Evolution is the gradual development of an entity into a more complex and improved form. Since the beginning of civilization, governmental bodies have evolved into more equal and just forms. However, governments haven’t independently progressed; individuals, both those that govern and those governed, have helped its advancement. I firmly agree with Albert Einstein that we should “never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it” (Einstein, Quotegarden). This implies that there are problems with the state, something we all can agree upon.
Here, we should heed Clarence Darrow’s words, “as long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever”(Darrow, Quotegarden). We the people deserve freedom, and any wrong that impairs our freedom should be justified. Revolutions are our way to bring about these justifications. There are many types of revolution, but of all, civil disobedience remains the most intricate and, in many cases, the most effective. Throughout history, acts of civil disobedience have forced the reassessment of society’s moral parameters.
Gandhi’s resistance to British rule in India, the suffragette movement, and the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. , all exemplify the importance of civil disobedience as a mechanism for social change. However, throughout history there have doubtlessly been numerous acts of civil disobedience that have failed due to untimeliness or impropriety. Examples include the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square, Iran peace protests and Palestine against Israel. Why did they fail? Was civil disobedience needed then? More importantly, when is civil disobedience needed? Civil disobedience is a response to an unjust law.
Laws are simply words etched on pieces of paper. These words will be interpreted by those affected by the law. As a result, the law should be investigated often. Anyone who believes that all laws are to be obeyed to the tee, as John Miller says, “could have been a great slave catcher. Anyone who believes that all laws are equal is a fool” (Miller, Quotegarden). Therefore, man must review law and at times when law is found unjust in the eye of the perceiver, act above it, act in civil disobedience. Sophocles’ tragedy, Antigone, is an example of the intricacies of civil disobedience.
Because of Antigone’s love for her brother, and hatred for the tyrannical government, Antigone acts out in civil disobedience and buries her brother. Accordingly, King Creon is faced with the paradoxical problem of responding to this civil disobedience. This returns us to the evolution of government. Creon is the sole decision maker; meaning only one mind is in charge. It is here that the problem exists. In his essay Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau writes, a government in which the majority rule in all cases can not be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.
Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? –in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then (Thoreau)? I agree. Some men assume their reasoning is greater than others, and establish laws as guidelines for others. However, because one person believes something is right, doesn’t mean we should all believe it.
Tying this back to Antigone, Creon is forced to reassess his own law, but cannot find any reason to appeal it, as it would represent a weakness in his ruling. If Creon’s rule had been coupled with a democratic system of checks and balances, perhaps the story would not end in such miserable disarray. Antigone’s actions should thus be considered an evolutionary revolt as they promote the betterment of society. To further defend Antigone, we are given the ability to reason, and we should use our ability to reason. No good skill should go unused.
I believe that laws are more guidelines than anything else. Even though breaking the law can lead to penalization, I would ignore it if the consequences of abiding the law outweigh the consequences of disobeying it. In this fashion, I can sympathize with Antigone’s actions. She couldn’t leave her brother’s body unburied, submitting his soul to an endless wandering; she would rather suffer the consequences of death than allow such preposterousness. Some may argue that this course of action may be too subjective, but there is no problem with subjectivity.
Man, as previously stated, has the ability to reason, therefore, man has the ability to act for himself. Civil disobedience should be carried out when one believes in suffering rather than allowing the unconscionable to occur. However, civil disobedience is not always right. Civil disobedience is an act on principle, but unfortunately not every man’s principles are just. Although laws are guidelines, they have been well tailored and should, therefore, be used to judge the disobeyer, and punish him accordingly.
On the other hand, if one’s actions prove a law unfit, that law should be reassessed and refitted if found unreasonable by the court, in a democratic system. In other words, civil disobedience must be judged as the corresponding law is judged; it may be justifiable but always deserves review. With that said, civil disobedience is necessitated by the abhorrent abuse of man’s civil liberties. Whenever the betrayed feels as though their actions could lead to a beneficial outcome, they should act in civil disobedience, and let the people judge their ways. Civil disobedience places power in the hand of the betrayed, and that power should never be abused. We deserve the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and we must strive in every manner to achieve it.
“Civil Disobedience. ” http://www. quotegarden. com/civil-disobedience. html. N. p. , 09 Sep 2010. Web. 28 Nov 2010. . Thoreau, Henry David. “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. ” Transcendentalists. N. p. , 09 Mar 2009. Web. 28 Nov 2010. .