For as long as there have been rulers, there has been disunity between rulers and ruled. Citizens have always found ways to show their disapproval of governmental decisions and demanded action. Civil Disobedience has existed since the ancient Greek . From Antigone's defiance of Creon over Ghandi's Salt march in India to the Occupy Movement. What does the aforementioned mean?
Civil Disobedience, the term formulated by Henry David Thoreau, in his essay in 1848, to describe his refusal to pay the state poll tax, to fund the U.S. Government’s war with Mexico, prioritized one's conscience over the dictates of law. Nowadays the word is defined as a „the refusal to comply with certain laws considered unjust, as a peaceful form of political protest“ (Oxford Dictionary).
Day by day the Human Web expands, the World is becoming more interconnected. News, Ideas and theories that used to take month to travel from one place to another, are now almost instantly available. As a consequence global civil society is getting bigger and bigger, national issues receive global attention and so do injustices and oppression. How do people bring attention to these issues and force change? In the following I will show the the justifications, functions of Civil Disobedience and why it is crucial to achieving stable governance.
Before examining Civil Disobedience the the definition itself demands further clarification. The ambiguity of the term leads to certain contradictions that question the definition of what is considered a law.
To illustrate the ambiguity of the term “law” one needs to imagine this: a marching group of people protesting against financial inequality in the United States intend to walk past the New York Stock Exchange and are stopped by the police. On the one hand there is no law prohibiting the protester from going where they want to. The police on the other are, technically, illegally stopping them. If the protesters proceed to climb over police barricades or run past the officers they are arrested. Is this act of defiance considered Civil Disobedience, even though no law was broken by the protesters? Arguably yes. However we can not base a modification of the definition on the claim of defying a given imperative. To do so another example has to be taken into account first: a child wants to eat a cookie but his father prohibits this until lunch is finished. Since the child is particularly intelligent, it views this paternal measure as an unjust act of paternalism and decides to eat the cookie anyway, thereby violating the given imperative of his father. Very few, if anyone, would consider this as an act of Civil Disobedience. Therefore the definition requires a the addition of the following endorsement: “[...] laws considered unjust, or imperatives given by an agent of state despite facing significant punishment by state authorities, as a peaceful form of political protest.”
Now that the term is clarified the functions can be examined.