civil disobedience


civil disobedience
1. the refusal to obey certain laws or governmental demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy, characterized by the employment of such nonviolent techniques as boycotting, picketing, and nonpayment of taxes. Cf. noncooperation (def. 2), passive resistance.
2. (caps., italics) an essay (1848) by Thoreau.
[1865-70]

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Refusal to obey government demands or commands and nonresistance to consequent arrest and punishment.

It is used especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing government concessions and has been a major tactic of nationalist movements in Africa and India, of the U.S. civil rights movement, and of labour and antiwar movements in many countries. Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. The civil disobedient, finding legitimate avenues of change blocked or nonexistent, sees himself as obligated by a higher, extralegal principle to break some specific law. By submitting to punishment, the civil disobedient hopes to set a moral example that will provoke the majority or the government into effecting meaningful political, social, or economic change. The philosophical roots of civil disobedience lie deep in Western thought. Cicero, Thomas Aquinas, and John Locke, among others, appealed to systems of natural law that take precedence over the laws created by communities or states (positive law). More modern advocates and practitioners of civil disobedience include Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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also called  Passive Resistance,  

      refusal to obey the demands or commands of a government or occupying power, without resorting to violence or active measures of opposition; its usual purpose is to force concessions from the government or occupying power. Civil disobedience has been a major tactic and philosophy of nationalist movements in Africa and India, in the civil rights movement of U.S. blacks, and of labour and anti-war movements in many countries.

      Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. The civil disobedient, finding legitimate avenues of change blocked or nonexistent, sees himself as obligated by a higher, extralegal principle to break some specific law. It is because civil disobedience is a crime, however, and known by actor and public alike to be punishable that the act serves as a protest. By submitting to punishment, the civil disobedient hopes to set a moral example that will provoke the majority or the government into effecting meaningful political, social, or economic change. Under the imperative of setting a moral example, the major spokesmen of civil disobedience insist that the illegal actions be nonviolent.

      A variety of criticisms has been directed against the philosophy and practice of civil disobedience. The radical critique of the philosophy of civil disobedience condemns its acceptance of the existing political structure; conservative schools of thought, on the other hand, see the logical extension of civil disobedience as anarchy and the right of the individual to break any law he chooses, at any time. Activists themselves are divided in interpreting civil disobedience either as a total philosophy of social change or as merely a tactic to be employed when the movement lacks other means. On a pragmatic level, the efficacy of civil disobedience hinges on the adherence of the opposition to a certain morality to which an appeal can ultimately be made.

      The philosophical roots of civil disobedience lie deep in Western thought: Cicero, Saint Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry David Thoreau all sought to justify conduct by virtue of its harmony with some antecedent superhuman moral law. The man who most clearly formulated the concept of civil disobedience for the modern world was Mohandas Gandhi (Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand). Drawing from Eastern and Western thought, Gandhi developed the philosophy of satyāgraha (satyagraha) (q.v.). First in the Transvaal of South Africa in 1906 and later in India, Gandhi led his people in satyāgrahas to obtain equal rights and freedom. Inspired by Gandhi's example, the civil-rights movement of the American blacks from the 1950s to the 1970s adopted the tactics and philosophy of civil disobedience, perhaps best expressed by Martin Luther King (King, Martin Luther, Jr.), Jr. Later the tactics of civil disobedience were employed by a variety of protest groups.

      The principle of civil disobedience has achieved some standing in international law through the war crime trials at Nürnberg after World War II, which affirmed the principle that an individual may, under certain circumstances, be held accountable for failure to break the laws of his country.

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Universalium. 2010.

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