The activation of civic consciousness and the growth of protest sentiments actualized the problem of civil disobedience as a form of active resistance and made it necessary to study it. Civil disobedience is usually interpreted as a politically expressed deliberate violation of the law aimed at changes in official policy and the adjustment of legislation. As a theoretical source of this idea, G. Thoreau’s essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849) is often used. The duty of citizens to obey laws passed by the legislative majority comes into conflict with the need to protect their civil liberties and justice. As a result, a special kind of disagreement arises, manifested in legal demonstrations and violations of the law designed to create judicial precedents. Given the popularity of this form of political struggle, there is a need for its theoretical understanding, identification of the causes and consequences, as well as a justification to a degree. Still, it is clear that civil disobedience has a positive influence on society, and this paper’s goal is to discuss and explain that influence.
Civil disobedience, in its essence, is a public, non-violent, conscious political act contrary to the law, which is usually committed with the aim of changing legislation or government policies. Thoreau (1849) stated that “the government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it” (1). When conducting civil disobedience, a person claims that the state has violated their rights, with an appeal to the public sense of justice. However, this approach is applicable only to a democratic state with a just legislative system, in which some serious violations do occur from time to time. Civil disobedience may arise as a result of democratic protest in a democratic society only.
Thus, it is usually characterized by two distinct features. The first is the desire to avoid violence to achieve the goal, and the second is the violation of existing legislation. Nicholasen (2019) supplies that “civil resistance campaigns often lead to longer-term reforms than violent campaigns do” (pp. 19). The concept of civil disobedience lies in the assumption that society is, in its essence, a system of cooperation between people with equal rights and duties. The damage caused to some members of the community as a result of the existing order gives them a reason to demand a corresponding change in the order. Citizens can achieve this change by all means allowed within the framework of the order itself.
In a civilized society, a person truly sometimes has the right to break the law. The citizen has this right in cases where the law unfairly infringes on their rights in relation to the state. That is, if a person possesses the moral right to freedom of speech, then they also have a moral right to violate any of the laws that the government was not entitled to adopt. The right to disobey the law is not a separate right that is somehow related to conscience and complements other rights in relation to the state. It is simply a feature of the rights of a citizen in relation to the state and is, in principle, impossible to deny without denying the existence of those rights themselves.
Civilian disobedience is one of the ways of resolving the contradictions that naturally arise in a democratically organized society. These contradictions are between the citizen’s duty to obey the laws adopted by the state, on the one hand, and their right to defend their freedoms and the moral duty to resist injustice, on the other. Civil disobedience concludes that while this resistance to injustice does not comply with the law, it is still within its legal framework. Thus, the concept of civil disobedience is inherently positive in itself, as it draws on moral and legislative principles that constitute the legal structure of society. As a public act, civil disobedience is not only addressed to the public but also committed in public; citizens participate openly and honestly. Livingston (2020) adds that “the basic challenge of mass civil disobedience is how to mobilize liberating acts of taking power without undercutting the possibility of transformative integration through sharing power” (700). As a non-violent action, it expresses the acceptance of the political system and the recognition of the sense of justice for others.
Civil disobedience is a powerful tool of public action, and it has proven to have a positive influence over modern society. It must be borne in mind that nonviolence is usually a weapon of people who are significantly opposed by a majority that is superior to their strength. People who conduct civil disobedience are often a minority of a society or group that is systematically subjected to political discrimination. The prospects for their actions are due to the fact that in a democratic society, the principles of justice have received public recognition and massive support. When disobedience is seen as a duty, it indicates the power of a specific value over the person, which guides them during the act of disobedience. Such power implies, rather, not an individual preference but the universal, morally true nature of the value for the sake of which the individual risks breaking the law. A person who feels compelled to show disobedience not only defends their preferences in the face of the majority but proposes a concept of the common good that can then claim public support.
Livingston, Alexander. “Power for the Powerless: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Late Theory of Civil Disobedience.” The Journal of Politics, vol. 82, no. 2, 2020, pp. 700–713. Web.
Nicholasen, Michelle. “Why Nonviolent Resistance Beats Violent Force in Effecting Social, Political Change.” Harvard Gazette, Harvard Gazette, 2019, Web.
Thoreau, Henry David. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Book Jungle, 1849.