Civil Disobedience

Civil Disobedience (CD) is the deliberate, open violation of a law held to be unjust and the willing acceptance of the prescribed punishment. CD can also be referred to as Nonviolent Direct Action when the action taken is considered to be illegal or challenges a law. Civil Resistance is used interchangeably with CD by some who see a law as being in violation of a more fundamental “higher” law. Civil resistance is therefore not so much a matter of “disobedience” against a law but of following a higher or more natural law.

Those engaged in CD are not against the rule of law, which guides and protects members of the society.  Rather, they are exercising their responsibility to challenge a specific law.  Their intention is to correct an injustice after other efforts of persuasion have failed to achieve the desired results. It follows that the resistance must be civil in the sense that it is not disrespectful of any person.  As with all nonviolence, this technique can only properly be applied in a just cause.

Henry David Thoreau, developed the idea of CD in his famous essay of 1849 which presented the concept within the context of American Transcendentalism. Gandhi did not learn how to undertake civil disobedience from Thoreau’s essay, but he did find the terminology developed by Thoreau to be useful.

A common example of civil disobedience is the risking of arrest through trespassing, blocking entrances or otherwise stopping business as usual. The School of Americas Watch has been using civil disobedience for over a decade when protestors “cross the line” onto the Ft. Benning US military base. By doing this they demonstrate their opposition to the military’s instruction of Latin American soldiers in inhumane interrogation techniques.

See Henry David Thoreau, “On Civil Disobedience.”