders the crowd to disperse, or under anti-boycott legislation. Some causes may also be declared illegal, such that one cannot be associated with the cause or donate to it (such as the Communist Party in the U.S.). Most of the features exemplified in civil disobedience – other than its illegality – can be found in legal protest: a conscientious and communicative demonstration of protest, a desire to bring about through moral dialogue some lasting change in policy or principle, an attempt to educate and to raise awareness, and so on.

A practice distinct from, but related to, civil disobedience is rule departure on the part of authorities. Rule departure is essentially the deliberate decision by an official, for conscientious reasons, not to discharge the duties of her office (Feinberg 1992, 152). If an official’s breach of a specific duty is more in keeping with the spirit and overall aims of the office than a painstaking respect for its particular duties is, then the former might be said to adhere better than the latter does to the demands of the office (Greenawalt 1987, 281). Rule departures resemble civil disobedience in that both communicate the agent’s dissociation from and condemnation of certain policies and practices. Civil disobedience and rule departure differ mainly in the identity of their practitioners and in their legality. First, whereas rule departure typically is done by an agent of the state (including citizens serving in juries), civil disobedience typically is done by citizens (including officials acting as ordinary citizens and not in the capacity of their official role). Second, whereas the civil disobedient breaks the law, the official who departs from the rules associated with her role is not usually violating the law, unless the rule she breaks is also codified in law. For instance, jurors may refuse to convict a person for violating an unjust law. When they do, they nullify the law. However, many judges forbid any mention of jury nullification in their courtroom, so that jurors are not allowed to advise each other of the possibility to refuse to convict (Brooks 2004).

Conscientious objection may be defined as a refusal to conform to some rule, mandate, or legal directive on grounds of personal opposition to it. Examples include conscripts refusing to serve in the army; public officials refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses; and parents refusing to vaccinate their children as mandated by state law. Public officials’ conscientious objection is indistinguishable from rule departures insofar as the agent refuses to discharge the set of duties associated with her official role. Conscientious objectors’ non-conformity may stem from very different kinds of motives: the conscript’s religious pacifism or moral and political opposition to a particular war or military occupation, for instance, has little in common with anti-vaxxers’ pseudo-scientific beliefs. But, in many views, conscientious objection is conscientious in the sense identified above, that is to say, sincere, serious, and reflecting the depth of the person’s conviction. In other views, however, when an objector seeks to keep her act private and to avoid detection, this casts doubt on her sincerity and seriousness (Brownlee 2012, ch. 1). As an objection, conscientious objection also shares with civil disobedience the agent’s opposition to the law, since the conscientious objector refuses to conform with the law because she considers it bad or wrong, totally or in part, and thus seeks to disassociate herself from it.

Conscientious objection is often considered to be the private counterpart of civil disobedience: where civil disobedients address the public, are motivated by and appeal to general considerations of justice, and seek to bring about reform, conscientious objectors are supposed to be animated by personal convictions and to simply seek to preserve their own moral integrity through exemption (Smith and Brownlee 2017). For instance, consider that the refusal of Jehovah’s Witnesses to salute the flag is a matter of private religious morality; they do not seek to abolish the practice of saluting the flag for all citizens. Their example is instructive in another way: Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal is legally protected. Conscientious objection, unlike civil disobedience, is not necessarily unlawful. Indeed, the law protects conscientious objectors in many contexts, including in the military and healthcare, by carving out exemptions for them.

Some thinkers distinguish conscientious objection from conscientious evasion and stress that we should not overstate the private and personal characteristics of the former. Conscientious objectors often act openly and non-anonymously and take responsibility for their non-conforming act by attempting or being willing to justify it to authorities. To that extent, they may be said to meet the publicity-as-visibility requirement. Some agents, in contrast, undertake their conscientious objection covertly and evasively as conscientious evasion. A young man drafted to fight a war he opposes, for instance, may openly refuse to serve and be arrested and charged for his refusal, or covertly dodge the draft by going AWOL. While conscientious evasion is incompatible with the intention to communicate, conscientious objection may have a public or communicative component, as Thoreau clearly did with his conscientious tax refusal, in a way that blurs the distinction with civil disobedience. Moreover, when such actions are taken by many people – as they often are – their collective impact can approximate the kind of communicative protest exemplified in civil disobedience (Delmas 2018a, ch. 7). In this vein, Emanuela Ceva (2015) highlights the public and political character of conscientious objection (what we call publicity-as-appeal above), which she conceives of as ‘a form of political participation’.

Writings on immigration and on civil disobedience have merged into an area of research devoted to principled disobedience in response to anti-immigration policies. One view, which focuses on what individual actors should do about immigration, examines various unlawful tactics of resistance, including evasion, deception, use of force against state officials, and smuggling (Hidalgo 2019, chs. 5–6). Another view conceives of illegal migration as a form of resistance to global poverty (Blunt 2019, ch. 4), while a third sees unauthorized border crossing as a type of conscientious evasion (Cabrera 2010, 136–43, 165). It is further useful to distinguish transnational civil disobedience from global civil disobedience. Transnational (or trans-state) civil disobedience is the principled violation of a state’s law or policy (a) by individuals who are not citizens or authorized permanent residents of that state, such as asylum-seekers marching from Hungary to Austria against E.U. regulations; or (b) by the state’s own citizens on behalf of outsiders, such as U.S. citizens active in the Sanctuary movement who provided illegal assistance to asylum-seekers from Central America in the 1980s. Both kinds of cases involve at root the “principled claim… that the state’s law is misaligned with the foundational moral principles of the current global system” (Cabrera 2021, 322). Acts of global civil disobedience, on this view, involve “claims implicating structural principles of the global system itself, as misaligned with its foundational moral principles” (Cabrera ibid.). For instance, when the sans-papiers in France openly protest against their socio-political and legal exclusion through occupations, demonstrations, and hunger strikes, they may be viewed as engaged in acts of global civil disobedience. One last useful category of principled disobedience that relates to immigration restrictions, although it overlaps with rule departures and conscientious objection, is official or local disobedience, as when local authorities declare themselves ‘Sanctuary cities’ to protect immigrants by refusing to cooperate with federal authorities (Blake and Hereth 2020, 468–71. See also Applbaum 1999, ch. 9 on ‘official disobedience’ and Scheuerman 2020 on ‘state-based’ or ‘political institutional civil disobedience’).

2.5 Digital disobedience

Digitalization – access to personal computers and the Internet – has transformed not only our lives and interactions, but also our disobedient practices. From piracy to DDoS attacks and from open-access coding to Digital Care Packages (which provide tools to circumvent censorship and surveillance), digital disobedience has emerged as a rich terrain for theoretical inquiry. Scholars disagree about the application of the defining features of civil disobedience to the digital, e.g., whether client-sided DDoS actions, which involve only voluntary botnets, amount to “virtual sit-ins”; whether hacktivists such as Anonymous may be considered civil disobedients despite their covert and evasive actions, their penchant for pranks, and their singling out of particular individuals for doxing and retaliation (such as in Operation Hunt Hunter which targeted ‘revenge porn’ magnate Hunter Moore); or whether the use of zombie botnets in DDoS attacks and the cost of updating security systems for the target evinces the violation of non-violence (see, e.g., Critical Art Ensemble 1998; Himma 2006; Scheuerman 2018, ch. 6; Celikates 2015, 2016; Sauter 2016; Delmas 2018b; Züger 2021).

These debates aside, it is useful to distinguish different kinds of digital tools, sites, strategies, and aims. First, activists use digital technology as tools to organize, document, communicate, raise funds, and make decisions. For instance, Black Lives Matter activists use social media to promote their cause, raise consciousness about systemic racism, and publicize instances of police brutality. They use crowdfunding platforms for fundraising to cover bail and other legal expenses for those arrested. They encourage people to use police scanner apps to watch police activity and legal assistance apps to record encounters with law enforcement officials. Second, the digital is itself a crucial site and object of activism. Hacktivists envision a different Internet – one that is democratic and democratically controlled, free, respectful of privacy, and creative. They protest against the digital architecture of surveillance and control that has been imposed on netizens without their consent. For instance, a number of websites, search engines, and online communities launched coordinated actions in 2012 to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), whose overbroad scope they saw as threats to online freedom of speech. Third, some properly digital strategies of principled disobedience have emerged, such as DDoS actions, web defacement, and hacking. For instance, the No Border network created a fake Lufthansa website touting its “Deportation Class service … the most economic way to travel the world” (“special restrictions apply … no round trips available”). The Open Access Movement, which advocates for open-source software and an open-source repository of academic and scientific research, combines all three dimensions of digital disobedience: it uses networked computers to organize and communicate; it seeks to bring about a free Internet characterized by the free flow of software, science, and culture and has developed a coherent political platform in its defense; and it deploys properly digital strategies, such as illegal downloads and peer-to-peer file sharing (which is illegal when the content torrented is copyrighted material). The Open Access Movement epitomizes a public, geeks-and-grassroots mass movement that not only promotes online democratic governance, but also enacts it within the movement (Swartz 2008 [Other Internet Resources]; Delmas 2018b, 79–80).

2.6 Uncivil disobedience

Uncivil disobedience is not a distinct category of political action, but a cluster concept or umbrella term that can be used to designate acts of principled disobedience that may or may not be communicative, and which violate one or more of the marks of civility by being covert, violent, evasive, or offensive (Delmas 2018a, 2020; Lai 2019). Examples include animal rescue, Sanctuary assistance, sabotage, ecotage (e.g., monkeywrenching and tree-spiking), graffiti, leaks, government whistleblowing, hacktivism (including DDoS attacks), guerrilla protests, and riots. These various act-types do not share any essential property, besides violating one or more of the commonly accepted criteria of civility. Each form of uncivil disobedience must be examined (conceptualized and assessed) on its own. By conceptualizing uncivil disobedience, scholars intend to counter the theoretical impetus to make the concept of civil disobedience ever broader to encompass protests that one approves of, but which do not fit the standard account and may not even fit activists’ self-understanding either. For instance, in her 1913 speech “Freedom or Death”, the suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst described herself as a “soldier” in a “civil war” waged against the state and defended the use of militant tactics, including heckling, window-smashing, sabotage, arson, and hunger strikes: radical defiance was the point of such uncivil tactics. Identifying some principled disobedient acts as uncivil makes room to focus on their justification. Scholars have defended such uncivil disobedience as political rioting (Pasternak 2019), vandalism (Lim 2020; Lai 2020), violent protest (Kling and Mitchell 2019), coercive strike tactics (Gourevitch 2018), and direct action (Smith 2018).

While a civil disobedient does not necessarily oppose the regime in which she acts, the revolutionary agent is deeply opposed to that regime (or a core aspect of that regime). Revolutionary agents may not seek to persuade others of the merits of their position – communication is usually not their primary aim, although they convey the urgency of a regime change. When revolution is called for, such as under colonial occupation, there is no need to justify constrained acts of protest like civil disobedience. Indeed, more forceful resistance can be justified as we pass into the realm of just war theory (Buchanan 2013; Finlay 2015). This is not to say that all violent tactics, including terror, are permissible, since the use of violence must not only pursue a just cause but also accord with proportionality and necessity (i.e., be undertaken in last resort and with a reasonable chance of success). As will be discussed in the next section, revolutionary activists and thinkers like Frantz Fanon (2004, ch. 1) and Gandhi disagreed about the effectiveness of violence in emancipatory struggles, but not about its justifiability, as Karuna Mantena (2018, 83–4) has shown.

3. Justification

The task of defending civil disobedience is commonly undertaken with the assumption that in reasonably just, liberal societies people have a general moral duty to follow the law (often called political obligation ). It is on the basis of such an assumption that civil disobedience requires justification. This section examines common understandings of the problem of disobedience (3.1), before presenting prominent accounts and critiques of the conditions under which civil disobedience may be justified (3.2). Whether or not theorists assume that civil disobedience is presumptively impermissible and in need of justification, their analyses also articulate the value and role of civil disobedience in non-ideal, nearly just or less-than-nearly-just liberal democracies (3.3).

Philosophers have given many arguments in favor of the moral duty to obey the law (see entry on political obligation ). Despite the many critiques of, and general skepticism toward, arguments for the moral duty to obey the law, most prominently following A. John Simmons (1979), theorists of civil disobedience have continued to conceive of the practice’s illegality as a hurdle to surmount (see Lyons 1998 for an analysis of the endurance of such a problematic assumption). They conceive of principled disobedience in general as presumptively wrong because it violates political obligation, undermines the rule of law, and destabilizes society both through example, by signaling to others that anyone can disobey if they feel the urge, and in principle, by expressing disrespect for law’s authority. They contend that civil disobedience in particular is presumptively wrong because of its anti-democratic nature. The agent who violates the outcomes of democratic decision-making processes because she disapproves of them puts herself above the law and threatens the legal and democratic order. Some see in it a violation of reciprocity, a kind of political “blackmail” and a sign of “moral self-indulgence” and arrogance, insofar as a minority, whose views didn’t prevail, disregards democratic processes and imposes on the majority its own view of the good and just (C. Cohen 1971, 138–45; Dworkin 1985, 112; Weinstock 2016, 709; for a response to the charge of ‘epistemic arrogance’, see Hindkjær Madsen 2021).

Recent scholarship on civil disobedience has taken what may be dubbed an anarchist turn , as theorists tend to no longer approach civil disobedience as presumptively wrong and in tension with political obligation. Although some theorists still defend the latter (Smith 2013), most start from skepticism vis-à-vis the moral duty to obey the law (Brownlee 2012; Celikates 2014, 2016). Others defend a disjunctive moral duty to obey the law or disobey it civilly (Lefkowitz 2007); and still others argue that the grounds commonly used to support political obligation – the natural duty of justice, the principle of fairness, the Samaritan duty, and associative obligations – yield duties to resist injustice, through civil and uncivil disobedience, under non-ideal circumstances, and that such duties should be considered among our political obligations (Delmas 2018a). Likewise, on a virtue-ethical account, political obligation can be understood as an obligation to respect rather than to obey the law, which can sometimes give rise to a duty to engage in civil disobedience (Moraro 2019, ch. 6).

Given the assumption that people have a moral duty to obey the law and the concern that civil disobedience has the potential to destabilize society, Rawls famously raised the bar for the justified use of the practice, requiring acts of civil disobedience 1) to target serious and long-standing injustice and at the same time appeal to widely accepted principles of justice, 2) to be undertaken as a last resort, and 3) to be done in coordination with other minority groups with similar grievances (Rawls 1999, 326–9). These conditions for the justification of civil disobedience, which are critically examined in this part, are closely tied not only to the ostensible need to diffuse its destabilizing potential and discourage proliferation of the practice, but also to the efficacy and role of civil disobedience in society (which is explored further in 3.3).

Longstanding Injustice : Why did Rawls restrict the target of civil disobedience to entrenched, longstanding injustices – in particular, violations of the principle of equal basic liberties? For Rawls, civil disobedience’s chance of success rests on the clarity of the injustice: everyone must be able to recognize the violation as an injustice, given widely accepted principles of political morality. Racial segregation fell in this category, according to Rawls, but not economic inequality. Rawls thinks that appeals to publicly shared principles of constitutional morality (per the publicity-as-appeal requirement) are more likely to persuade the majority and succeed to bring about reform. Rawls, Jürgen Habermas, and Ronald Dworkin restrict both civil disobedients’ appeals and their possible targets: they exclude matters of policy, as well as injustices that do not consist of incontrovertible violations of widely accepted principles of justice.

Critics reject this justificatory condition because it arbitrarily excludes both progressive but not widely shared conceptions of justice (such as cosmopolitanism) and appeals to other principles of morality besides justice (say, regarding the ethical treatment of animals; Singer 1973, 86–92). And whereas Dworkin (1985, 111–2) finds anti-nuclear protest unjustifiable to the extent that it turns on judgments of policy instead of appealing to fundamental principles of political morality, Robert Goodin (1987) counters that the justice/policy distinction is flimsy and arbitrarily drawn and insists that civil disobedients should pursue the common good by protesting international and climate policies. Scholars also include in the class of justifiable targets private agents such as trade unions, banks, health insurance companies, labs, farm factories, and private universities (Walzer 1982, ch.2; Smith 2013, 55–6; Milligan 2013, ch. 11–12; S. Cooke 2016). Finally, observation of past and present social movements, including the Abolitionist movement, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter, suggests that, rather than appealing to the public principles of political morality, civil disobedients may in fact seek to transform common sense morality.

Last Resort : What grounds the widely accepted requirement that civil disobedience be undertaken as a last resort? How do we know agents have met it? One position is that, in a liberal democracy, citizens should use proper legal channels of political participation to express their grievances (Raz 1979; though Raz grants that individual acts of disobedience can be justified in liberal regimes). But, since causes defended by a minority are often those most opposed by persons in power, legal channels may be less than wholly effective (Rawls 1999, 327). Moreover, it is unclear when a person could claim to have reached a situation of last resort; she could continue to use the same tired legal methods without end. To ward off such challenges, Rawls suggests that, if past actions, including by others, have shown the majority to be immovable or apathetic, then further attempts may reasonably be thought fruitless and the dissenter may be confident her civil disobedience is a last resort (1999, 328).

Minority Group Coordination : The coordination requirement is designed to regulate the overall level of dissent (Rawls 1999, 327). The idea is that since minority groups are equally justified in resorting to civil disobedience when they have sufficiently weighty objections, these groups should avoid undermining each other’s efforts through simultaneous appeals to the attention of society and government. While there is some merit to this condition, arguably civil disobedience that does not meet it can still be justifiable. In some cases, there will be no time or opportunity to coordinate with other minorities. In other cases, other minority groups may be unable or unwilling to coordinate. The refusal or inability of other groups to cooperate should arguably not affect the ultimate defensibility of a person’s or group’s use of civil disobedience.

A reason for Rawls to defend this coordination requirement is that often coordination serves a more important concern, namely, the achievement of good consequences. It is often argued that civil disobedience can only be justified if there is a high probability that it will produce positive change, since only such change can justify exposing society to the risks of harm usually associated with civil disobedience – namely, its destabilizing and divisive potential and the risk that it could encourage lawbreaking or escalate into uncivil disobedience. In response to these challenges, one might question the empirical claims that civil disobedience is divisive and that it has the consequence of leading others to use disobedience to achieve changes in policy. One might also question whether it necessarily would be a bad thing if civil disobedience had these consequences. Concerning likelihood of success, civil disobedience can seem most justifiable when the situation appears hopeless and when the government refuses to listen to conventional forms of communication. Additionally, even when general success seems unlikely, civil disobedience might be defended for any reprieve from harm that it brings to victims of a bad law or policy. Tree-hugging, for example, can delay or curtail a clear-cut logging scheme and thereby prolong the protection of an ecosystem.

The justification of civil disobedience further articulates the conditions for its effective role in society. Far from undermining the rule of law or destabilizing society, civil disobedience could strengthen the social and legal order. Civil disobedience can have a justice-enhancing value: it can serve “to inhibit departures from justice and to correct them when they occur” (Rawls 1999, 336). Equally, it can have a legitimacy-enhancing function, with some thinkers conceiving of civil disobedience as ‘the guardian of legitimacy’ (Habermas 1985, 103). Both ideas deem the practice of civil disobedience to be a valuable component of the public political culture of a near-just constitutional democratic society. Habermas even took the state’s treatment of civil disobedience as a ‘litmus test’ for the maturity of the political culture of a constitutional democracy: “Every constitutional democracy that is sure of itself considers civil disobedience as a normalized – because necessary – component of its political culture” (Habermas 1985, 99).

While Habermas’s account resembles Rawls’s liberal approach in many ways, its distinctive deliberative strand has also influenced democracy-based accounts, which defend the justification and role of civil disobedience on the basis of its contribution to democracy. Deliberative democrats (Markovits 2005; Smith 2013, ch. 1–3), republican democrats (Arendt 1972), and radical democrats (Celikates 2014, 2016) focus on the potential of civil disobedience to enhance democratic legitimacy and to constitute in itself a form of democratic empowerment. Agents engaged in civil disobedience can enhance democratic legitimacy in a number of ways, including by putting a heretofore-neglected issue on the political agenda and raising awareness about its stakes; contributing to and informing democratic deliberation; highlighting the outsize influence of powerful players and the exclusionary effects of certain processes of public deliberation, and working to make the latter more inclusive. Civil disobedience does not only aim to invigorate democratic sovereignty, but also can constitute a form of democratic empowerment in itself – an exercise of political agency that is especially meaningful for marginalized groups. Through civil disobedience, individuals discover and realize their power. They work together and forge bonds of solidarity. They engage in democratic politics. Theorists’ examples to illustrate democratic civil disobedience include: the Occupy Movement, pro-democracy movements around the world, anti-globalization and anti-austerity protests, climate justice activism, and Campesino movements for land redistribution and agrarian reform. Many activists further enact within their movement the norms and values that guide their struggles, for instance through radical inclusion, direct democratic decision-making, aspiration to consensus, and leaderless organizational structures. Some theorists insist on the need to align the means of protest with its aims, by deploying only persuasive, non-violent forms of protest that reflect democratic ideals (Habermas 1997, 383–4; M. Cooke 2016), while others contend that civil disobedience can be confrontational and coercive without betraying its democratic aims (Smith 2021; Fung 2005, 409).

A third approach to the value of civil disobedience, besides the liberal and democratic lenses, comes from the political realist perspective. Robert Jubb (2019) critiques Rawlsian accounts of civil disobedience for the binary theory of political authority they rest on: they take the whole political order to be either legitimate or illegitimate, and thereby ignore or deny the possibility that a regime may be authoritative in virtue of having a democratic mandate, yet fail to protect everyone’s basic liberties or to treat all its members as equals, for example. Jubb proposes instead to “disaggregate” political authority, that is, to distinguish between the different forms of authority which a political order may possess or lack, in order to make sense of the conditions under which different forms of protest and resistance may be appropriate. Other realists criticize both liberal and deliberative democratic perspectives for their deductive, top-down approach to moral analysis, their quest for rational consensus, and their assumption that people can be persuaded by rational arguments alone (Sabl 2001, 2021; Mantena 2012). Realist accounts of civil disobedience stress instead “the ubiquity of moral disagreement and the permanence of political conflict” (Sabl 2021, 153). Andrew Sabl, for instance, envisions civil disobedience as a properly ‘political technology’ (2021, 165), situated between submission and revolution, through which agents seek to effect change in the basic allocation of burdens and benefits by raising costs for adversaries, but without undermining the state’s basic functions such as its provision of public goods.

For her part, Mantena debunks the common understanding of Gandhi and King as committed in principle and absolutely to non-violence, showing that their endorsement of non-violence reflected concerns of political efficacy. They considered political violence to be “futile”, that is, ineffective for social change and likely to bring about “dangerous and perverse consequences in politics” (Mantena 2018, 84). In Gandhi’s view, violence would cultivate the wrong kind of independence for India and breed the wrong kind of polity, amounting to a mere change of personnel in a violent state and generating unstable conditions. Mantena identifies “three faces of nonviolent action”, which we can reframe as realists’ account of the triple value of civil disobedience: 1) morally, civil disobedience is the right means by which oppressed people can regain dignity and self-respect; 2) strategically, it is a necessary means to just and stable political results and future democratic concord; and 3) tactically, the dramatization of civil disobedients’ discipline works effectively to persuade opponents. Recent social scientific research has corroborated the effectiveness of non-violence in campaigns of civil resistance, which seek to topple dictatorships or colonial powers (Chenoweth and Stephan 2011; Schock 2015).

Many democratic theorists incorporate political realism in their approach as they strive to think about and “learn from the streets” (Celikates 2014), in a “bottom-up” approach designed to understand particular contemporary protest movements. This approach constitutes a stark departure from “top-down” liberal approaches like Rawls’s and Dworkin’s that require agents justify their disobedient protest before engaging in it. As Alexander Livingston puts it, many democratic and critical theorists today seek to draw “theoretical insights from protest movements themselves around the globe rather than legislating moral guidelines for activist praxis from the sidelines” (Çıdam et al 2020, 540). Guy Aitchison sees this as a central feature of the ‘new civil disobedience debate’, in which scholars seek to respond to ‘a new era of political protest and unrest’ characterized by “the proliferation and intensification of oppositional political action by groups challenging economic inequality, racist policing, immigration enforcement, austerity, war, climate change, financial oligarchy, privatization, and corporate domination of cyberspace” (Aitchison 2018b, 5, 7–8) – which theorists tend to be in broad sympathy with. Such bottom-up approach also diverges from David Lefkowitz’s and Kimberley Brownlee’s defenses of a moral right to civil disobedience that applies impartially to all acts of civil disobedience, justified or not (see 4.2).

4. Responding to Civil Disobedience

How should the state respond to civil disobedience? The question of appropriate legal response applies, first, to the actions of law-enforcers when deciding whether and how to intervene in a civilly disobedient action. It applies, second, to the actions of prosecutors when deciding whether to file charges and proceed to trial. Finally, it applies to the actions of judges (and juries) when deciding whether to convict and (for judges) how much to punish. All three contexts of legal sanctions beg the question of criminal law’s function.

How much punishment is appropriate for civil disobedients? Is punishment appropriate at all? If there is a right to civil disobedience, then, as we saw, it protects people from punishment. Even if there isn’t, is punishment indefensible if it sanctions morally justified civil disobedience? The tensions become clear when we consider the criminal law’s function, which is to punish and prevent crimes, that is, to tackle wrongful conduct. Unlike civil wrongs, which are privately brought, criminal wrongs are public wrongs: the polity, not the victim (there may not be any), prosecutes the alleged wrongdoer. Punishment, depending on one’s overarching account, serves to: dissuade people from committing the types of conduct identified as wrongful (Bentham 1789 [1970]); appropriately respond to those who culpably commit them (Moore 1997), including by engaging with them in a moral dialogue so that they repent and reform (Duff 1998); and/or express the community’s moral disapproval of such conduct (Feinberg 1994). So, we may ask, from the consequentialist, forward-looking standpoint, whether the state should deter civil disobedience; and, from a retributivist (desert-based) or communicative, backward-looking perspective, whether civil disobedients deserve the community’s censure (Bennett and Brownlee 2021).

If civilly disobedient breaches of law are public wrongs, comparable to or worse than ordinary offenses, then civil disobedients should be punished similarly or more severely than those who commit ordinary offenses. Kent Greenawalt lays out reasons to hold that civil disobedients deserve the same punishment as others who breach the same laws. First, the demands of proportionality would seem to recommend a uniform application of legal prohibitions. Since trespass is prohibited, persons who breach trespass laws in protest of either those laws or other laws would seem to be equally liable to persons who breach trespass laws for private purposes. Second, any principle that officials may use to excuse justified illegal acts will result in some failures to punish unjustified acts, for which the purposes of punishment would be more fully served. Even when officials make correct judgments about which acts to excuse, citizens may draw mistaken inferences, and restraints of deterrence and norm acceptance may be weakened for unjustified acts that resemble justified ones (Greenawalt 1987, 273). What follows is that all such violations, justified and unjustified, should be treated the same.

There also are reasons to believe that civil disobedients should be dealt with more severely than are others who have offended. First, as mentioned above, disobedients seem to have put themselves above the law in preferring their own moral judgment about a certain issue to that of the democratic decision-making process and the rule of law. Second, the communicative aspect of civil disobedience could be said to aggravate disobedient offenses since their communication usually is attended by much greater publicity than most covert violations are. This forces legal authorities to concern themselves with the possibility that law-abiding citizens will feel distressed, insecure, and perhaps imposed on, if no action is taken. So, notes Greenawalt, while authorities may quietly let minor breaches pass, failure to respond to violations performed, in some respect, in the presence of authority, may undercut claims that the rules and the persons who administered them deserve respect (1987, 351–2). Third, and related, civil disobedients often invite, and might inspire, other citizens to do what they do. Such risk of proliferation of civil disobedience and, further, of its escalation into lawlessness and violence, may support the imposition of more severe punishment for agents engaged in civil disobedience.

However, both the models of civil disobedience presented above, which stress its role and value in liberal democracies, and the arguments for the right to civil disobedience examined below, strongly push for the opposite view that civil disobedients, if punished at all, should be dealt with more leniently than others who have offended. The preceding discussion highlights that civil disobedience is in fact a public good – a crucial component of democratic culture, in Habermas’s words – and, hence, many theorists defend the state’s responsibility to treat civil disobedients leniently.

Dworkin argues that the state has a “special responsibility to try to protect [the civil disobedient], and soften his predicament, whenever it can do so without great damage to other policies” (Dworkin 1978, 260). The government can exercise its responsibility of leniency by not prosecuting civil disobedience at all, depending on the balance of reasons, including individual rights, state interests, social costs, and constitutional benefits. Reasons for prosecuting in any particular case are ‘practical’, not intrinsic or deontological, and always potentially defeasible. In general, prosecutors should not charge disobedients with the most serious offenses applicable and judges should give them light sentences. Leniency follows from the recognition of the special constitutional status of civil disobedience.

In this view, officials at all levels have the discretion to not sanction civil disobedients, and they should use it. Prosecutors have and should use their discretion not to press charges against civil disobedients in some cases, or to charge them with the least serious offense possible. Dworkin (1985) urges judges to engage in an open dialogue with civil disobedients (at least those who articulate legal arguments in defense of their actions) and dismiss their charges after hearing them, or to use their discretion in sentencing, for instance by accepting guilty pleas or guilty verdicts but imposing trivial punishments.

However, this proposal could amount to letting judges evaluate the worthiness of individual civil disobedients’ causes, which would not on its own guarantee judicial leniency. To the contrary, judges might well systematically decide against civil disobedients, upholding the special interests of the ruling class of which they are part. The proceduralist insistence on courts’ neutrality avoids this pitfall, and generally warns against turning courtrooms into political forums. Yet the transformation of courts into public fora might not be so insidious, and may indeed be part of a necessary institutional reform to provide civil disobedients with a platform, perhaps along the lines of Arendt’s (1972, 101–2) proposal to treat civil disobedients as a kind of people’s lobbyists (see Smith 2011).

For Rawls, there is only a moral right to engage in justified civil disobedience. But many other theorists defend at least a limited right to engage in civil disobedience irrespective of a particular act’s justification, given the general value of the practice. Dworkin (1978) outlines what such a right of conduct might look like, analogizing civil disobedients with Supreme Court justices, who test the constitutional validity of (unjust) law through direct disobedience of that law. In doing so, they can make law more faithful to the principles of justice and fairness that justify it (on Dworkin’s theory of law). Some theorists accept the value of constitutional challenges but argue that once the law is found by a high court to be constitutional and disobedients’ initial conviction is upheld, disobedients have a duty to accept their punishment and recognize the law’s validity (Fortas 1968; Nussbaum 2019, 177). In contrast, Dworkin argues that forcing citizens to obey court decisions – including the Supreme Court’s – would mean forcing them to do something their conscience forbids them to do, which would contravene the constitutional imperative, entrenched in the First Amendment and rooted in dignity, to respect individuals’ “right to conscience” and protect their freedom of speech.

The right to conscience, on this account, thus grounds a weak “right to break the law”. It is a right in the sense that one “does the right thing to break the law, so that we should all respect” the agent when she follows her conscientious judgment about doubtful law and refuses to comply with a law that requires her to do what her conscience forbids (Dworkin 1978, 228–37), but it does not ground a right in the strong sense that the government would do wrong to stop her from disobeying. In other words, on this view, the right to disobedience is deemed to be compatible with the state’s right to punish. Contra Cohen (1966, 6), Rawls (1999, 322), and others, however, Dworkin does not defend agents’ moral duty to accept punishment (1985, 114–5). He considers non-evasion of legal sanctions to be a good strategy for civil disobedients denouncing unconstitutional law and unjust policy ( justice - and policy -based civil disobedience on his view) but denies that accepting punishment is a conceptual, moral, or tactical requirement for civil disobedience motivated by personal convictions (‘integrity-based’ civil disobedience). For the latter, Dworkin argues that utilitarian reasons for punishing should be weighed against the fact that the accused acted out of principled convictions, and that the balance should generally favor leniency.

Joseph Raz puts forward a different account of the right to civil disobedience, insisting that this right extends to cases in which people ought not to exercise the right: it is part of the nature and purpose of rights of conduct that they give persons a protected sphere in which to act rightly or wrongly. To say that there is a right to civil disobedience is to allow the legitimacy of resorting to this form of political action for causes one opposes (Raz 1979, 268). That said, Raz places great emphasis on the kind of regime in which a disobedient acts, arguing that only in an illiberal regime could individuals have a right to civil disobedience to reclaim their political participation rights which their illiberal state is violating: they are entitled to “disregard the offending laws and exercise their moral right as if it were recognized by law.” Raz adds that “members of the illiberal state do have a right to civil disobedience which is roughly that part of their moral right to political participation which is not recognized in law” (Raz 1979, 272–3). By contrast, in a liberal state, the right to political activity is, by hypothesis, adequately protected by law and, hence, the right to political participation cannot ground a right to civil disobedience.

A different view of rights holds that when a person appeals to political participation rights to defend her disobedience, she does not necessarily criticize the law for outlawing her action. Lefkowitz maintains that members of minorities can appreciate that democratic discussions often must be cut short so that decisions may be taken, and those who engage in civil disobedience may view current policy as the best compromise between the need to act and the need to accommodate continued debate. Nonetheless, they also can point out that, with greater resources or further time for debate, their view might have held sway. Given this possibility, the right to political participation must include a right to continue to contest the result after the votes are counted or the decisions taken. And this right should include suitably constrained civil disobedience because the best conception of political participation rights is one that reduces as much as possible the impact that luck has on the popularity of a view (Lefkowitz 2007; see also Smith 2013, ch. 4; Ceva 2015).

An alternative response to Raz questions whether the right to civil disobedience must be derived from rights to political participation. Brownlee (2012, ch. 4) bases the right to civil disobedience on a right to object on the basis of sincere conviction. Whether such a right would fall under participation rights depends on the expansiveness of the latter rights. When the right to participate is understood to accommodate only legal protest, then the right conscientiously to object, which commonsensically includes civil disobedience, must be viewed as distinct from political participation rights.

A further challenge to a regime-focused account is that real societies do not align with a dichotomy between liberal and illiberal regimes; rather they fall along a spectrum of liberality and illiberality, being both more or less liberal relative to each other and being more or less liberal in some domains than in others. Perhaps, in a society that approximates a liberal regime, the political-participation case for a right to civil disobedience diminishes, but to make legally protected participation fully adequate, a liberal society would have to address Bertrand Russell’s charge that controllers of the media give defenders of unpopular views few opportunities to make their case unless they resort to sensational methods such as disobedience (1998, 635).

Philosophers have typically focused on the question of how courts should treat civil disobedients, while neglecting to apply that question to law enforcement. Yet the police have much discretion in how to deal with civil disobedients. In particular, they have no obligation to arrest protesters when they commit minor violations of the law such as traffic obstruction: accommodation of and communication with protesters is something they can but all too rarely decide to do. Instead, many governments practice militarized repression of protests. Local police departments in the U.S. often respond to demonstrations with riot gear and other military equipment. Also, the British government sought to strengthen public order laws and secure new police powers to crack down on Extinction Rebellion (XR), the global environmental movement whose street protests, die-ins, and roadblocks for climate justice have brought cities to a standstill.

One notable exception to the theoretical neglect of law enforcement is Smith’s (2013, ch. 5) articulation of a “policing philosophy” that orientates policing strategies toward accommodation, rather than prevention or repression, of civil disobedience. On Smith’s view, “the police should, where possible, cooperate with civilly disobedient activists in order to assist in their commission of a protest that is effective as an expression of their grievance against law or policy” (2013, 111). Accommodation requires communication channels between police and activists and involves strategies such as pre-negotiated arrests. While the U.S. often implements punitive and strong-handed law enforcement strategies, the U.K.’s current goal (at the time of writing) is, according to one senior police source, to develop ‘move forward’ – proactive and preventive – tactics that are designed to clear the streets of XR demonstrators. Neither approach respects anything like a right to civil disobedience.

A constitutional government committed to recognizing the right to civil disobedience would also have to reform part of its criminal laws and make available certain defenses. Brownlee proposes two. First, disobedients should have access to a “demands-of-conviction,” excusatory defense to point to the deep and sincere reasons they had for believing they were justified in acting the way they did (Brownlee 2012, ch. 5). Second, states should accept necessity as a justificatory defense for civil disobedience undertaken as a reasonable and parsimonious response to violations of and threats to non-contingent basic needs (Brownlee 2012, ch. 6). As these defenses suggest, constitutionally recognizing civil disobedience does not mean making civil disobedience legal. Disobedients would still be arrested and prosecuted, but they would get to explain and defend their actions in court. They would be heard.

There have been shifts in the paradigm forms and goals of civil disobedience over the past century, from the suffragettes’ militant activism in pursuit of their basic rights of citizenship to the youth climate movement’s school walkouts and mass demonstrations to demand governments take urgent action to combat the climate crisis. Even so, civil disobedience remains an enduring, vibrant part of political activism and, increasingly, benefits from transnational alliances.

Theorists have long assumed that civil disobedience only begs justification in liberal, democratic societies – the best real-world candidates for legitimate states. However, civil disobedience also raises questions in undemocratic and illegitimate contexts, regarding its overall role, strategic value, and tactical efficacy. For instance, disobedient protests in support of democracy in Hong Kong may not be presumptively impermissible given China’s authoritarian rule. Yet they still beg significant questions concerning the proper contours of extra-institutional dissident politics and the justification of uncivil and forceful tactics in repressive contexts, including violence against police and the destruction of pro-China shops and Chinese banks.

Finally, whereas theorists have tended to think of civil disobedience as generally undertaken to achieve worthy public goals, liberal democratic states have recently witnessed much disobedience in pursuit of anti-democratic and illiberal goals, including conscientious refusal to abide by antidiscrimination statutes and violations of, and protests against, laws requiring the provision of reproductive services and the public health measures enacted to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We may need a different lens than liberal and democratic theorists have offered to evaluate the full range of conservative social movements, counter-movements, and reactionary movements which resort to civil (and other forms of) disobedience.

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We thank Adrian Blau, Adam Cureton, Alan Hamlin, Jonathan Quong, Ben Saunders, Hillel Steiner, Zofia Stemplowska, John Tasioulas, Joseph Raz, and an anonymous referee for their useful suggestions. Thanks to Kelsey Vicar for research assistance.

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  • The Martin Luther King Jr Research and Education Institute

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This essay originally appeared in Christopher B. Gray (ed.), Philosophy of Law:  An Encyclopedia , Garland Pub. Co, 1999, II.110-113.   Copyright © 1999, Peter Suber . Civil Disobedience Peter Suber , Philosophy Department , Earlham College Civil disobedience is a form of protest in which protestors deliberately violate a law. Classically, they violate the law they are protesting, such as segregation or draft laws, but sometimes they violate other laws which they find unobjectionable, such as trespass or traffic laws. Most activists who perform civil disobedience are scrupulously non-violent, and willingly accept legal penalties. The purpose of civil disobedience can be to publicize an unjust law or a just cause; to appeal to the conscience of the public; to force negotiation with recalcitrant officials; to "clog the machine" (in Thoreau's phrase) with political prisoners; to get into court where one can challenge the constitutionality of a law; to exculpate oneself, or to put an end to one's personal complicity in the injustice which flows from obedience to unjust law —or some combination of these. While civil disobedience in a broad sense is as old as the Hebrew midwives' defiance of Pharaoh, most of the moral and legal theory surrounding it, as well as most of the instances in the street, have been inspired by Thoreau, Gandhi, and King. In this article we will focus on the moral arguments for and against its use in a democracy. Objection:   Civil disobedience cannot be justified in a democracy. Unjust laws made by a democratic legislature can be changed by a democratic legislature. The existence of lawful channels of change makes civil disobedience unnecessary. Reply:   Thoreau, who performed civil disobedience in a democracy, argued that sometimes the constitution is the problem, not the solution. Moreover, legal channels can take too long, he argued, for he was born to live, not to lobby. His individualism gave him another answer: individuals are sovereign, especially in a democracy, and the government only holds its power by delegation from free individuals. Any individual may, then, elect to stand apart from the domain of law. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also performed civil disobedience in a democracy, asks us to look more closely at the legal channels of change. If they are open in theory, but closed or unfairly obstructed in practice, then the system is not democratic in the way needed to make civil disobedience unnecessary. Other activists have pointed out that if judicial review is one of the features of American democracy which is supposed to make civil disobedience unnecessary, then it ironically subverts this goal; for to obtain standing to bring an unjust statute to court for review, often a plaintiff must be arrested for violating it. Finally, the Nuremberg principles require disobedience to national laws or orders which violate international law, an overriding duty even in (perhaps especially in) a democracy. Objection:   Even if civil disobedience is sometimes justified in a democracy, activists must first exhaust the legal channels of change and turn to disobedience only as a last resort. Reply:   Legal channels can never be "exhausted". Activists can always write another letter to their congressional delegation or to newspapers; they can always wait for another election and cast another vote. But justice delayed, King proclaimed, is justice denied. After a point, he argued, patience in fighting an injustice perpetuates the injustice, and this point had long since been passed in the 340 year struggle against segregation in America. In the tradition which justifies civil disobedience by appeal to higher law, legal niceties count for relatively little. If God trumps Caesar to justify disobedience to unjust law, then God can trump Caesar to permit this disobedience sooner rather than later. In this tradition, A.J. Muste argued that to use legal channels to fight unjust laws is to participate in an evil machine, and to disguise dissent as conformity; this in turn corrupts the activist and discourages others by leading them to underestimate the numbers of their congeners. Objection:   We must obey the law under a contract with other members of our society. We have tacitly consented to the laws by residing in the state and enjoying its benefits. Reply:   Obviously this objection can be evaded by anyone who denies the social contract theory. But surprisingly many disobedient activists affirm that theory, making this an objection they must answer. Socrates makes this objection to Crito who is encouraging him to disobey the law by escaping from prison before he is executed. Thoreau and Gandhi both reply (as part of larger, more complex replies) that those who object deeply to the injustices committed by the state can, and should, relinquish the benefits they receive from the state by living a life of voluntary simplicity and poverty; this form of sacrifice is in effect to revoke one's tacit consent to obey the law. Another of Thoreau's replies is that consent to join a society and obey its laws must always be express, and never tacit. But even for Locke, whose social contract theory introduces the term "tacit consent," the theory permits disobedience, even revolution, if the state breaches its side of the contract. A reply from the natural law tradition, used by King, is that an unjust law is not even a law, but a perversion of law (Augustine, Aquinas). Hence, consent to obey the laws does not extend to unjust laws. A reply made by many Blacks, women, and native Americans is that the duty to obey is a matter of degree; if they are not fully enfranchised members of American society, then they are not fully bound by its laws. Objection:   What if everybody did it? Civil disobedience fails Kant's universalizability test. Most critics prefer to press this objection as a slippery slope argument; the objection then has descriptive and normative versions. In the descriptive version, one predicts that the example of disobedients will be imitated, increasing lawlessness and tending toward anarchy. In the normative version, one notes that if disobedience is justified for one group whose moral beliefs condemn the law, then it is justified for any group similarly situated, which is a recipe for anarchy. The first reply, offered in seriousness by Thoreau and Gandhi, is that anarchy is not so bad an outcome. In fact, both depict anarchy as an ideal form of society. However, both are willing to put off the anarchical utopia for another day and fight in the meantime for improved laws; consequently, this strand of their thinking is often overlooked. Another reply is a variation on the first. Anarchy may be bad, but despotism is worse (Locke instead of Hobbes). If we face an iniquitous law, then we may permissibly disobey, and risk anarchy, in order to resist the tendency toward the greater evil of despotism. A.J. Muste extended this line of thinking to turn the slippery slope objection against itself. If we let the state conscript young men against their wills to fight immoral wars, then what will the state do next? For Muste, conscription puts us on a slippery slope toward despotism, and obedience would bring us to the bottom. Utilitarians observe that disobedience and obedience may both be harmful. The slippery slope objection falsely assumes that the former sort of harm always outweighs the latter. In the case of an iniquitous law, the harm of disobedience can be the lesser evil. This utilitarian reply is sometimes found to coexist with a complementary deontological reply, for example in Thoreau: one simply must not lend one's weight to an unjust cause. Ronald Dworkin replies, in effect, that the descriptive version of the argument is false and the normative version irrelevant. There is no evidence that civil disobedience, even when tolerated by legal officials, leads to an increase in lawlessness. Moreover, rights trump utility. Since (for Dworkin) there is a strong right to disobey certain kinds of unjust laws, and since the slippery slope argument points only to the disutility of disobedience, this is a case of a right in conflict with utility; hence the right to disobey must prevail. The normative version of the slippery slope argument has little force if the criteria used by activists permit some but not all disobedience. In Kant's language again, universalizability fails if the maxim of the action is "disobey a law whenever you disapprove of it," but it can succeed if instead the maxim is, "disobey when obedience would cause more harm than disobedience," or "disobey when a law is unjust in the following specific ways...." And it must be said, virtually all activists who practice civil disobedience follow criteria which endorse some, but not all, disobedience. King, for example, did not advocate indiscriminate disobedience; he advocated disobedience of unjust laws and obedience to the just. He articulated what he regarded as public, objective criteria which help us identify the unjust laws which may or must be disobeyed, and the just laws which must obeyed. Any attempt to articulate the distinction between the two sorts of law is in effect an attempt to show that the slide down the slope can be halted, or that the maxim to disobey can be universalized. King had a second reply, inspired by Gandhi: he deliberately made his example difficult to imitate. He pressed for negotiation before turning to disobedience; he underwent self-purification before every disobedient action; he accepted blows from police without retaliation; he accepted arrest and punishment. These tactical features of his actions had other purposes as well, but there is little doubt that they prevented onlookers from thinking that here was a criminal getting away with murder whose example could be imitated with profit. The counter reply, made by Waldman and Storing is that the example of the careful disobedient will be imitated by the careless, and cannot be confined, especially if activists cloak their disobedient acts in the rhetoric of righteousness. If true, this instantly makes replies to the normative version of the slippery slope objection irrelevant. Caution in stating our criteria so that normatively we stop our slide far from the bottom does nothing to prevent the example from being misinterpreted or oversimplified by the less cautious. Scrupulosity in self-purification, courage in accepting blows, and sacrifice in accepting punishment do not stop the unscrupulous from being inspired by the example of disobedience as such. One direct response, then, to the descriptive version held by Waldman and Storing comes from Rawls, who argued that civil disobedience can actually help to stabilize a community. It can be destabilizing if a very large number of people do it, but this rarely happens, and when only a few do it, it can have the beneficial and stabilizing effect of nudging a society closer to its shared vision of justice. Thoreau and Wasserstrom argue that while many in fact might be morally justified in disobeying, few in fact will actually disobey. For Thoreau and A.J. Muste, this inertia and docility in the general population are far larger problems than incipient anarchy. Sometimes activists can point to the lawlessness of their opponents as the real concern. Thoreau claimed that the only harmful consequences of civil disobedience were triggered by the government's reaction to it. King painted white segregationists as the group most likely to precipitate anarchy, since it disobeyed desegregation laws without regard to their legitimacy or justice. Moreover, an activist need not be an anarchist to welcome widespread imitation. Thoreau ardently wished that all opponents of slavery would act on their convictions. He would regard a prediction of widespread imitation of his disobedience as an inducement to act, not as an objection. At this point, critics must be careful not to use the slippery slope objection inconsistently, by predicting anarchy to those who fear it, and inert indifference to those who fear that. On the other hand, activists who welcome imitation should probably do all they can to encourage this imitation; Thoreau did nothing of this kind until he wrote his extremely influential essay two years after he was arrested for withholding his poll tax. Gandhi, Mohandas K. Satyagraha in South Africa . Trans. Valji Govindji Desai. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1928. Bedau, Hugo Adam (ed.). Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice . New York: Macmillan, 1969. Harris, Paul (ed.). Civil Disobedience . Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1989. King, Martin Luther, Jr. "Letter From Birmingham Jail." In his Why We Can't Wait . New York: New American Library, 1964, pp. 76-95. Thoreau, Henry David. The Variorum Civil Disobedience . Ed. Walter Harding. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc., 1967

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Essays on Civil Disobedience

Hook examples for civil disobedience essays, the echoes of thoreau hook.

Begin your essay by revisiting the influential writings of Henry David Thoreau. Explore his essay "Civil Disobedience" and its enduring impact on movements for social and political change.

The Power of Nonviolent Resistance Hook

Examine the concept of nonviolent resistance as a form of civil disobedience. Discuss iconic figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who used peaceful protest to effect transformative change.

From Suffragettes to Sit-Ins Hook

Trace the history of civil disobedience movements. Highlight pivotal moments, such as the suffragette movement or lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights era, to illustrate the diversity of causes and methods.

The Moral Obligation Hook

Explore the ethical and moral underpinnings of civil disobedience. Discuss the idea that individuals engage in acts of protest not only to challenge unjust laws but also as a moral duty to uphold justice.

Environmental Activism and Civil Disobedience Hook

Connect civil disobedience to contemporary environmental movements. Analyze the actions of activists who engage in acts of protest to raise awareness about climate change and environmental conservation.

The Digital Age of Civil Disobedience Hook

Discuss the role of technology and social media in modern civil disobedience. Explore how digital platforms have empowered activists to mobilize, organize, and advocate for change on a global scale.

The Legal and Ethical Boundaries Hook

Examine the fine line between civil disobedience and lawbreaking. Discuss the ethical considerations of breaking the law for a just cause and the consequences faced by individuals who engage in acts of protest.

Lessons from International Movements Hook

Look beyond national borders and explore civil disobedience in international contexts. Investigate movements like the Arab Spring or Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests to gain insights into global struggles for change.

Artistic Expression and Civil Disobedience Hook

Highlight the intersection of art and civil disobedience. Discuss how artists have used their creative talents to convey powerful messages and challenge societal norms, sparking conversations and change.

Civil Disobedience in The Arguments of Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Socrates

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The Significant Role of Civil Disobedience in Shaping Society

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Henry David Thoreau's Views on The Role of Government in Civil Disobedience

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A Comparison of "Civil Disobedience" and "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

The underlying meaning of civil disobedience, a reflection on henry thoreau’s views on civil disobedience, the importance of defending your standards as depicted by thoreau in civil disobedience, the negritude movement in france, oscar wilde's views on disobedience as a valuable human trait, how disobedience is the foundation of liberty, assessment of the protest march by gandhi and the indian independence movement, questioning democracy in thoreau's and melville's works, examining diverse views on slavery in america, stoicism and civil disobedience interconnection, religion, utopia, and the concept of perfection in allegory of the cave by plato and a civil disobedience by henry david thoreau.

Civil disobedience is a form of nonviolent resistance characterized by the deliberate and conscientious violation of laws, rules, or policies enacted by a governing authority, with the aim of challenging perceived injustices or promoting social change. Rooted in the belief that certain laws or actions are morally or ethically unacceptable, civil disobedience involves individuals or groups engaging in peaceful acts of protest or defiance to bring attention to and challenge oppressive systems, discriminatory practices, or unjust policies.

Civil disobedience, as a concept and practice, has its origins in various historical contexts and philosophical traditions. It traces its roots back to ancient times, with examples of individuals and groups engaging in acts of resistance against unjust laws or oppressive regimes. However, the modern concept of civil disobedience emerged prominently in the 19th and 20th centuries. One significant influence on the development of civil disobedience was the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, an American writer and transcendentalist. In his essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), Thoreau advocated for the idea that individuals have a moral duty to resist unjust laws and government actions. His writings inspired many subsequent activists and thinkers, including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who employed civil disobedience as a means of achieving social and political change. Throughout history, civil disobedience has been utilized by various movements and individuals advocating for different causes, such as the suffragettes fighting for women's rights, the civil rights movement in the United States, and protests against oppressive regimes worldwide. Civil disobedience has often been employed as a nonviolent strategy to challenge unjust policies, raise awareness, and prompt dialogue and reform.

1. Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhi, a leader in India's struggle for independence from British rule, popularized the concept of nonviolent resistance. His approach to civil disobedience, known as Satyagraha, emphasized peaceful resistance, civil disobedience, and self-sacrifice. 2. Martin Luther King Jr.: A prominent leader in the American civil rights movement, King advocated for racial equality and justice. He utilized civil disobedience tactics, such as peaceful protests and boycotts, to challenge racial segregation and discrimination in the United States. 3. Rosa Parks: Parks is widely known for her pivotal role in the civil rights movement. By refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, she sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a significant event in the fight against racial segregation. 4. Nelson Mandela: Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist and former president of South Africa, fought against racial oppression through civil disobedience. He spent 27 years in prison for his activism before becoming a symbol of resistance and reconciliation.

1. Nonviolent Protests: Nonviolent protests involve gathering in public spaces to express dissent peacefully. This can include sit-ins, marches, rallies, or public demonstrations that aim to raise awareness, disrupt systems, and challenge the status quo. 2. Civil Disobedience Campaigns: Civil disobedience campaigns involve planned actions where participants deliberately and openly violate specific laws or regulations to highlight their unjust nature. This could include acts such as public acts of defiance, refusal to pay taxes, or intentional acts of civil disobedience. 3. Boycotts: Boycotts involve the organized refusal to engage with or purchase goods or services from institutions or businesses that support or perpetuate unjust practices. Economic pressure is used as a means to bring attention to the cause and prompt change. 4. Civil Resistance: Civil resistance encompasses a range of nonviolent actions aimed at disrupting or obstructing unjust systems. This can include acts of noncooperation, such as strikes, walkouts, or work slowdowns, to challenge oppressive policies or practices. 5. Symbolic Actions: Symbolic actions are often employed in civil disobedience to convey a message or draw attention to an issue. This can include public gestures, artistic expressions, or symbolic acts that resonate with the cause and create a visual impact.

1. Nonviolent Resistance: Civil disobedience is rooted in the principle of nonviolence. It rejects the use of physical force and instead relies on peaceful means to challenge unjust laws or policies. By refusing to resort to violence, civil disobedience aims to demonstrate moral integrity and inspire change through empathy and compassion. 2. Conscious Lawbreaking: Civil disobedience involves a deliberate and conscious violation of specific laws or regulations that are deemed unjust or oppressive. Participants willingly accept the legal consequences of their actions, viewing their acts of defiance as a way to expose and challenge unjust systems. 3. Moral and Ethical Grounding: Civil disobedience is driven by a strong moral and ethical conviction. Participants believe that their actions are morally justified and that they have a responsibility to stand up against injustice. It often emerges from a deep commitment to core principles such as equality, human rights, and social justice. 4. Public and Symbolic Nature: Civil disobedience typically takes place in public spaces to maximize visibility and impact. By engaging in acts of protest openly, participants seek to raise awareness, spark dialogue, and encourage others to question the legitimacy of unjust laws or policies. Symbolic gestures and actions are often employed to convey a powerful message and evoke empathy or solidarity. 5. Pursuit of Change and Reconciliation: Civil disobedience is not merely an act of rebellion; it is a call for change and reconciliation. It aims to prompt dialogue, create pressure for reform, and ultimately lead to a more just and equitable society. By highlighting the flaws in existing systems, civil disobedience seeks to initiate constructive discussions and foster positive transformation.

1. Literature: One notable literary representation of civil disobedience is Henry David Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience." Thoreau's work inspired future activists, including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and has become a foundational text in understanding the philosophy and practice of civil disobedience. 2. Film: The movie "Selma" (2014) directed by Ava DuVernay portrays the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film depicts the nonviolent civil disobedience strategies employed by activists to combat racial discrimination and secure voting rights. 3. Music: The song "We Shall Overcome" has become an anthem for civil rights movements around the world. It originated as a gospel hymn and was later adapted as a protest song during the civil rights movement in the United States. Its powerful lyrics and melody capture the spirit of solidarity and resilience in the face of oppression.

1. One significant example of civil disobedience is Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. This act of defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted for over a year and played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement. 2. Mahatma Gandhi's Salt March in 1930 is another notable act of civil disobedience. In protest against British colonial salt laws, Gandhi and his followers marched over 240 miles to the Arabian Sea to make their own salt. This event garnered international attention and highlighted the power of nonviolent resistance in the fight for Indian independence. 3. In recent years, the climate change movement has witnessed acts of civil disobedience on a global scale. One prominent example is the formation of Extinction Rebellion, a socio-political movement that employs nonviolent civil disobedience to demand urgent action on climate change. Their protests and disruptive actions have gained attention worldwide, raising awareness about the need for immediate and transformative environmental policies.

Civil disobedience is an important and captivating topic to explore in an essay due to its profound impact on society, history, and the pursuit of justice. It provides a lens through which to examine the power of individuals and communities in challenging unjust laws and oppressive systems. By examining the history and philosophy of civil disobedience, an essay can shed light on the transformative role it has played in various movements, from the civil rights movement to environmental activism. It invites reflection on the ethical and moral dimensions of dissent and resistance in the face of injustice. Furthermore, exploring civil disobedience allows for an examination of the tension between law and morality, and the role of dissent in shaping a more equitable society. It prompts critical analysis of the relationship between citizens and their governments, highlighting the importance of civil liberties and the exercise of individual agency.

1. Arendt, H. (1972). Crises of the Republic. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 2. Brownlee, K. (2012). Civil disobedience. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from 3. Gandhi, M. K. (1907). Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule. Navajivan Publishing House. 4. King, M. L. (1963). Letter from Birmingham Jail. In J. M. Washington (Ed.), A testament of hope: The essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. (pp. 289-302). HarperOne. 5. Martin, B. (2007). Defining civil disobedience. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 35(1), 3-26. 6. Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press. 7. Rawls, J. (1999). The justification of civil disobedience. In Collected papers (pp. 525-546). Harvard University Press. 8. Raz, J. (1979). The rule of law and its virtue. In The authority of law: Essays on law and morality (pp. 210-241). Oxford University Press. 9. Simmons, J. (2009). Civil disobedience and the duty to obey the law. Cambridge University Press. 10. Thoreau, H. D. (1849). Civil Disobedience. In Resistance to Civil Government. Cosimo Classics.

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Essays on Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience in henry david thoreaus essay.

Harlan Ellison is exceptionally frank and to-the-point when developing Repent Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman as an example of the true value of civil disobedience and deviation. Ellison starts by informing the reader of his intent, leading into the overall moral of the story. While doing so, Ellison includes a long quote from Henry David Thoreaus essay, Civil Disobedience, describing how very few men serve the state with a consciousness; as doing so would force them into a resistance of the […]

Importance of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau: Empowering Citizens for Just Governance

Henry’s essay on civil disobedience was established in 1849 as a form of resistance to poor governance. It is one of the most important works in American history as it deals with the rights as well as the responsibilities of citizens in view of the government. The essay has been used to legalize efforts to peaceful protests and resistance so as to cause a government change in the government policies that are found to be unjust and are at times […]

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Civil Disobedience as a Form of Protest

There has been a long debate about civil disobedience in our country. Is it an appropriate response to things that we do not like? Or should we never engage in it? Depending who you ask, some may argue its ok when there is a need for change, whiles others state that we should never resort to civil disobedience. Those who agree with cultural relativism will side with the idea that civil disobedience is never an appropriate response. Jessalyn like all […]

Civil Disobedience as a Movement

During the years the most important events in the world, have started by someone who raised their voice on an injustice, a conflict, a disagreement. This referring to changes and improvements for a society, protests are all over the history and until now the still being an important cause of change, even for good or bad. But there are many opinions if either is a good behavior or not, if it follows the laws or break them. Society involves different […]

Civil Disobedience and Law

Civil disobedience is refusing to agree or cooperate with the laws that were given. Civil disobedience has been shown throughout history in America through overt and covert resistance Civil Disobedience is to refuse to follow the law, to go against the law peacefully. Henry David Thoreau argues that citizens must disobey the rule of law if those laws prove to be unjust. Martin Luther King Jr. argues that he and his fellow demonstrations have a duty to fight for justice […]

Civil Disobedience Research

In 2014 there was an umbrella revolution going on in Hong Kong. More than a thousand protesters remained in the downtown on Monday night after days of confrontations with police that observers fear could spark more great violence. Many Hong Kong residents young and old, rich and poor have peacefully occupied important thoroughfares across the city, shuttering businesses and bringing traffic to a halt. They claim that Beijing reneged on an agreement to grant them open elections by 2017, and […]

Civil Disobedience is the Cause of Protests

Civil disobedience has been the cause for a large number of protests around the world. It is defined an individuals rights to freedom of speech and is done in a peaceful way. Civil disobedience is important in a democratic country because it allows individuals to exercise their rights and speck against the unfair and unjust government and its laws. Even though the citizens are given their rights, they could be put in jail, could get hurt or even killed for […]

Civil Disobedience through the Eyes of Non-Violent Protests

To what extent has civil disobedience been morally justified through non-violent protests? In the past, sit-ins have been used as a form of peaceful protest to raise awareness about injustice. Because sit-ins are a form of indirect disobedience, they are a key social change that I argue should be used to build power and effect change. Civil disobedience in some cases can overlap with other forms of dissent. In that way, non-violent resistance is the best strategy that can be […]

Civil Disobedience in Todays World

The definition of civil disobedience given in class was that it is a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law that attempts to bring about a change in laws. According to this definition, there are a few characteristics that define if an act or protest is considered to be following civil disobedience or not. The act must be conscientious, it must be public, and it must be non-violent. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are the two thinkers I chose […]

Civil Disobedience and Henry David Thoreau

Civil Disobedience is an essay written by Henry David Thoreau first published in 1866, in which Thoreau attempts to convince readers to oppose the Mexican-American War and the institution of slavery as a whole. First presented as a lecture in 1848, and shortly thereafter as an essay titled Resistance to Civil Government. It was not until sometime after Thoreaus death that the essay was published as Civil Disobedience and began to gain further prominence and popularity. In his essay, Thoreau […]

Civil Disobedience and the Government

In Civil disobedience, written by Henry David Thoreau, he argues that if citizens feel laws are unjust then they must rebel against them and disobey the rule of the law. Henry uses himself as an example on why one should disobey a law. He does this by refusing to pay taxes in protest of slavery and the Mexican war. For years the government paid no attention to Thoreau’s failure to pay taxes, until July 1846. Being asked to pay his […]

Thoreau’s Practice of Transcendental Self-Reliance: Living Simply, Opposing Materialism, and Defying Authority

Henry David Thoreau was an American poet, author, advocate, and transcendentalist. He wrote many famous essays like Walden and Civil Disobedience. Like other followers of the transcendentalist movement, Thoreau stressed the importance of religion, philosophy, and ideology in one’s life. He felt that a person lived a good life by following his conscience and instincts. Thoreau also believed that materialism distracted people from living a good and moral life. In Walden, he says Rather than love, than money, than fame, […]

Civil Disobedience Philosopher Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau argues that citizens must disobey the rule of law if those laws prove to be unjust. He recalled his experiences and thought it was only right to withhold his taxes from payment. Thoreau etched his legacy for civil disobedience. Ironically for years, the United States government chooses to ignore Thoreaus failure to pay taxes (I wish they would have done the same for me 4 years ago). Hes then arrested and tossed into jail, where he continues to refuse […]

Is Civil Disobedience Truly Justified?

If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do […]

Socrates’s Civil Disobedience

It’s our responsibility’s as citizens to not only follow the laws in place but to challenge them when we deem them unjust. By doing this we are directly committing civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a tool that when molested can hurt the system in place but, when used justly to alter the laws inhibiting certain rights in can enlighten the system. One of the most famous proponents of Civil disobedience is Martin Luther King Jr, he saw injustice in our […]

Oedipus Civil Disobedience

Fate is often said to be inevitable, an adverse outcome, condition, or end and free will is the ability to choose at your own discretion.  In our everyday life, we make decisions and are often told that life is about making choices. It is because we have free will that we make choices which may lead to positive consequences if the choice is rational and yet other times our decisions lead to negative consequences.  Free will plays an important role […]

Thoreau and Civil Disobedience

Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience in response to questions about why he had gone to jail. As an abolitionist, he had objected to the Massachusetts poll tax and refused to pay it as a protest against slavery. When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, he protested against it, seeing it as an aggressive war of conquest aimed in part at adding new slave territories to the United States, and for this reason, as well, he refused to pay the tax. […]

An Ineffective Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is the refusal to observe specific laws and is a peaceful way of protest. Throughout history, civil disobedience has been utilized as a way to protest against unjust and biased laws, examples of these peaceful protests are sit ins, marches, and hunger strikes. Civil disobedience is an effective way for there to be change in laws and ways of life. Minority groups of citizens in the United States have fought for voting rights since the formation of the […]

Oscar Wilde Civil Disobedience

If no one ever disobeyed what was considered unacceptable, a nation or group would never reconsider their way of life to recognize if they are wrong and correct their mistakes. It is the original thought and action that progresses our world. In other words, disobedience drives social progress. Disobedience, through history, is a valuable human trait in light of the fact that it promoted cultural change, has exposed the unjust, and empowered the inevitably weak. First off, disobedience can be […]

Civil Disobedience as Refusal to Obey Civil Laws

Civil disobedience is defined in the dictionary as refusal to obey civil laws in an effort to induce change in governmental policy or legislation, characterized by the use of passive resistance or other non-violent means (Houghton, 2000). But civil disobedience is much more than just the outcome it brings, its also about the journey to outcome. People like Nelson Mandela have gone to prison for it, Martin Luther King preached it, Gandhi promoted it, and even Jesus used civil disobedience […]

A Christian Philosophy on Civil Disobedience

In todays society, it is not unusual for the common people to disagree with the forces governing them. Recent studies estimate that only one out of every five Americans trusts the government (CNN). The relating question that is more difficult to answer, is when is a simple disagreement enough to allow disobedience? People tend to find it hard to discern when it is acceptable to disobey the government, because it is generally assumed that a world where no one listens […]

Plato’s Socrates View on Civil Disobedience

The rule of contractual was something Plato’s believed in and stood by it ever since the education he received along with other advantages that the state offered to its people, Plato’s was also like forced to agree as well to live per the laws of the state. Plato’s also believed in accepting and taking the benefits the benefits of the state made him some kind of subject for the state and because of this it became a result in being […]

Antigone Moral Obligation and Civil Disobedience

Greek tragedy often teaches moral lessons at the expense of human life and political will. Antigone is the tragic story of the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta of Thebes after the army of Argos vanishes and her brothers have killed each other on opposite sides of the battle. While the Greeks were well-aware of the literary history, the tragedy still provides a historical and modern perspective for one of the oldest questions in society: how does one protest an unjust […]

Morally Justification of the Civil Disobedience

I negate the resolution that civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified. in order to formulate this round, I give these definitions, according to civil disobedience means to refusal to obey governmental demands or commands especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing concessions from the government. democracy means government by the people especially rule of the majority. And morally justified means acting in accord with divine or moral law and the central issue, my value […]

My own Personal Thoughts on Civil Disobedience

This report begins by examining the positions of several prominent American historical figures on the question of civil disobedience. The persons whose viewpoints and arguments are scrutinized include Martin Luther King, Henry David Thoreau and Susan B. Anthony. The analysis concludes by examining my own personal thoughts on civil disobedience. People are morally entitled to disobey the law set by government with an aim of pressuring the government to make just law. Civil disobedience is defined as a refusal to […]

Dr. Martin Luther King – Example of Civil Disobedience and Transcendentalism Ideas

Standing up for what you believe in, no matter the consequences shows how dedicated one can be, just like Henry David Thoreau. King was known for his views on racial injustice towards the black community. He used a peaceful approach to the topic, organizing boycotts and giving large speeches to his mistreated people. He was most famous for his I Have A Dream speech, given on August 28th, 1963 in Washington D.C. During his protests, King was arrested in Birmingham,Alabama […]

Disobedience for Social Progress

It is pretty reasonable to have better life in this society with obedience as a tool to compliment the knowledge and skills to attain success. The stability of social orders is being affected by the disobedience of individuals who seek to prove their real character. The sustainability of social progress can only be where the society fosters obedience as a culture to be understood by the people. It is clearly that the disobedience has led to destruction of the fabrics […]

Disobedience the True Foundation of Liberty

Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.- Henry David Thoreau. On Civil Disobedience- Do residents obtain the right to refuse to follow a regulation if that policy interrupts the residents own moral code? Does majority rule? What is civil disobedience? The denial to abide with certain laws or to atone tariffs or penalties, as a tranquil structure of nonviolent protest. There have been innumerable demonstrations against the government from people displaying their desire for change. […]

Comparitive Review

Emerson and Thoreau Represent Individualism In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s article “Self-Reliance” and Henry David Thoreau’s paper “Resistance to Civil Government (“Civil Disobedience”), both visionary scholars talk about being individual and what changes and reforms should be made in our community. Nevertheless, the two articles contrast in their concept of what changes should be made. Emerson adopts a considerably more broad strategy to what changes an individual must make while Thoreau’s paper dives into substantially more detail in the matter of […]

Why do People Segregate by Race and Skin Color

Imagine being treated poorly because of how you look as an individual, what your race is, or even the color of your skin. Sometimes people just don’t stop to think, as to how what they are about to express an opinion on can affect someone else. This is what segregated everyone in the country, and it caused for us to have unequal citizen. People like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was very strong-minded, passed the Civil Rights Act of […]

Essay Introduction

Research paper on civil disobedience, thesis statement for civil disobedience essay.

Every person in the United States has a voice and a right to freedom of speech. Every person also has their own set of beliefs and morals. However, it is believed that we must also obey and follow the laws set forth by our government. If your own government has laws set in place that challenge your own conscience, beliefs, and morals, do you simply just obey without question? Henry David Thoreau once asked, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward (Thoreau 2).” Thoreau believes we must not let go of our morals and that we should put our moral obligations above lawful ones. Sometimes there is no other choice but to disobey if the change is truly needed. In many cases, civil disobedience is not only justified but essential in changing laws that violate our rights as human beings.

Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat is an excellent example of civil disobedience that launched a life-changing movement for many African-Americans. On December 1st, 1955, she had been riding the bus after a long day’s work. The law at this time required passengers in the “colored section” to move from their seats if space ran out in the designated “white section” (Recchiuti par. 3). Parks was told to give her seat to another passenger, and she refused (par. 2). At this moment, many would argue that this single act sparked the launch of the Civil Rights Movement (History 0:00-0:22). She was put on trial for this act and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was one of the most successful and influential acts of civil disobedience in history.

Argumentative Essay Examples on Civil Disobedience

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the organizers of the boycott, and this helped launch him into the public’s eye as one of the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement (Hansan par. 8). From this, many more protests occurred. In 1963, King was preparing to lead a demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama. The police chief in the town got an injunction from the state court against all demonstrations. King stated that he would ignore the injunction and carry on with the protest.

He led approximately 1000 African-Americans towards the business district and was promptly arrested, along with one of his top aides (Rothman, par. 2). While in jail, King wrote a letter addressing comments made by a few critics. In this letter, he stated: Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with having an ordinance that requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest. I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out.

In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist? That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that their conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice is, in reality, expressing the highest respect for the law. (King, par. 15)

Sometimes laws need to be broken before they can be fixed. And the point that King is trying to make isn’t that we should go around just breaking laws just because we disagree with them. Laws are excellent to have and prevent absolute chaos. However, when they are used against us to deny us basic human rights, then it becomes a problem. If someone is to break a law that they deem unjust, they must willingly accept the consequences. This acceptance of the penalty is what makes the message they are trying to convey even stronger. The only way they were able to end segregation and obtain the right to vote was by disobeying these unjust laws set in place by our government. They had to stand up and accept the punishment, but they accepted it with full responsibility. The Civil Rights Movement was an incredibly important time in history for African-Americans. They were one step closer to equality.

Titles: Civil Disobedience in the Women’s Suffrage Movement

In an interview with Andrea Thimesch, I asked her in what situations did she think civil disobedience was most effective. “I think it’s kind of hard to say because I believe that civil disobedience is part of the democratic process and part of free speech and things like that. But really, the effectiveness is just being seen because if a problem stays invisible and people don’t make enough noise, then it’s always going to be a problem. Probably the most successful sign of civil disobedience would have been the woman suffrage movement, like the women’s right to vote. I think that’s the most successful push for demonstration of civil disobedience,” stated Thimesch. The woman suffrage movement is a great example where civil disobedience brought change to the constitution.

The Power and Impact of Civil Disobedience in Advancing Equality and Justice

While the word suffrage simply means “the right to vote,” this movement was about much more than that. They were fighting for equality in a society where, during that time, men held most of the power. This movement took place over the course of 72 years. This wasn’t an isolated event in the U.S. either, as women across the world were struggling with equality (Dolton 31). They made great use of civil disobedience by hosting parades, petitioning, holding demonstrations, and street speaking (“Tactics and” 1). I agree with Thimesch’s answer that visibility is a large part of what makes protesting effective. By being visible and putting the word out there, it led to the passing of the 19th Amendment. Women finally had the right the vote. 96

Civil disobedience is a strong way to incite change when it truly is needed. There are many more examples of protesting that caused change in a good way. In my examples, I am focused mainly on those that ended with changing laws or creating new amendments. The people mentioned in this essay were incredibly brave. Most people fear breaking the law, but these people don’t. They accepted the punishment and continued to fight for justice. Sometimes unjust laws need to be broken in order for people to realize how unjust they are.


Civil Disobedience Thesis

Martin luther king and gandhi comparison.

Civil Disobedience by Thoreau is the refusal to obey government demands or commands and nonresistance to consequent arrest and punishment this had an extreme effect on Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi. They were fighting for different beliefs. However they both had the same believes about civil disobedience and they both end in the same place, jail. In the first place Gandhi believed that the only way to confronted injustice was with non-violent methods.

Civil Disobedience In 'Antigone'

My Standpoint Civil Disobedience is an effective method of change that has been used throughout history against unjust laws. “Antigone” The story of “Antigone” uses this idea of civil disobedience through Antigone who defies the law given by her new king. As Creon starts off his first day of work he is emotional due to the loss of his eldest son. Because Creon is so emotional, he states that the person who brought war to the land causing his eldest son’s death, shall not be buried.

Thoreau And Martin Luther King Comparison

Civil Disobedience In the dictionary civil disobedience is the refusal to comply with certain laws or to pay taxes and fines, as a peaceful form of political protest, but Thoreau and Martin Luther King have their own beliefs to civil disobedience. In Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” he writes about the need to prioritize one’s conscience over the dictates of laws. Martin Luther King uses civil disobedience as something that effectuates change in the government. Both Thoreau and Martin Luther King has similar yet different perspectives on civil disobedience.

Civil Disobedience: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Civil disobedience is a way of protesting in a peaceful manner, and willing to suffer to receive what they want. To illustrate, in an interview with Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., he was speaking about civil disobedience in a democratic society. He mentioned that if a person wants to achieve something they need to be willing to go against the law or expressing something else in a peaceful manner, which they must be willing to suffer, so that they can achieve what they want. It is clear from the above that if someone wants to express civil disobedience, they need to be willing to oppose the laws, but in a peaceful manner which may result in them suffering. Also, another example to prove how this is correct, in an articles previously read in the

Loving V. Virginia Case Study

One of the most famous examples of civil disobedience is Rosa Park’s refusal to sit in the back of the bus. An article on named “Rosa Parks and Civil Disobedience”

Discuss The Impact Of Martin Luther King In The Civil Rights Movement

Civil disobedience is the act of disobeying governmental commands in a peaceful, non-violent, form of protest. Throughout history, peaceful protest have had a positive impact on free society. Peaceful protest have had the biggest impact during the Civil Rights Movement. During this time, many people have led non-violent protest for their rights, including well known African-American Activist, Martin Luther King Jr.. He was most famously known for his speech, I Have a Dream.

Civil Disobedience: Martin Luther King Jr.

Civil disobedience can mean many things to many people. To some people it could mean a non-violent means of protesting or attempting to achieve political goals; however, in the eyes of people like Martin Luther King Jr it could be different. He stated that “one has the moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”. Martin Luther King Jr prove this by doing many non-violent protest during his time, to fight against segregation. The meaning of civil disobedience is a bit different in Henry Thoreau’s eyes.

Civil Disobedience By Martin Luther King Jr.

The civil disobedience is to describe when the public refusal to obey the law or commands of a government that violate one's personal principals without the act of violence, as an effort to induce a change in governmental policy or legislation. The purpose is to force concessions from the government or occupying power. For example, if a group of people refuses to pay taxes as a peaceful way to express disapproval of those laws they disagree with or taxes. Civil disobedience may be appropriate when a democratically elected government uses its power to discriminate against their race, sex, religion or skin color. In such a situation, people would most liking object the Laws and start a protest to show they want to be treated equally.

Civil Disobedience Is Good For Society Essay

I believe that civil disobedience is good for the advancement of the American society. This a simple fact which has been proven many times by history all around the world. A few examples of important historical participants and leaders in civil disobedience include Mohandas Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and much more. Mohandas Gandhi was an Indian man who spent his life protesting the unjust anti-Indian law in Britan using, you guessed it, civil disobedience. Most importantly on March 30, 1930, when he lead a defiance march to the sea.

Civil Disobedience In Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From Birmingham Jail

It is out of the selfless act of heroes and heroines of civil disobedience such as Mahatma Gandhi that the society is enjoying the fruits today. This speech is going to demonstrate how civil disobedience has played roles in social reforms, containing unjust rulings

Examples Of Civil Disobedience In Antigone

Today we are all called to enact on our own civil disobedience when we are faced with injustice and unfair laws, we are called to make a stand and a declaration to stand up for what we believe

Rhetorical Analysis Of Malala Yousafzai's Speech

Malala Yousafzai lived in fear because of the terrorists that threaten her country but now she fights for youths. Yousafzai believes that all youths should have educations which she addresses in her speech. Yousafzai also believes that giving education to youths will fight against terrorists. Yousafzai fights for women and children’s rights and throughout her speech she discourses this. Yousafzai’s United Nations speech shows the rhetorical methods of Logos, Ethos, and

Selma To Montgomery March Speech Analysis

As kids people get taught what is wrong and right from a parental figure or experiences of life teach us how to react to different situations. When we finally turn adults no one is there to remind us of what’s good and what's bad so we have to use our past experiences and our knowledge to help guide us. Each adult shapes their societies for their generation and many more generations to come. Mohandas k. Gandhi and Susan B Anthony’s speech along with the article Selma to Montgomery March on history show that civil disobedience is a moral responsibility.

How Is Civil Disobedience Effective

Civil disobedience is nonviolent resistance to a government’s law in seek of change. Civil disobedience is an effective way to bring about change because it is a harmless way of fighting an unjust law or idea, it can educate people about the cause, and it has been successful many times in history. First and foremost, civil disobedience is

Summary: The Case Against Civil Disobedience

People's justification to engage in civil disobedience rests on the unresponsiveness that their engagement to oppose an unjust law receives. People who yearn for a change in a policy might sometimes find themselves in a dead end because their “attempts to have the laws repealed have been ignored and legal protests and demonstrations have had no success” (Rawls 373). What Rawls says is that civil disobedience is a last option to oppose an unjust law; therefore, providing civil disobedients with a justification for their cause. Civil disobedience is the spark of light that people encountered at the dead end and they hope that this spark of light will illuminate to show that an unjust law should not exist at all. Martin Luther King, Jr, in his “Letter from

More about Civil Disobedience Thesis

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Civil Disobedience: Advantages and Disadvantages Research Paper

Introduction: obedience, definition of obedience and disobedience, arguments for obedience and disobedience, works cited.

The present day society has uncalculated into us that being obedient is good while being disobedient is very bad. Our social institutions have taught us that we have to obey people in every order or command that has been issued out to us without any question. Even without being told, people have to be obedient to the rules, laws and guidelines that have been set out by social institutions to ensure that there is peace and harmony in the society. This goes without saying that obedience is a human behavior that has been deeply ingrained within us. It has become an impulsive behavior that goes beyond being emphatic and sympathetic.

Social beings are prone to being obedient to a higher authority that makes them feel protected and secure. They therefore cannot make any mistakes or be disobedient to these authorities as they make the most vital decisions. These higher authorities include the government, law enforcement agencies and social institutions such as churches, schools and medical facilities. All these institutions are guided by moral, ethical and legal guidelines that ensure their practices have been followed and maintained within the society. Social beings are therefore expected to obey these guidelines to ensure their well beings have bee met adequately by these institutions.

The thesis statement for this research paper will be “The courage to be disobedient at times is what makes us fully human, with a strong and confident personality”. The thesis statement basically supports the notion that disobedience in social beings makes them stronger and more confident when faces life challenges. Most social proponents might argue against this statement by saying that being disobedient does not only make a person to be confident or stronger but it also fosters an attitude of negativity and disobedience.

They might also argue that disobedience creates an environment of hostility and rebellion within the society. Such proponents of social behavior argue for obedience when it comes to maintain a positive social equilibrium within the society. The research paper will therefore look at the aspect of obedience as well as of disobedience in social beings. The three arguments that will be raised in the research paper include; obedience is good and disobedience is bad, disobedience is good as it helps mould a human’s personality and obedience is bad to a human being’s development.

To better understand the concept of disobedience and obedience a definition of each is required. The term obedience refers to the act of performing commands or orders issued by other people. Obedience is part of human behavior and part of the norms and guidelines that make up the social fabric of the society.

Stanley Milgram conducted experiments and research into obedience with particular focus on how the Nazis were able to get ordinary German citizens to participate in the Holocaust that saw millions of Jews being murdered in concentration camps. He focused on how ordinary citizens were obedient in the presence of authoritative figures or social institutions. The results of his research work showed that obedience was normal and people who disobeyed were viewed to be abnormal within the society (Passini and Morselli 97).

The various forms of obedience that exist within the society include obedience to God and religious beliefs, obedience to social norms and cultural practices, obedience to governments and other social institutions such as churches, schools, and medical institutions, obedience to self imposed constraints and obedience to country laws (Milgram 64). Disobedience on the other hand is the refusal or failure to obey. It is basically the opposite act of obeying where an individual does not follow the set out guidelines or laws.

An individual might decide to disobey certain rules or certain orders given by a person in authority. Such an act has been described by social researchers to be an act of rebellion and non-compliance. People who disobey do so deliberately to break certain laws or to go against a certain authoritative figure. They also disobey to show that they do not cooperative with the authorities. Disobedience is therefore seen as a negative act that affects the institutions in the society (Passini and Morselli 100).

To explain the first argument where obedience is good and disobedience is bad, human beings follow rules so as not to against the law or against the rules. People are prone to obey because it offers them a sense of security and protection. People are not allowed to make any mistakes because the major social institutions and authoritative figures make the important decisions for us. Presidents make important decisions for their countries while the citizens get to exercise obedience to the decisions that have been made. Regardless of what kind of behavior is involved, obedience can be justifiable as long as the individuals follow orders and commands (Asch 31).

Obedience in the society provides a sense of order and continuity which is important. Social institutions around the world create laws and guidelines that are used in maintaining order and peace. Laws are made for various reasons and some of the most important reasons for following laws is to demonstrate obedience. Obeying laws ensures that there is no trouble in the society and it shows that people agree with the set out laws and are ready to defend them. Obeying laws also ensures that order is maintained in the society preventing cases where the rule of the jungle prevails (Asch 31).

The concept of obedience is at times difficult given the complex nature of human behavior which is difficult to control. This creates a situation where some people are prone to being disobedient or vulnerable to disobedience. While some people readily obey, others decide to disobey regardless of whether they have the opportunity to act independently.

To demonstrate this statement, most of the offenses that are committed within the society are usually done by ordinary people instead of social outcasts. These people decide to disobey under the impacts of surrounding circumstances and authoritative figures. They also disobey because the set out laws might at times contradict their belief and value systems. Ordinary people also disobey because of the pressure to conform to values that at times might not be right (Behrens and Rosen 304).

Disobedience also stems from the feeling of performing other people’s wishes rather than our own. This makes individuals to no longer feel responsible for their actions as their decisions are made by authoritative figures or people who have authority over social beings within the society. Such a situation forces people within the social context to feel responsible to the authoritative figures creating a need to constantly perform well out of duty or obligation to these authorities. Value systems and beliefs are at times compromised when this happens (Behrens and Rosen 304).

The human psychology prevents people from resisting orders or commands. Human beings are mostly wired to obey therefore making obedience to be a normal state. Obedience has become a historically accepted norm where a society requires each of its members to follow the established rules and guidelines.

Obedience is mostly focused on an authoritative figure that influences the norms and rules within social institutions. Authoritative figures create and regulate norms and rules that are used within the society and in return they require social members to follow these rules without any question. For example governments around the world create laws that require all citizens to obey. This is important as it ensures there is no disorder present in the society. Obedience has therefore been viewed to be a fundamental component in maintaining order within the society (Behrens and Rosen 304).

The next argument to be focused on will be disobedience is good as it build’s an individual’s personality and confidence. As explained before, society requires every social being to be obedient. But in some instances, obedience causes more harm than good as exemplified by the Holocaust where German citizens betrayed Jews to the Nazis.

Milgram explains the role of obedience during the Holocaust where ordinary people agreed to obey an authoritative figure which was the Nazi to the extent of severely hurting other ordinary human beings. Milgram’s explanation of the Holocaust points to the fact that disobedience is not always wrong. Some Germans during the Holocaust disobeyed the Nazis by harboring and protecting Jews an act that spared their lives (Milgram 64).

According to Fromm (2) the first act of disobedience in the world was committed by Adam and Eve. The two disobeyed God’s command by eating fruit from the Garden after God had forbidden them. Human history was therefore founded by an act of disobedience because of Adam and Eve. This act of disobedience affected the development of man in the world as obedience and disobedience co-existed together in the world.

This especially became true as more and more people continued to rebel against authoritative figures who were charged with developing their worlds. Fromm (2) also highlights the stealing of the fire by Prometheus as an act of disobedience. As much as it laid the foundation for human evolution, Prometheus’ act of disobedience set the stage for human history and it put him on the historic map for his crime.

The intellectual development of human beings has mostly been dependent on acts of disobedience. This disobedience arises from authoritative figures trying to stifle the thoughts and expressions of their subjects as well their long established opinions and thoughts that govern social institutions and members. Disobedience has also arisen from the pressure to conform or comply with these laws that might at times contradict the individual’s set of beliefs and values (Fromm 2).

Fromm further analyzes the act of disobedience by looking at various historic events that took place in the course of the century. Such occurrences such as the Garden of Eden and Prometheus formed the basis for the evolution of man. Acts of disobedience over the past would not have formed the foundation of the world today. Human history began with an act of disobedience when Adam and Eve defyed God by consumeing the prohibited fruit. This according to Fromm (2) was seen to be an act of freedom and independence from the authoritative figure of God.

Fromm relates disobedience with obedience by stating that an act of obedience to one principle might at times lead to an act of disobedience on the same principle. In the social context, human beings are faced with disobedience when performing their moral duties. When trying to obey some human principles, other laws have to be broken.

When the principles that had to be obeyed conflicted with those that had to be disobeyed, an irreconcilable situation arose. For example people using a zebra crossing might back up traffic which might be wrong, in some other cases people who water their gardens during the drought season might be doing so to keep the city green but they might be wasting valuable water resources that have become scarce during the dry season (Fromm 3).

Antigone was a perfect example of explaining the act of obeying one principle and disobeying another. She was faced with the dilemma of obeying a law that was deemed to be too inhumane which meant that she had to disobey the laws of humanity. Therefore an act of obeying one principle would be an act of disobeying another. Fromm advocates that people within the society should be free from any laws or rules established by authoritative figures or social institutions as they were born to be free and independent.

He states that people should be able to disobey as well as to obey without having to resort to rebellion. Fromm advocates for the proper balancing of the two concepts according to what individuals feel is right to obey or disobey. He uses an example of martyrs in either the religious or science circles who at one point had to disobey people that wanted to stop them following their own consciences (Fromm 3).

In coming up with the proper balance, Fromm analyzes the concept of obedience by looking at two types of obedience which include autonomous obedience and heteronomous obedience. Heteronomous obedience is the kind of obedience that is given to a person, an institution of power or an authoritative figure. Fromm describes this kind of obedience to be submissive in nature as it implies that an individual should abandon their own perceptions of what is right and accept the foreign perceptions of a higher authoritative figure in place of their own.

It is the kind of obedience that responds to outside thoughts and power. Autonomous obedience is the kind of obedience that is used by individuals who believe in their own religious, personal and political beliefs and convictions. Individuals who practice autonomous obedience exercise their own judgment and follow their own perceptions rather than those of other people. Fromm describes this kind of obedience to be the ability of an individual to judge for themselves (Fromm 4).

In describing how acts of disobedience develop people psychologically, Fromm states that acts of disobedience provide an individual with freedom and the ability to withstand oppression. Disobedience also enables an individual to voice their opinions and concerns against any societal or authoritative pressures. Fromm suggested that choice and the ability to be disobedient were two indivisible concepts that had to go hand in hand. For an individual to be free from societal norms and pressures, they had to be disobedient. This did not mean that defiance was a virtue and obedience was a vice, as a highlight like that would take no notice of the relationship that existed between the two concepts (Fromm 3).

In analyzing the third argument that states that obedience is bad, historical events such as the Holocaust come into mind. Innocent Jews were killed as a result of ordinary Germans obeying Nazi orders. This brought into contrast the fact that society’s committed human rights abuses in the name of being obedient. Ordinary German citizens were forced to commit inhuman acts against the Jews that they would ordinarily have not committed under normal circumstances. While some German citizens stood up and disobeyed Nazi orders to identify Jewish hideouts, others acted as Nazi spies by informing the officers where the Jews were hidden (Milgram 64).

Milgram’s analysis of German behavior during the mass murders of Jews during the Holocaust showed that people’s behavior changed drastically when they were faced with military conflicts. They tended to obey to avoid being involved in the conflicts that mostly led to the death of people who were disobedient. Such obedience created some forms of aggression amongst the social members who were under oppression. The results of Milgram’s research experiment revealed that people tended to obey authoritative figures and it was deemed to be abnormal for a person to disobey these authoritative figures. This created a dangerous situation where obedient people had to fulfill the commands of authority that were deemed to be illegal or criminal in nature (Passini and Morselli 100).

People who obey authoritative figures do so to fulfill the orders of these figures so that they can benefit from carrying out those orders and at the same time prevent the occurrence of conflicts within the society. Obedience at times becomes a very powerful tool that can make ordinary people commit acts that are deemed legal by authoritative figures. Cullingworth (262) discusses the aspect of blind obedience which is deemed to be more negative than positive.

Blind obedience dehumanizes people by making them act in an unimaginable way. Cullingworth further notes that blind obedience has a range of negative effects that might include death, fear, insecurity, and inconvenience. An example of blind obedience was the terrorist attack of September 11 th where suicide bombers attacked the World Trade Centre in the US based on their obedience to religious beliefs and values (Cullingworth 262). In summary obedience has been used for the purpose which at times has led to the devastation and loss of innocent lives.

The various arguments presented in the research paper have shown that obedience and disobedience can be both positive and negative concepts. On one hand obedience ensures that there is order in the society while disobedience demonstrates rebellion to the norms and guidelines that are used to govern the society. On the other hand disobedience ensures that a person has the freedom to do whatever they want based on their own perceptions and beliefs while obedience prevents people from being free and openly expressing their concerns, views and opinions without any fear of reprisals or condemnation.

In support of the thesis statement where the courage to be disobedient is what makes us fully human, strong and confident, disobedience has been noted by several authors in the research work to be positive in the intellectual development of human beings. Disobedience allows people to develop their freedom by voicing their concerns on aspects that are deemed to be detrimental to the society. It also allows for people to base their decisions on their own perceptions of what is good and what is bad. Disobedience is therefore seen to be important in developing a person’s intellectual capacity and perceptions.

Asch, Solomon. Opinions and social pressure. Scientific American , 193 (31-35), 1955. Print.

Behrens, Laurence and Rosen, Leonard. Writing and reading across the curriculum , 10 th Edition. New York: Longman Prentice Hall, 2008. Print.

Cullingworth, Nick . Btec national public service . Cheltenham. UK: Nelson Thomes Limited, 2004. Print.

Fromm, Erich. Disobedience as a psychological and moral problem . New York: Routledge Inc., 2005. Print.

Milgram, Stanley. The perils of obedience . Harper’s Magazine, 62-77, 1973.

Passini, Stefano and Morselli, Davide. Authority relationships between obedience and disobedience. New Ideas in Psychology , 27 (96 -106), 2009.

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Civil Disobedience Thesis Statement

civil disobedience thesis statement

Show More Daneisha Rodgers Ms. Love English II Honors 10 February 2016 Outline Topic: Civil Disobedience Research Question: Is civil disobedience effective or not? Thesis Statement: Civil disobedience is effective because it involves a nonviolent reasoning which brings a few deficiencies, however the advantages to the system have been successful in political and social movements. I. Introduction A. Background B. Civil disobedience is effective because it involves a nonviolent reasoning which brings a few deficiencies, however the advantages to the system have been successful in political and social movements. Many people proved that nonviolence is powerful. Civil rights movement gave the nation an understanding on unjust laws. People were committed

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Civil Disobedience Thesis

Disobedience essay.

Disobedience is a valuable human traits because through disobedience it have bring great change in the society which have impact all people around the world. For example people who disobedience the law to bring change in their society are such as Martin Luther king, Malala yousafzai, and Mahatma gandhi. These three people had a great impact on people's lives and change the society forever by disobedience.

Martin Luther King Jr's Letter From The Birmingham Jail

The Civil Rights movement has aimed to gain rights for African-Americans for decades. Over the course of the semester we have looked at movement’s that have helped advocate for civil rights. One of the movements of that we looked at specifically in class was Martin L. King Jr’s movement and his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”. In this letter, we hear Dr. King's honest opinion about the criticism he received from his opponents of timely protest. We gain a lot of insight about King's honest opinion about his political motivations of his movements and why he felt that it was critical to act when he did. Another movement that we discussed but didn’t directly look at was the Black Panther Party. An outside article that discusses the Black

Civil Disobedience Essay

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr passed away from a sniper’s bullet. He gave us thirteen years of nonviolent protest during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s. Before I can give my opinion on the history of race relations in the United States since King’s assassination in 1968 strengthened or weakened his arguments on the necessity and value of civil disobedience? You should know the meaning of civil disobedience. The word civil has several definitions. “The one that is intended in this case is "relating to citizens and their interrelations with one another or with the state", and so civil disobedience means "disobedience to the state". Sometimes people assume that civil in this case means "observing accepted social forms; polite" which

When should civil disobedience be condoned? Should it be condoned? Civil disobedience is defined as the refusal to obey government laws, in an effort to bring upon a change in governmental policy or legislation. Civil disobedience is not an effort to dissolve the American government, because without government our society would result in chaos. Sometimes, when there is an unjust law and the government won't take the initiative to fix it, the public must act as civil disobedients to bring awareness and fix the unjust law. An unjust law is that which is not moral and does not respect the "god-given" rights which are entitled to every person. A law which allows freedom for some but not for others, on the basis of sex, sexual

Essay On Civil Disobedience

“The concept of righteous civil disobedience is incompatible with the concept of the American legal system.”

Civil Disobedience And The Civil Rights Movement

Civil disobedience still has the same meaning it had before throughout all these years. It 's been relevant before and is more so now especially in our own country and in literature. On the news, you see protests hopping over civil rights like in Ferguson and with the bringing down of the confederate flag by Bree Newsome. Martian Luther King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” show what they did and why they did it. They did what they had to do because they believed it was the right thing and it changed history and our own lives.

Civil Disobedience In The Civil Rights Movement

Civil disobedience has been responsible for some of the most important steps forward in our nation's history, and will continue to be a positive force for change well into the future. The greatest example of this came during the Civil Rights movement. Beginning with Rosa Parks' gallant stand on the bus in Montgomery, the Civil Rights Movement was a perfect example of the power of standing up against

The history of African-Americans has come a long way through the years. They were first imported as slaves as property to do hard labor for their owners. With no freedom, they were forced to obey orders until a revolution appeared. It took a civil war to finally free blacks and to give them the right to be citizens of the country. It was then that the chains of slavery were finally broken, but the chain of discrimination still existed. Under racial segregation, colored people were not allowed to share public facilities and activities with white people. The Civil Rights Movement was then established with its goal to clear any segregation and discrimination against African Americans. In today’s society, discrimination has been banned, but a degree of segregation still exists in our community such as schools. Segregation has not yet ending. The civil disobedience of African-Americans can be examined be looking at its origin, the consequences they had to overcome, and the outcome after their fight to be equal.

Civil Disobedience Research Paper

Civil disobedience is the active refusal to comply with laws that is thought to be unfair or inequitable. Civil disobedience typically is a peaceful form of protest by the people, to force concessions from the government. Throughout the United States history, civil disobedience has played a significant role in many of the social reforms that helped frame our country today. Several famous American activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. risked punishment, such as violent retaliatory acts or imprisonment, to attempt to bring about changes in the law. Civil disobedience has forced our government to recognize and talk through social problems to find solutions that worked for everyone, although in some instances it has deemed illegal, resulting in prosecution.

Civil Disobedience In The United States Essay

In 21st century United States, the American society has continue to push the idea of social acceptance. From the mid-1900s to now, anti-racist and and anti-sexist agendas (among other things) have advocated for equal rights and representation through protesting. But now, with their ability to make an equal impact on American society, I am led to conclude that civil disobedience in the form of protesting is unacceptable due to the basic principles of the social contract and legislative representation.

Peaceful resistance to laws positively impact a free society, because all committed acts of civil disobedience, all but in very different cases. Have shown a positive impact amongst the people by proving to everyone and the government that every U.S citizen has the freedom to fight for their rights and freedom and not let anyone disrespect their human morals.

Civil disobedience is an appropriate response to perceived injustice today because it allows the oppressed and silenced a chance to protest unjust laws and unfair governments. Without civil disobedience our country wouldn’t be where it stands today. Back in the late 1700’s, early colonists boycotted and protested what they deemed unjust laws, such as the Stamp Act or Townshend Act. This later led to the American Revolution and the forming of the United States of America.

Key Elements Involved In The Civil Rights Movement

This week we talked about the civil rights movement and touched on some of the key elements involved in the movement. Whether that be the change in the education system, the murder of Emmett Till, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The first in the Brown V. Board of Education forced the school to desegregate and was something that society had to get used to back then. Second was the heinous murder of Emmett Till that showed how the court system was flawed and this case was a main catalyst in the civil rights movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was what we saw in the documentary how long it lasted and how persistent were they saw a problem that needed to be fixed. This is what needs to happen with all movements is that lynchpin that makes the

Essay about Civil Disobedience

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The political concepts of justice and how a society should be governed have dominated literature through out human history. The concept of peacefully resisting laws set by a governing force can be first be depicted in the world of the Ancient Greeks in the works of Sophocles and actions of Socrates. This popular idea has developed over the centuries and is commonly known today as civil disobedience. Due to the works of Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. civil disobedience is a well-known political action to Americans; first in the application against slavery and second in the application against segregation. Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience” and King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” are the leading arguments in defining

Essay about Disobedience

person is not they will continue to obey because at least this way they feel as if they are a

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  • Human Rights

Civil Disobedience

Updated 18 October 2023

Subject Human Rights ,  Social Movements

Downloads 30

Category Crime ,  Government ,  Law ,  Social Issues

Topic Civil Rights ,  Civil Disobedience

According to Eric Fromm, a rebel is an individual who does not compromise with the prevailing circumstances for the obviously perceived desirable outcome during a contentious escalation; while a revolutionary is one who does not keep quiet in the face of corrupt leadership but chooses to raise a voice of concern (Fromm 1).  The Civil Disobedience shares great insight about transcendentalism ideologies. The Civil Disobedience is one of the most controversial topics ever done and discussed in philosophy. Fromm primarily argues that it is essential for a person to engage reason and critical thinking to arrive at conscientious decisions rather than blindly conforming to irrational laws put in place by unjust governments (Lefkowitz 222). The failing American policies coupled with the war against demonstrations of the celebrities, civilians, and athletes are a show of positive disobedience.

Based on the civil disobedience analogy, the government systems never prove themselves of worth in a civilized society. Therefore, Fromm does not support the idea that honesty, integrity, transparency, and justice are necessarily mainstreamed by huge masses of people (Fromm 4). Though the majorities form the governments on the concept of Democracy, most individuals who champion civil disobedience assert that even the minority has a right to express what their conscience outlines as the right to be done (Thoreau 10). On the other hand, Fromm contends that people should boycott the law if they feel it is both misguiding and misadvising. The proper approach to this is by refusing to cooperate with the government, not even accepting to hold political offices. By so doing, one distances themselves from unjust institutions of leadership. Indeed, the deduction of recent movements, athletes/celebrities, and civilians expressly categorizes the then government as of unjust precepts, founded on malice and irrationality, owing to limited concern for the rights of the people in different spheres of social life (Scheuerman 609).

On the other hand, a revolutionist does not believe in civil institutions, for instance, the process of voting. Rather, civil disobedience maintains that voting does not meet the necessary reforms in government; rather the political systems are manipulated to favor the irrational majority  (Lefkowitz 233). People who choose to do mass movements in solidarity against unjust treatment are justified in their acts to enhance their intellectual development. In fact, by so doing, those who appeal to civil disobedience become advocates who champion the fight against unjust governments from outside its corridors of power, for nobody employed by or working in government could properly mirror the reflection of its malpractices in the American society. Despite the justified constitutional rights of people to practice mass movements, in most cases, they are often met with extreme rebellion from those in government and those who emerged as clandestine espionage characters. The effort to counter the attack typically lacks the needed progress, but the situation could only get worse in a society whereby change is not embraced.

Indeed, civil disobedience is often characterized by campaigns for religious independence and social tolerance amidst prejudice against those who champion such freedoms (Fromm 3). There are clear-cut differences between the arguments of Fromm and the points of contention by other civil disobedience activists like Thoreau; Civil Disobedience. In America is embraced to counter the undermined basic human rights for those who feel oppressed hence the mass movements, a situation that greatly polarizes the security of the country, as sentimentalism, racism, and hates become common vices among the people. Naturally, revolutionists emerge, and factions of civil disobedience ensue to fight for freedom. Consequently, the recent movements in the US cannot be condemned in any way, because the people demonstrating were simply exercising their intellectual development.

Civil disobedience does not necessarily portray the difference between revolutionists and rebels. However, those who participate normally risk their lives, to fighting for the dispensation of the very rights of common citizens. Fromm makes it clear that all human beings can reason and make their rational decisions. In this manner, he contends that the conscience of people to embrace a given form of social life or cultural practices free from the direct influence of the state is vital (Fromm). Typically, civil disobedience as portrayed by rebels and revolutionists alike is that the government is unjust. It thus melts down into common virtues that both categories of people advocate and champion for the liberty of every single individual in socio-political and religious segments of human life.

The many confrontations disobedient civil advocates face to the most part is a reflection of the unjust government policies that compromise rights and freedoms of civilians, hence the recent mass demonstrations by celebrities, civilians, and athletes in the US (Scheuerman 611). The agitation for uprisings against the law is intentionally meant to sensitize the main stream society against unfair treatment on the part of powers that be. To the most part, therefore, it is apparent that both rebels and revolutionists under the umbrella of civil disobedience advocate for just governments which allow civilians to make conscious individual-based decisions, practice tolerance, and achieve the independence of the mind. All these aspects of controversy lead to better social lives, full of dignity and human rights for the present and future generations.

Works Cited

Fromm, Erich. “Erich Fromm On Disobedience.pdf.” 2016: 1–8. Web.

Lefkowitz, David. “On a Moral Right to Civil Disobedience.” Ethics 117.2 (2007): 202–233. Web.

Scheuerman, William E. “Whistleblowing as Civil Disobedience: The Case of Edward Snowden.” Philosophy and Social Criticism

40.7 (2014): 609–628. Web.

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  22. Civil Disobedience

    Indeed, civil disobedience is often characterized by campaigns for religious independence and social tolerance amidst prejudice against those who champion such freedoms (Fromm 3). There are clear-cut differences between the arguments of Fromm and the points of contention by other civil disobedience activists like Thoreau; Civil Disobedience.

  23. 5 Synonyms & Antonyms for CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

    Find 5 different ways to say CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, along with antonyms, related words, and example sentences at