Henry David Thoreau believed that there was a higher law that demands obedience from people. That higher law could be a god, love, peace, whatever. But there is also human law stemming from the government. In cases where the two are at odds, then the individual has a duty to disregard human law if it is unjust and violates the […]
Henry David Thoreau believed that there was a higher law that demands obedience from people. That higher law could be a god, love, peace, whatever. But there is also human law stemming from the government. In cases where the two are at odds, then the individual has a duty to disregard human law if it is unjust and violates the higher law.
Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience in response to The Mexican American War which was believed would expand slave territory. Thoreau was an abolitionist.
Civil disobedience is defined as the refusal to comply with certain laws or to pay taxes or fines, as a peaceful form of political protest.
In a quote from the text Thoreau writes that “Government enforces civil law by physical means, which are ineffectual in relation to moral issues. When the man of conscience is at variance with the state, he is punished by physical confinement, a type of force, which accomplishes nothing. Thoreau comments, “They only can force me who obey a higher law than I do. 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.” The laws that apply in matters of conscience belong to a different sphere than those (like the building of roads) that can be decided by majority rule. In fact, government oversteps its authority when it becomes involved in moral issues.”
Moral issues were to be decided upon by the individual and their conscience and acted upon in order to change immoral laws. Voting is one of those actions but lacks the power because many of those elected are not necessarily guided by the principals of a higher law. This makes the system perpetuate itself and as a result, it will degenerate over time. That’s what we’re seeing now.
Modern civil disobedience includes acts designed to challenge modern human rights concerns, such as racially motivated killings by police. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, that was Civil Disobedience, when Parkland shooting survivors entered the Capitol that was Civil Disobedience. Modern civil disobedience looks like everything we’re doing today….walkouts, sit-ins, product and service boycotts, blockades, marches, occupations, debt refusal and protests.
When the government responds to civil disobedience with violence, it is violating every higher law that the protesters are lifting up. The result, more civil disobedience. The interesting thing about the human spirit is that it has an unquenchable penchant for hope. Even when someone is pushed down, chained, enslaved they will continue to fight for what is right. In fact, it just makes them stronger. It makes us stronger. Eventually the system will have to fall because there are more of us, there are of them. And our hope and resolve make us unbreakable.