Civil disobedience is such a fascinating and relevant issue not only in the discussion of historical contexts but also in the current day events. It will (hopefully) bring up many complex questions that simply do not have a concrete answer. This partially makes it more exciting while simultaneously frustrating. Non-violent movements are the most commonly used action associated with civil disobedience. However, there are also violent acts that can and have been classified as civil disobedience.
One definition of civil disobedience is: “Civil disobedience is the deliberate and public violation of the command of an authorized and accepted political superior on the ground that this decree is unjust, immoral, unconstitutional, contrary to good public policy” (Martin, pg.126, 1970). Both of the cases I will be talking about will be MLK and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s as well as Gandhi and the changes of India.
In the United States alone we recognize (now) that the laws of that time were biased, unjust and undoubtedly infringed on African American citizens’ rights. However, we are still living with the past injustices as well as current day issues that African Americans in particular face. On top of being disproportionally stopped by police, receiving more time than whites who have committed the same crime they are convicted of and being less likely to get an interview or a job because they have a “black sounding name” there is so many more institutional failures.
I mean there is a whole entire movement created for blacks to say “HEY OUR LIVES ARE JUST AS IMPORTANT AS OUR WHITE COUNTERPARTS, PLEASE STOP SHOOTING UNARMED BLACK CITIZENS”. Like the fact that this is happening brings me to my first couple discussion questions: Is it okay for people to break the law if the law(s) they are violating/opposing are treating them unjustly? If so, is there lines that cannot be crossed- violence, economic destruction etc…? As well, currently, do you consider the Civil Rights Movement a success looking at now and then?
Gandhi on the other hand, also supported and led nonviolent movements in India. In hopes of gaining independence for India he led many to oppose the salt tax and held a march against the tax. Also similarly to MLK, he spent time in jail and ultimately India received independence. He is now globally known as a successful non-violent movement leader.
By holding a brief background about these two and probably the most infamous civil disobedient movements I will then present the class the theory of Rational Choice. This theory is used in determining why people make the decisions that people do. There is one large assumption that we must each consider and accept when analyzing these cases and the participants within them and that is: humans are rational actors as well that they will act in their best self-interest.
However, there are instances as well as other arguments that people will not act in their best interest as well that humans are completely irrational actors. Just think of everything you (the reader) do in your own life. Is every single decision you make what solely provides the most benefit to you? I am going to go ahead and say no. The best example of this is that if one of your family members (seriously) needs you but you have class so going to class is what is best for you do you go? Likely not because we do consider other options besides our own self-gain, I believe. However, as third party observers and learning participants in this, we will follow the assumptions set out. Under these assumptions consider the next discussion question: do you think the participants in civil disobedience are acting because it is in their self-interest? However, knowing the possible costs associated with civil disobedience, do you think these people are being rational actors? So in sum, does the rational choice theory apply to these participants?
Even though time may be limited I would also like for you guys to consider how each of these events have shaped the history and the current day status of the United States and India. Where would each be had these movements not existed? Or these leaders? Please consider the impact that the style of movement potentially had on the success. There are arguments for both violent and non-violent movements of opposition having better or worse success than the other one. If the means justify the ends, how important is the choice of means? This is going to be a great class, so get pumped!