Two Ways of Justifying Civil Disobedience

Philosophy Research Archives 5:356-367 (1979)

Abstract

It might appear that apologists for legal systems should have a more difficult time justifying particular acts of civil disobedience than do anarchist critics of legal systems. But while this might be so for law breaking simpliciter, I argue that it is not so for civilly disobedient law breaking. The logic of morally justifying civil disobedience is remarkably similar for both legal apologists and anarchists, and diverges only on the question of accepting punishment for one's acts. But even here what it is obligatory upon either to do is remarkably similar. Where differences in how civil disobedience is justified begin to arise is on the question of accepting punishment for breaking the law. For readily discernible reasons this is a strict obligation for legal apologists; for anarchists, however, it is but a contingent obligation. Nonetheless, in practice anarchists who engage in civil disobedience will find themselves under an obligation to suffer punishment. Essentially this is because doing so is necessary in order that the act of civil disobedience be an effective one, and like everyone else, anarchists have an obligation to try to be effective in the actions they undertake to remedy injustice. The paper concludes with offering two reasons why even anarchists ought to risk submitting to punishment by illegitimate authority by engaging in civil disobedience.

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