“Man is bound to obey secular princes in so far as this is required by order of justice. Wherefore if the prince's authority is not just but usurped, or if he commands what is unjust, his subjects are not bound to obey him, except perhaps accidentally, in order to avoid scandal or danger.” Civil disobedience can be defined – and that will be the definition I will consider in this essay – “as a public, non-violent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government” . Thus it must not be confused with anarchy, anomie or a blank refusal of an existing law, verily of all the law. It is as old as Prometheus' disobedience of Zeus in order to give fire to mankind and as ongoing as the students' sit-in in Beijing's Tiananmen Square or demonstrations against Iraq war. Actually, the problem of the relationship between the individual and the laws of his State has been debated since ever. The theory of civil disobedience has been introduced in an essay by Henry David Thoreau . Half a century later, his ideas were brought to international attention through the writings of Leo Tolstoy and by Mohandas Gandhi.
[...] A Bedau's definition of civil disobedience in his Civil Disobedience”, Journal of Philosophy, vol (1961), pp. 653-661. This definition is narrower than the meaning suggested by Thoreau's essay and is similar with the one of Martin Luther King in his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963). Along with the term, “civil disobedience”. Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, (Harmondsworth : The Penguin American Library originally published in 1849). This essay is about the refusal of his author to pay his poll tax to protest against the federal government's aggressive war against Mexico. [...]
[...] At last, another point can then be mentioned: preventing and limiting disobedience leads to the expenditure of public resources (especially since it is assumed that civil disobedience cannot be really non-violent) and the resources could have been better spent in more useful ways. To conclude, I would like to come back to the quotation of Saint Thomas Aquinas given in introduction. As he said, since the power of the sovereign is legitimate law must be obeyed. And even in the contrary case, it can be preferable to abide by the law in the interest of security, to avoid danger. [...]
[...] The best example of civil disobedience in his sense is probably the marching he organised in 1932 to protest against the British Raj which forbade Indians to produce salt. From a speech by Rt. Hon. J. G. Gorton, the former Prime Minister of Australia, at a time when there was widespread disobedience in opposition to the presence of Australian troops in South Vietnam. The Australian August 1970, p.1. T.H. Green, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation (Longmans, London, 1907). [...]
[...] supra), I will not deal with the question of violence, assuming that civil disobedience is non-violent. In this essay, I shall argue that if a democracy runs smoothly, there is no valuable reason for disobeying the law. This essay has been divided into two parts. In the first one, after having defining the notion of democracy, I will show that in a democratic regime there is a moral obligation to abide by the law. In the second, I will prove that it is in our own best interest to obey the law in a democracy, since disobedience risks producing a greater evil than the one we confront. [...]
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