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Civil disobedience involves peaceful undertakings, which are politically triggered and aimed at amending the laws or contentious government policies. However, the act is termed as a breach of law because it is meant to underrate the law governing the nation, and challenge its effectiveness. Many human rights activists have tried to argue on the acceptability of civil disobedience as reasonable method of protest. The current paper discusses the justification of civil disobedience based on Martin Luther King Junior’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, David Thoreau’s publications, and Plato’s arguments based on his philosophical dialogue “Crito”.
Black Americans continued to face racial segregation and oppression from the whites even after the end of slavery in the late 19th century. Blacks used inferior social utilities and learning institutions while the superior ones were reserved for the whites. They faced discrimination in job opportunities and housing facilities and, even worse, they were not allowed to fully exercise their voting rights (Bloom, Harold, and Blake 24). Due to this oppression, civil rights activists have continuously fought for change of laws and government policies to attain equality among all races.
Martin Luther King’s letter aimed at responding to the allegations made against him by the white clergymen. They criticized him for leading a movement of black Americans in peaceful demonstrations against racial discrimination and torture among black Americans in Birmingham. Martin Luther wrote in defense of his movement’s actions while challenging the entire American society to act in solidarity and observe equality for all individuals.
Among the arrested was Martin Luther King. During his period in jail, he wrote the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” where he stated that real civil rights could not be achieved unless non-violent direct actions were applied (Bloom, Harold, and Blake 28). He confirmed that civil disobedience is an acceptable metod of protest by stating that every individual has a moral right to disapprove unjust laws, which are oppressive. This is a clear justification for the use of civil disobedience in the fight for human rights and freedom.
King termed the criticism against his movement’s actions as unreasonable because he was on a mission to give aid to the oppressed black Americans in Birmingham. A lot of injustice was witnessed against the blacks and he could not sit down and watch as his fellows were discriminated in Birmingham. He explained the risk of injustice in this state by the fact that injustice at a particular place is a major threat and concern to justice everywhere. Therefore, racial segregation in Birmingham would produce indirect effects on other blacks in other parts of America.
The black Americans were viewed as outsiders, yet they lived in America. King wrote to challenge this notion by the whites, describing the blacks as outsiders coming in (Bloom, Harold, and Blake, 32). He stated that no one living in the United States should ever be considered an outsider at any particular moment. All the people living in America were supposed to be accorded dignity, respect, and equality in service provision without discrimination based on their races. The blacks in Birmingham should have been entitled to good social utilities and equal job opportunities just as the whites.
Henry David Thoreau in his work “Resistance to Civil Government” published in 1849 argued that people should object any attempt by the government to commit injustices related to the society. In his “Aesthetic Papers”, he emphasized the need for citizens to resist the injustices committed by the government through all means. According to Thoreau, the government is associated with both corrupt and injustice actions, being the primary agent of the actions of injustices. Political philosophers have cautioned about the costs and intensive suffering associated with any revolution such as civil disobedience. In spite of these consequences, Thoreau insisted that the cost versus benefit aanalysis is not justifiable considering the serious damage the government is causing by facilitating critical injustices such as slavery. Hence, civil disobedience is the only appropriate alternative in order to bring to an end such immoral justices in the country.
In his dialogue “Crito”, Plato challenged the idea of obeying laws of the land, which are oppressive to the people. The violation of the laws could be done in a non-violent way such as civil disobedience of natural, physical, as well as moral laws. Plato depicted the moment when Socrates was jailed, and the intention to kill him was underway (Bloom, Harold, and Blake 34). This execution was connected to his attempt to corrupt young people by teaching them to disobey Athenian laws and the religion. A death sentence was the verdict of the trial and his friend Crito undertook the process of trying to help him escape from Athens before the execution of the sentence.
However, he rejected the persuasion by Crito claiming that it would be an act of disobeying the government, which he considered evil (Bloom, Harold, and Blake 38). He wrote that an individual is not entitled to do any harm to anybody even if someone wronged him. Considering this case, the idea of defying the government decision is an act of civil disobedience. He argued that having an agreement with the Athens to obey their laws and policies was a social contract and should be accepted without default.
To sum up, there was a clear indication that the majority of activists backed the justification of civil disobedience in the fight for justice and equality. King argued that such an action would create a lot of tension in both local and international communities and would not be ignored. The argument by David Thoreau about civil disobedience was a clear justification of the better method of protesting for equality and freedom from slavery. Finally, only the explanation about Socrates’s refusal to escape from jail by Plato’s “Crito” disapproved the role played by civil disobedience in the fight for human rights.