Civil disobedience

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One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
The defiance of established authority, religious and secular, social and political, as a world-wide phenomenon may well one day be accounted the outstanding event of the last decade. ~ Hannah Arendt
There is nothing automatic or intuitive about the resoluteness required for using non-violent methods in political struggle and the quest for Truth. ~ Mohandas Gandhi
There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture. ... With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us? ~ Aaron Swartz

Civil disobedience refers to the active refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government or of an occupying power without resorting to physical violence.

Quotes[edit]

  • The defiance of established authority, religious and secular, social and political, as a world-wide phenomenon may well one day be accounted the outstanding event of the last decade.
    • Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic (1969), "Civil Disobedience".
  • An unjust law is no law at all.
    • Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will, Book I, p. 8.
  • From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.
  • Closely allied with this earnest longing to see and know the truth, is a kind of dignified and princely sentiment which forbids a mind, naturally well constituted, … to yield obedience to any orders but such as are at once just, lawful, and founded on utility.
    • Cicero, De Officiis, Book 1, § 13.
  • Social protest and even civil disobedience serve the law's need for growth. Ideally, reform would come according to reason and justice without self-help and disturbing, almost violent, forms of protest. … Still, candor compels one here again to acknowledge the gap between the ideal and the reality. Short of the millennium, sharp changes in the law depend partly upon the stimulus of protest.
    • Archibald Cox, Civil Rights, the Constitution, and the Courts (1967: Harvard University Press), pp. 22–23 (40 N.Y. State B.J. 161, 169 (1968)).
  • Civil Disobedience is civil breach of unmoral statutory enactments. The expression was, so far as I am aware, coined by Thoreau to signify his own resistance to the laws of a slave state. . . . But Thoreau was not perhaps an out and out champion of non-violence. Probably, also, Thoreau limited his breach of statutory laws to the revenue law, i.e. payment of taxes. Whereas the term Civil Disobedience as practised in 1919 covered a breach of any statutory and unmoral law. It signified the resister's outlawry in a civil, i.e., non-violent manner . . . Until I read that essay I never found a suitable English translation for my Indian word, Satyagraha.
  • Non-violent resistance implies the very opposite of weakness. Defiance combined with non-retaliatory acceptance of repression from one's opponents is active, not passive. It requires strength, and there is nothing automatic or intuitive about the resoluteness required for using non-violent methods in political struggle and the quest for Truth.
    • Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, as quoted in Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr: The Power of Nonviolent Action (1999) by Mary King, p. 231.
  • If a law commands me to sin I will break it; if it calls me to suffer, I will let it take its course unresistingly. The doctrine of blind obedience and unqualified submission to any human power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is the doctrine of despotism, and ought to have no place among Republicans and Christians.
  • How does the fact that ten men may choose to join together for their common protection, impose upon the eleventh man any obligation to go along with them?
    • Quote from Facets of Liberty: A Libertarian Primer, edited L.K. Samuels, Freeland Press (2009), from chapter 1: “Who Authorizes the Authorities?” by Butler D. Shaffer, p. 11.
  • It is not just a concept that indulges protesters, it is a device that stabilizes government, promotes order rather than chaos, and productively ameliorates the tensions of pluralism. Most directly, civil disobedience constitutes a stabilizing or corrective device, allowing a democratic system to rectify its mistakes. By standing on the border between legal protest and rebellion, civil disobedience serves as a firebreak preventing the disaffected from inching toward rebellion. To illuminate this same concept, envision civil disobedience as a safety valve, drawing off dissent before that unrest boils over into more severe law breaking.
    • Matthew R. Hall, "Guilty but Civilly Disobedient: Reconciling Civil Disobedience and the Rule of Law." Cardozo law review. (04/01/2007), 28 pp. 2083-2829.
  • Men of the most renowned virtue have sometimes by transgressing most truly kept the law.
  • Men of intellectual and moral eminence who encourage public disobedience of the law are responsible for the acts of those who inevitably follow their counsel: the poor, the ignorant and the impressionable. For example, to the professor objecting to de facto segregation, it may be crystal clear where civil disobedience may begin and where it must end. But the boundaries have become fluid to his students and other listeners. Today in the urban slums, the limits of responsible action are all but invisible.
    • Richard Nixon, "What Has Happened to America?" Reader's Digest, October 1967
  • Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
  • There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?
  • 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? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.
  • It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.
  • Thoreau's disobedience is disobedience as refusal. I won't live in your world. I will live as if your world has ended, as indeed it deserves to end. I will live as if my gesture of refusing your world has destroyed it.
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s, April 2006, p. 36.
  • Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made.
    • Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” ¶ 9.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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