The laws that govern a political system are designed to be respected and enforced by all citizens. In principle, every law is intended to be fair and logical. However, the idea of justice does not always coincide with the content of some laws. When this occurs we must consider a reaction contrary to law enforcement. This reaction is known by a name: civil disobedience.
Moral convictions can clash with legality
In most legal systems, there is the option of evicting from their homes those who do not comply with the mortgage or rent contract and do not pay their debts. Often, the phenomenon of eviction has an evidently inhuman component and, for this reason, it is understood that the defense is based on the option of civil disobedience.
In other words, those who cannot afford to pay their debts can be considered legitimate.
The service military is mandatory in many countries. Despite this, there are people who refuse to use weapons because they are contrary to their ethical values.
At some times in history, the civilian population has refused to abide by the laws. In the 20th century, there were two paradigmatic moments in this regard: when Gandhi proposed passive resistance as a mechanism to oppose British laws, and when Martin Luther King led the opposition to racial segregation in the United States.
In both circumstances, the disobedient attitude of the citizens brought an end to unfair legislation.
As a general criterion, those who propose a form of civil disobedience want the laws considered unjust to be finally abolished and replaced by others, among which there is a fair proposal.
The origin of civil disobedience goes back to antiquity
In classical Greek literature there is a character who illustrates the debate about breaking the law. This character is Antigone and is part of the tragedy with the same title written by Sophocles.
In this account Antigone defends a fundamental thesis: the laws of the tyrant king who governs the city of Thebes are unjust, therefore, it is legitimate to disobey them. The tyrant Creon has decided to ban the funeral ceremonies to honor Antigone’s brother, but she considers that this law should not be enforced.
His proposal is not accepted by his sister Ismenia, who defends that the norm imposed by Creon must be fulfilled.
The debate between them represents the controversy between two positions that are difficult to reconcile: the need to respect the laws as a basic principle of coexistence or legitimacy with the violation of a clearly unjust law.