8 Jan

Armed civil disobedience? Well, maybe not armed….

Bookworm:

During the Bush era, a lot of Progressives engaged in faux civil disobedience.  They marched and screamed, periodically hanged or burned Bush effigies, and even allowed gay marriage, secure in the knowledge that they’d suffer virtually no consequences.  Actual vandalism might get imprisonment or a fine, but everything else allowed them to sleep in the beds at night, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow’s papers and news magazines would applaud their “heroic” histrionics. Real civil disobedience is a little different, because it contemplates willingly accepting the real consequences meted about by a manifestly unjust government.

In the middle of the 19th Century, Henry David Thoreau articulated the notion of civil disobedience.  He didn’t create it, because people have always engaged in it, but it was he who most clearly stated what constitutes civil disobedience.

Thoreau’s landmark treatise on civil disobedience was rooted in his opposition to both the Mexican-American War and slavery.   When the taxman came to collect his unpaid taxes, Thoreau refused to pay on the ground that he would not financially support a government that engaged in illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional activity.  He was eventually jailed — a risk he knew he ran — although he spent only one night in jail before a relative paid the taxes so as to get him released.  Upon his release, Thoreau penned his magnum opus, which was finally published in 1849.

I had forgotten until I re-read it today how turgid and unstructured Thoreau’s essay is but, if one has patience, it still offers a perfect definition of true civil disobedience.  Here are a few choice paragraphs:

Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

[snip]

Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

[snip]

When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive that, whatever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness of the question, and their regard for the public tranquility, the long and the short of the matter is, that they cannot spare the protection of the existing government, and they dread the consequences to their property and families of disobedience to it. For my own part, I should not like to think that I ever rely on the protection of the State.

[snip]

Thus the state never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior with or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men being forced to live this way or that by masses of men. What sort of life were that to live?

[snip]

The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to — for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well — is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

The primary principle animating civil disobedience is that it’s not just about violating a law because you’re a law-breaker (e.g, an armed robber) or because you think you can get away without punishment.  Indeed, civil disobedience demands punishment as a way of making the point that the law you are disobeying is an unjust or unconstitutional law.  As Thoreau said in one of his few flights of pithiness, “Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

Although I doubt Gandhi studied Thoreau, he too understood that the only way to fight injustice was for the just man willingly to violate the law so as to expose that injustice to the world.

But….  (And there’s always a but.)

Many people will contemplate civil disobedience when the price is imprisonment or loss of worldly goods.  In its purest form, though, civil disobedience demands that those opposing injustice willingly throw themselves into the flames to make their point.  Gandhi understood this.  He didn’t personally have to face those flames, but he was perfectly willing to advise the Jews under Nazi control to do so:

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About Curt

Curt served in the Marine Corps for four years and has been a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles for the last 20 years.

2 Responses to Armed civil disobedience? Well, maybe not armed….

  1. johngalt says: 1

    Real ‘civil disobedience’ requires a person to knowingly break the law they feel is unjust. The civil right’s people fighting against segregation knew this, even if only by method, and not definition. Rosa Parks is a prime example.

    But, are people willing to engage in civil disobedience against, say, Obamacare, by not obtaining healthcare and not issuing the law’s requisite “tax” payment to the government, if that action leads to imprisonment? I doubt it.

    Thoreau is correct in pointing out that unjust laws require the pushback from the citizenry, in earnest. You cannot rely on the majority “seeing the light” of the unjustness of the laws in question, so that they may be changed, or repealed, by the government, particularly when there are so many in this country who remain so aloof about politics, and offer their vote to the highest bidder. With our electorate comprised of the groups and people that it has, at present, I see the majority holding tyranny over the minority, and Constitution be damned. We are well on our way towards the destruction of what was once the most friendly of governments to the individual, and the building of a government where the individual is outlawed.

    ReplyReply
  2. johngalt
    yes like Bookworm was posted, and what you said, not everyone understand the jargon they use to break the law of the land, and in those half of the AMERICANS IT’S MISSING,
    BUT THEY DON’T HAVE ANY EXCUSE TO STAY IGNORANT, SOME DON’T CARE THEY ARE CONTENT OF THEIR CHECKS EVERY MONTH and like you said they sell their vote to highest bitter,
    meaning they are not AMERICAN, ONLY CARRY THE NAME FOR SELF NEED,
    THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOTE, AND ONLY THOSE SHOWING THEIR LOVE
    OF THEIR COUNTRY SHOULD DESERVE SUCH AN IMPORTANT ACTION, OTHER WISE THEY ARE THE DOWNFALL OF THE NATION, WHO CANNOT DO ANYTHING ELSE THAN REGRESS INTO A MEDIOCRE NATION, AND BE OPEN TO ANY NEGATIVE INFILTRATION, WHICH AGGRESS THE CITIZENS,
    WHO SLOWLY FOLLOW THE MANY NEGATIVES INFLUENCES LOUD AND ACTIVELY SET UP ROOM,
    YOU CAN SEE IT AND GIVE A NAME TO MANY,
    NAME IT CORRUPTION, DESTRUCTION OF THE SCHOOL LEARNING OF THIS AMERICA AND HER HISTORY AND LAWS OF THIS LAND which should be THE PRIORITY OVER THE FOREIGN STORY AND RELIGION, AND LIFESTYLE
    NOT NEEDED IF THE YOUNG HAVE NOT LEARN THEIR SOLID FOUNDATION FIRST AND WELL,SO it is solid in their mind,
    so to fight any indoctrination from whoever leader with intent not from their love of AMERICA which they don’t posess, but they have revenge instead for something they felt
    deprived from in some younger years which followed them,
    to influence other to seek revenge as their personal intent to hurt other insted of help the PEOPLE TO GROW TALL
    LIKE AMERICA ORIGINATED TO BE AND ENGENDER SAME OTHER NEW GENERATION
    WHICH NOW IS MISERABLY LACKING AND FALLING
    TO BE ABLE TO STAY STRONG CONFRONTING THE PROPAGANDA CONSTANTLY TRYING TO CONFUSE THEIR JUDGEMENT, WHERE IF THEY CANNOT FIGHT, IT MAKE THEM NOT ABLE TO BE A FULL PART OF A SOCIETY BOMBARDED BY DIFFERENT MENTALITYS, DRUGS AND LAWLESS BEHAVIOR,
    WE NOTICE IT IN BIG WEB SITE HOW VICIOUS SOME EXPRESS THEIR HATE, THAT IS NOT FROM NORMAL PEOPLE, BUT THEY THINK THEY ARE.
    NAME OTHER NEGATIVES, LIKE A MILLION ABORTION FROM AMERICAN WOMAN WHICH STOP
    A GENERATION OF AMERICANS AND PROFIT GENERATION OF FOREIGNER SOME DANGEROUS
    TO THIS AMERICA.

    ReplyReply

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