Case Comment Volume 16:3

Civil Disobedience

Table of Contents

[Vol. 16

Civil Disobedience

As for adopting the ways which the State has provided
for remedying the evil, I know no such ways. They
take too much time and a man’s life will be gone.


Over the past 2,500 years, no matter how the goals and tactics
have changed, the principle of civil disobedience has remained much
the same.’ In Athens, approximately 500 years before the birth of
Christ, men began for the first time to seriously consider the relation-
ship between the judgment of the individual and the laws of society.
Within the relatively safe structure of an ancient myth, Aes-
chylus, early in the fifth century and Sophocles, several decades
later, wrote of an established power defied in the name of a con-
flicting conception of justice. In “Prometheus Bound”, Aeschylus
presents the story of the Titan who defied the decision of Zeus,
King of the Olympian Gods, to wipe out the human race. Zeus
appears as the established and tyrannical authority while Prometheus
stands as the prototype of the civil disobeyer who, because of his
sense of justice, suffers for breaking established but unjust laws.
Sophocles, in his play, has Antigone ordered by Creon, King of the
Thebes, to leave the body of her brother unburied outside the city
walls, to be eaten by vultures. As a loyal citizen, Antigone is required
to yield her conscience to the law of the state. But Antigone answers
in the name of the morality of her religion and defies the order.
“I cannot share in hatred but in love”, she says as she is brought
to Creon, who sentences her to death.

During the Roman Empire the earliest recorded incidents of
collective civil disobedience took place. Unarmed Jews gathered in
the streets of Jerusalem to prevent the installation of pagan images
in their holy temple, plebeians, who had no rights as citizens, refused
to enroll in the legions of Rome and early Christians resisted Roman
attempts to make them accept pagan worship.

‘Civil disobedience is being taken to mean an act of deliberate and open
violation of the law with the intent, within the existing framework of the
prevailing form of government, to protest a morally unjust wrong or to
initiate change for a vital social purpose.

[No. 3


Civil disobedience has appeared sporadically since those early
days of the Roman Empire. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I
many religious rebels held to and suffered for their beliefs against
the ruthlessness of the Tudor state. They dissented from legally
organized religious practice and refused to conform to laws which
severely penalized those who chose to defy the establishment.
Disobedience occurred again when Charles I attempted to levy a
tax, basing his stance on the Divine Right of kings, by forced laws
when Parliament refused to vote him the money. In 1626, John
Hampden, one of the parliamentary opposition to Charles and a
number of others refused to pay and were imprisoned. The Conven-
ticle Acts of 1664 and 1670 made illegal meetings, except in Anglican
churches, of more than four people for religious purposes. The
Quakers defiantly gathered in the streets when their meeting houses
were closed and although thousands were arrested, they carried
on their struggle. By 1689 new laws allowed freedom of worship
for all dissenters.2

Sufficient evidence is available to show that concern for the
problems of establishment laws which may contradict certain
concepts of morality or justice is not a twentieth century phenom-
enon. Also, it is clear that in many instances a retrospective exam-
ination may lead to some rather startling conclusions. Those very
persons who, in their time, were considered by the protectors of the
status quo as rebels undermining the foundations of the state are
today seen as men who were simply striving for dignity and freedom.
As a social tactic, civil disobedience has developed dramatically
within the past decade. Yet, it has been defined in contradictory
terms; the mass media have used the phrase indiscriminately and
the conditions under which it can be resorted to as a form of protest
have been clouded in ambiguities. Undoubtedly, a consideration
of the concept raises profound problems of ethics and legal and
political philosophy.

The first great difficulty one confronts when analyzing the notion
of civil disobedience results from the vague nature of an appeal
to the concept of “conscience” or “morality”. The civil disobedient,
in order to justify his conduct, generally holds that he is appealing
to a law higher than any positive law and that it is one which
imposes an obligation so compelling that no positive law can
outweigh it. The criterion is that the “moral law” develops a
standard of conduct which can be appealed to in support of delib-

2 George Woodcock, Civil Disobedience, (Toronto, 1966), where much of

this historical background can be found.


[Vol. 16

erate resistance to laws regarded as so unjust that they cannot be
obeyed in good conscience. This morality provides a criterion for
conduct but it is not in itself a law in the positive sense. In his letter
from Birmingham City Jail, Martin Luther King referred to this:
A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the
law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral
law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a
human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that
uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality
is unjust. 3
O’Connell speaks of an act of civil disobedience as “an affir-
mation of a higher law of God or humanity” 4 and in many respects
this notion attempts to resurrect the jurisprudence of natural law.,
To Chomsky, “[w]hat justifies an act of civil disobedience is an
intolerable evil.., no person of conscience can believe that author-
ity must always be obeyed.” 6 John Cogley, of the Center for the
Study of Democratic Institutions, points out that this notion of
disobedience in the name of a “higher law” has been legitimized.
Two decades ago, at Nuremberg, we established the principle that under
some circumstances such disobedience is a moral duty. During the war-
crime trials some were sentenced to death for not practicing it and others
were given prison terms. We took these drastic steps not because the
prisoners were patriotic Germans but because they obeyed inhumane,
immoral and reprehensible orders.7
Yet, to many observers, the above criteria offer no answer. Some
react without any pretense of respect for the reasoning of men
who disobey the state. Their contempt of those who violate the
positive law in the name of morality and their preconceived notions
of both the “make-up” of the protester and his goals are stated
clearly and without shame. The protester is simply brushed aside
as being against the “American way of life”, too stupid to under-
stand the consequences of his acts or someone intent on violence

ence, ed. Robert A. Goldwin, (Chicago, 1969), at p. 66.

3 Martin Luther King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, On Civil Disobedi-
4 0’Connell, Is Civil Disobedience to be Regarded as a Paralegal Right?,

Trial, (December/January: 1965), at p. 13.

5 “(Natural Law) has its roots deep in the history of Western thought –
Cicero and Aquinas, Hooker and Grotius, Locke and Jefferson and a host
of others who have sought to justify conduct by virtue of its harmony with
some antecedently established, superhuman, moral law, usually divine,” Carl
Cohen, The Essence and Ethics of Civil Disobedience, The Nation, (March
16, 1964), at p. 260.

6 Goodman, Civil Disobedience: Is it Justified?, New York Times Magazine

Section, (November 26, 1967).


[No. 3


for the sake of violence.” For Waldman, the “glib generalizations”
of Martin Luther King are

… as bad as they are illogical. For when literally applied by many of
his followers, who do not have the sophistication and training of Dr.
King, such shibboleths lead to an intellectual, religious and moral
justification for doing illegal acts of which violence and lawlessness are
but the extreme expressionP

No violation of a government decree can escape the vigilance
of that segment of American society which chooses to consider
any major grievance as part of an international Communist cons-
piracy. 10 To a large number of these people, the rule of law in North
America has an intrinsic value apart from any other consideration.
Legal positivism as expounded by Hobbes held that the law was
supreme and men had to blindly obey regardless of personal belief.
Austin, about a century later, defined law as the command of the
state and agreed with Hobbes that the starting point for law could
not be what was right or just. The positivist theory, however, has
been modified somewhat and become more aware of the problem
of fidelity to law. The writings of Hart have finally, according to
Fuller, eliminated “the pretense of the ethical neutrality of pos-
itivism” 11 and while there are still those who hold that a man’s duty

8 “For those who still have need to justify their sallies against the social
order, a rationale is provided by a renewed emphasis on individual conscience.”
Endres, Civil Disobedience and Modern Democracy, (1968), 43 Thought, at
p. 500.

OWaldman, Civil Rights –

Yes; Civil Disobedience _- No.

(1965), 37

New York State Bar Association Journal, at p. 333.

10″… we must identify certain current forces whose aim is to destroy the
law society. The inexorable requirement of communism to exploit every
difference between men is now or should be clearly understood. Communism
ideologically, philosophically and
constantly exploits mankind’s
psychologically. … Communists have long been instructed to change passive
attitudes to ‘activist’ attitudes, to intensify the struggle at all levels at
all times …. Those who reject our legal methods… play into the hands
of the international Communist conspiracy”. Liebman, “Civil Disobedience.
A Threat to our Law Society”, Symposium Civil Disobedience and the
Law, (1964), 3 American Criminal Law Quarterly, at p. 23.


“The first task of the genuine social reformer would be to ensure that the
demonstrations and organized groups be kept as free as humanly possible
from infiltration… it seems apparent that most groups have not made the
slightest attempt in this direction …. Until demonstrators have put their
own house in order, they hardly are in a position to complain about the
response with which the fraudulent rowdyism that results is met.” Civil
Disobedience, Editorial, (1968), 2 Criminal Law Quarterly, at p. 1.

“Fuller, Positivism and Fidelity to Law –

(1957-58), 71 Harvard L.R., at p. 672.

A Reply to Professor Hart,


[Vol. 16

to the state is so sacred that it can never be breached, they are,
like those who deny that man ever has a moral duty to obey the
law, an extreme minority today.12 As MacGuigan has stated: “[t]here
are too many precedents on the other side for us to be consistent
in denying all civil disobedience.” ‘3

Others who dismiss the possibility of an appeal to a “higher
law” base their views on the impossibility of deciding which man-
made laws are, in fact, just. To them, if civil disobedience is to
include the concept of conscience and morality, members of the
Ku Klux Klan who engage in violation of the law on the basis of
what they believe must be included as civil disobeyers.14

The concept does not, however, in our highly complex society,
rest solely on the conscience of each and every individual. Almost
any kind of act can be given some sort of justification in terms of
appeal to conscience. Numerous moral atrocities are committed
in the name of conscience and one cannot equate an act which
agrees with an individual’s conscience with an act which is morally
right. Bedeau is correct in stating:

It does not follow from the fact than a man cannot do more than what
he conscientiously thinks he ought to do whatever he thinks he ought
to do. The force of saying, I ought to disobey the law cannot be derived
from obeying the law is inconsistent with my moral convictions.5
Senator Eastland has asked, “is not the segregated way of life
a better life? Is not that way the law of nature?” 1 The diversity,
according to Powell, becomes chaotic when entering “the subjective
realms of morality, God’s law and natural law”. 17 Blackstone claims

‘2 “One must avoid the anarchism of a Thoreau who supports civil diso-
bedience whenever one’s conscience is twinged by a law and the rigidity
of a Hegel who completely absorbs the moral life of the individual into
the State,” Blackstone, Civil Disobedience: Is it Justified, (1969), 3 Georgia
L.R., at p. 701.

13 MacGuigan, Civil Disobedience and Natural Law, (1965),

11 Catholic

Lawyer, at p. 120.

14″If the decision to break the law really turns on individual conscience,
it is hard to see in law how Dr. King is any better off than former Governor
Ross Barrnett of Mississippi who also believed deeply in his cause and was
willing to go to jail.” Marshall, The Protest Movement and the Law, (1965),
51 Virginia L.R., at p. 800.

15 Bedeau, On Civil Disobedience, (1961), 58 Journal of Philosophy, at p. 663.

(Emphasis added.)

16Quoted in Wofford Jr., The Law and Civil Disobedience, Presbyterian

Outlook, (September 26, 1960), at p. 5.

17 Powell, Jr., A Lawyer Looks at Civil Disobedience, (1966), 23 Washington

and Lee L.R., at p. 209.

[No. 3


the need for a “morally neutral explication of the concept of con-
science or moral reason” but says that attempts to do so have
resulted in “substantive moral recommendations placed under the
guise of a neutral metaethical analysis”.”8 To build into the concept
a set of moral convictions is brushed aside as unacceptable as it
fuses acts of civil disobedience with acts that are morally justified.
Martin Luther King has commented that there should be dif-
ferent rules for those whose concept of moral law he has branded
as “uncivil disobedience”. 9 While Powell can glibly state that, “one
man’s natural law is all too often another man’s poison”,20 it is
clear that certain laws have been theoretically recognized as being
morally just. The concept of civil disobedience no longer rests
solely on the conscience of each and every individual but on the
general, albeit perhaps ultimately undefinable notion of laws which
“uplift human personality”. It seems that to most men “[p]ractical
needs and our vital psychic economy demand absolute (i.e. unquali-
fied) answers, and make us cling to what sounds or seems to us
simple.” 21 Fuller, however, who feels that a just ordering of society
can only be attained by a discovery and recognition of a “common
need”, freely admits that this principle is not a simple mathematical
calculation and that it involves discretion.

Because the common interest does not tell us everything, there is no
reason to conclude that it tells us nothing. Those who reject the principle
of the common need because it does not dot all the i’s or cross all the
t’s should recall the saying of an ancient Chinese philosopher, Mencius:
when a cobbler undertakes to make a pair of shoes without knowing the
measure of the feet, he does not end up by making a bushel basket.22
While it is clear that no simple formula can be devised which
would provide an instant answer in a given situation this does not
mean that the morality of particular laws or policies can never be
challenged by defiance. As Blackstone has stated:

… there is a group of factual questions the answers to which constitute
necessary premises from which one’s conclusion or decision concerning
any given cases of civil disobedience is derived; and concerning such
factual matters, no man is an infallible judge and error is more than
merely possible. This means that no moral slide rule can ever give us
exact certainty concerning the justification of any given case of civil
disobedience… Civil disobedience is justified on occasion but it is not
possible, in advance of a given case or set of circumstances, to specify

‘sBlackstone, loc. cit., n. 12, at pp. 682-683.
19 Quoted from Powell, loc. cit., n. 17, at footnote 12.
20 Ibid., p. 209.
21Cohen, Reason and Law, (Chicago, 1950), at pp. 64-65.
22 Fuller, The Problems of Jurisprudence, (Brooklyn, 1949), at p. 696.


[Vol. 16

necessary and sufficient conditions for saying that civil disobedience is
justified. Both the generality of moral principles, the need to decide to
extend them in one way or another and the indeterminacy of the relevant
empirical facts makes this so. Indeed this condition is part of what it
means to be a human being and a moral agent 2 3
Through the concept of civil disobedience men can and must
challenge blind adherence to immoral laws. It is an intellectual hoax
to claim that morality can in no way be defined. How then was
judgement rendered at Nuremberg? Therefore, when governments
take or condone actions that are inconsistent with certain important
values on which the society and its political system are supposedly
based, they are violating the basic assumption on which the govern-
ment’s legitimacy rests. It is at these moments that civil disobedience
becomes not only a right but an obligation.

Gunner Myrdal has probed the inconsistency which underlies
American race relations. The American people had traditionally
accepted the equalitarian doctrine that “all men are created equal”
but even after the abolition of slavery the nation maintained a
caste-like system wherein the white race ruled and the black race
was relegated to a separated and subordinated position. For most
white Americans this intellectual difficulty did not present a serious
problem. Myrdal observed that some were basically ignorant of the
realities of the situation and that those who were aware of the
contradiction and inconsistency in the treatment of black people
found methods of rationalization which enabled them to maintain
their position.24 The same tactic is used in denying the validity of
one man’s morality over another’s –
rationalization to maintain
the status quo. Myrdal points out that rationalization of moral issues
is part and parcel of the American attitude. For example, in an
“equalitarian and democratic” system the need to rationalize the
biological inferiority of subordinate groups was a need for defense
by Americans against their own “system” and against their most
cherished ideals. Theories of biological inferiority were in this sense
a function of equalitarianism –
that is, biological inferiority was

2 3 Blackstone, loc. cit., n. 12, at pp. 702-703; the fact that problems of definition
are insufficient cause to render the concept of civil disobedience illegitimate
can be seen by the remarks of MacGuigan to the effect that, “[a]s theory,
disobedience has been the subject of consideration by philosophers not so
much from the viewpoint of whether it is legitimate at all, and if so when;
… (but) for the most part philosophers have developed theories of resistance
and have attempted to say when it is justifiable and when it is not.” See
MacGuigan, loc. cit., n. 13, at p. 120.

24 Myrdal, An American Dilemma, (New York, 1944), passim.

[No. 3


a rationalized perversion of the latter concept.25 In much the same
manner, people continue to rationalize using philosophic and al-
legedly democratic arguments against the acceptance of the uni-
versal morality of the notions contained, for example, in the Decla-
ration of Human Rights as worldwide recognition of “higher law”.
That this Declaration has been effectively rendered meaningless by
the acts of various states only proves that governments everywhere
treat this concretization of the “higher law” contemptuously as an
unenforceable embarrassment to national policies. The inclusion
of moral concepts into acts of civil disobedience does not confuse
two separate theories but offers the very source of legitimacy to
civil disobedience. As nation states seem to have lost all sense of
morality, civil disobedience is a method whereby people, the for-
gotten instrument of the well-oiled political machine, can help
revive the notion. Clearly, a normative ethic may be formulated and
there does exist a set of moral principles which, when combined
with the necessary factual knowledge, provides the required pre-
mises from which one can judge whether or not there is moral
justification for a given case of civil disobedience.

Still, as mentioned earlier, the rule of law has to many an
intrinsic value apart from any moral consideration. “Liberals” who
hold this view, therefore, attempt to rationalize what they consider
the legality of some forms of civil disobedience and speak in terms
of the legal limits of the concept. 20 Acts of civil disobedience, it is
argued, are justified if and only if they break no laws other than
clearly unconstitutional ones. Therefore,

[demonstrators were not violating any court order but rather, laws
which had not been tested…. Under our system a person is entitled to
challenge the validity of a law being applied against him by resisting its
enforcement in court on a plea of invalidity.., the challenger runs the
ridk of going to jail if his challenge is not ultimately upheld by the
courts. In the face of that danger, it is a courageous and commendable
act for a man to defy a law in order to attack its validity through the
processes of law.27

25 Ibid., p. 89. Quoted in, Masotti, Hadden, Seminatore, and Corsi, A Time

to Burm,

(Chicago, 1969), at p. 142.

26 Professor Freeman is a glaring exception to this rule. In a fascinating
article he too argues for a “legal” justification of civil disobedience but
on a much broader scope than any other author of whom I am aware.
Unfortunately, an analysis of his reasoning would require much greater study
than is possible within the bounds of this note. Freeman, Civil Disobedience,
Law and Democracy, (1966), 3 Law in Transition Quarterly, at p. 13.

27T-veed, Segal, and Packer, Civil Rights and Disobedience to Law: A
Lawyer’s View, (1964), 36 New York State Bar Journal, at p. 291. That the


[Vol. 16

But the argument goes beyond this point. In fact, apologists of
civil disobedience are really claiming a legal justification for the
protester and a denial that civil disobedience is really in issue.
Taylor simply states that, “if a violation is committed under a
claim of legal right with the intention of seeking redress in the
courts, it can hardly be termed civil disobedience”. 28 His essay leaves
no doubt that to him this manner of protest, regardless of what
name is given to it, is the only acceptable form. Burke Marshall
speaks of the theory of civil disobedience as being “wholly inappli-
cable to the efforts of the protest movement to overturn the segre-
gation laws and practices of the south”. He concludes that, in the
sit-in and demonstration cases which reached the Supreme Court,
there was “nothing illegal in the ultimate sense” and that the con-
duct was “under colour of law –
rather than in
disobedience of it”. 29 Variations of this notion have been forwarded
by many observers unable or unwilling to explain the remarkable
success of civil disobedience in changing “unchangeable” wrongs2
The reasoning is simple. By using this circular constitutional argu-

federal law –

“right” or “justification” is given “sanctification” only in these very restricted
circumstances is made clear later in their argument at page 295, where they
say, “[w]hen valid laws are broken simply to create sympathy for the civil
rights position or, even less defensibly, simply to dramatize the contentions
of the demonstrators, it seems clear important values are being unjustly

2 8 Taylor, “Civil Disobedience: Observation on the Strategies of Protest”,
Legal Aspects of the Civil Rights Movement, ed. D.B. King and C.W. Quick,
(Detroit, 1965), at p. 228.

29 Marshall, The Protest Movement and the Law, (1965), 51 Virginia L.R.,
at pp. 794-98. At page 796, referring to civil disobedience, he says: “Dr. King
takes on an argument he need not take on, and defends a position he
need not defend….

30″Persons… who engage in activities that may be in violation of a
particular ordinance or state statute are not necessarily civilly disobedient
if that ordinance or statute in turn violates the constitution of the United
States …. Even if the court should ultimately finds that the statute which the
defendant’s conduct violated was valid where it was arguably unconstitutional
and where the defendant acted in good faith for the purpose of testing its
constitutionality, I would say that there has not been any civil disobedience”,
(1967), 5 Illinois Continuing Legal Education, at p. 74; Quoted in Morris,
American Society and the Rebirth of Civil Obedience, (1968), 54 American
Bar Association Journal, at p. 655.

Much the same argument is forwarded by Cohen, loc. cit., n. 5, at pp. 259-
260, who says regarding the constitutional question, “Appeal to such an argu-
ment, however, cannot justify an act of civil disobedience; its very employ-
ment is a denial that there has been any truly unlawful act. Where it succeeds,
it showns the act in question not to have been one of civil disobedience”.

[No. 3


ment those who hold the law as having intrinsic value in itself are
able to rationalize acts with which the modern liberal must have
sympathy. At the same time it removes from the concept of civil
disobedience some of the legitimacy which it has achieved in certain
areas. That is in areas where vindication is possible in the strict
legal sense, since the acts often gained much public sympathy, it is
claimed that this is not civil disobedience. Yet, plainly the ordinance
or statute was legally on the books and, in fact, enforced by the
state until it was declared unconstitutional. There was not in many
instances a guarantee that the court would so declare. The par-
adoxical statement that one has a legal justification for an illegal
act is only apparent given the ex post facto declaration of the
illegality of the ordinance.3′

As well, to seek legal justification for acts of civil disobedience
and then to claim that the act is therefore something other than
civil disobedience begs the question. While, for example, freedom
riders were no doubt appealling to the constitution, it implies that
had the court upheld the local segregation order, the riders would
have desisted. This attitude shows a total lack of understanding
of the motives of the protesters. Their appeal was to a “higher law”
than the rules of the United States Supreme Court. To claim that
this is the limit to which a man should disobey the law makes a
mockery of the Nuremberg decisions. It is to suggest that one
acquiesce the judgment of a court without further reflection,
regardless of circumstance. The German Supreme Court, in the
1930’s, enforced many unconscionable laws. The American Supreme
Court, in the Dred Scott decision, declared that Negroes had no
rights. Were the moral issues then settled? To claim that appeal to
the constitution sets the limits beyond which man cannot be justified
means simply that to the legal mind the rule of law is of greater
importance than the immorality of any particular law and therefore
in itself constitutes the highest value. It is not difficult to show the
value of law as well as the need for it. Yet, the idea of obedience
to law in general does not have such importance that the law must
be held as sacred even where it violates certain moral values.3 2

3 lBlackstone, loc. cit., n. 12, at p. 685. In a speech to the Association of
the New York City Bar, April 21, 1965, Martin Luther King stated, “[c]ivil diso-
bedience can never be legal. In fact, civil disobedience means that it is not

32The almost unanimous enactment by Congress of the law making the
burning of draft cards a felony punishable by five years in prison or a
$10,000 fine or both, is typical of the “divine right” theory in American law.
Since draft card burning does not help a youth avoid the draft, the felony


[Vol. 16

There are others to whom the law is so sacrosanct and in whom
the fears of “anarchy” and “riot” are so deep that even the limited
acceptance of violation of the law on constitutional grounds is
totally unacceptable. For example, Earl Morris has said:

I speak as a lawyer, of course, not as a theologian. But after all the
rhetoric and lofty quotations, the fact must be recognized and reaffirmed
that the law is and must be the supreme factor in the orderly working
of society and that order, without which religion, education and civil
rights cannot live, can be maintained only by adherence to the law. In
tolerating and often encouraging civil disobedience, we have wittingly
walked a fine line between individual liberty and anarchy.33
In a highly recommended article authorized for reprinting “in
view of the importance and content” by the editors of the New York
Bar Association Journal, Louis Waldman has stated in relation to
Martin Luther King’s campaign of civil disobedience:

It is time that the organized Bar is heard on this question. It is time
we tell Dr. King and his devotees of civil disobedience that the rule of
law will and must prevail, that violators of the law, however lofty their
aims or positions in society, are not above the law. Correction of injus-
tices by intimidation, by extra-legal means, or inspired by fear of violence
cannot longer be continued.3 4
The fear that civil disobedience will lead to a general breakdown
in respect to law and order and/or that it is a stepping stone to
violence is, in fact, a central issue in the minds of all those who
oppose the concept. To some, “[t]he plain fact of human nature is
that the organized disobedience of masses stirs up the primitive
… Specific disobedience breeds disrespect and promotes general
disobedience”. 35 Powell speaks of the “myths” and “carefully nur-
tured impressions” that civil disobedience can be relatively peaceful
and points out that:

[e]ven non-violent demonstrations frequently exact a high price from
the public generally. They disrupt traffic, create discordant noises, litter
the streets, and deny the streets and sidewalks to other citizens ….
Possibly the most serious aspect of the expanding use of protest methods
in the name of civil disobedience is the resulting incitement to mob
violence.., few objective observers would deny that the contribution
has been significant.3 6

is apparently injury to the sacred sovereignty of law embodied in a piece of
paper. See Goodman, “Reflections on Civil Disobedience and Lawlessness”,
ed. Robert A. Goldwin, On Civil Disobedience, (Chicago, 1969), at p. 123.

33 Morris, loc. cit., n. 30, at p. 656.
34 Waldman, loc. cit., n. 9, at p. 337.
35 Leibman, loc. cit., n. 10, at p. 125.
36 Powell, loc. cit., n. 17, at pp. 225-226.

[No. 3


In spite of these grave fears there is no evidence that violation
of law in the spirit of civil disobedience leads to a general contempt
of all laws. There is no indication that persons engaged in civil
disobedience have become general law-breakers. 7 As well, the de-
fenders of “law and order” seem to have forgotten that both civil
disobedience and disorder in the United States have not been the
cause but the result of the country’s troubles. That is, civil disobe-
dience does not create the evils but is a reaction to them. One’s
perception of peace must, to a large extent, form part of the reason-
ing behind a call to limit civil disobedience as a threat to domestic
tranquility. The national state, which monopolizes power and infor-
mation, reminds the people daily of the need for domestic tranquility
in order to maintain the states’ strength and glory and therefore, the
need to blindly accept its authority. While wealth is distributed
irrationally, the environment is being poisoned, certain groups are
being condemned to subservient positions and the dignity of millions
of citizens is being violated daily, the state asks the unaffected
“silent majority” to help maintain the internal peace and stability
which would ensure the perpetuation of the status quo. As long as
the violence within the wronged individuals does not break out into
“disobedience” or “disorder” the nation and those in positions of
power remain undisturbed and satisfiedV8

It is interesting to compare the feelings of lawyers such as
Powell and Morris regarding the relationship of civil disobedience
to “anarchy” and violence with those of experts who specialize
in the analysis of just these types of problems. Ralph Conant,
associate director of the Lemberg Centre for the Study of Violence
at Brandeis, states that, “While all riots stem from conflicts in
society similar to those that inspire acts of civil disobedience, they
ordinarily do not develop directly from specific acts of civil diso-
bedience”.3 9 Conant explains that riots are generally directed against

37,”It is often enough said that disobedience even of bad laws undermines
the habit of law abidance and so endangers that fundamental order upon
which civilized life depends. But I have never seen this argued with careful
attention to some particular body of evidence”; Walzer, The Obligation to
Disobey, (1967), 77 Ethics, footnote 19, at p. 175.
38″Law and order is keeping the status quo, keeping it in as pleasant and
stereotyped fashion as you can. Law and order is preserving what, to the
black man, is our intolerable and unjust system”; Kunstler, Lawyers Look at
Civil Disturbances, (1967-68), 25 New York County Lawyers Association, at
p. 121.

39 Conant, Rioting, Insurrection and Civil Disobedience, (1968), 37 American

Scholar, at p. 420.


[Vol. 16

those who are allegedly perpetrating injustice or misusing political
power. They are not as a rule senseless outbursts but a result of
“shared rage growing out of specific rage inducing experiences”.
He concludes by pointing out, “.. . violence is and always has been
an important and sometimes indispensible instrument of social,
economic and political change in our national history”. Nieburg
has said:

There is always a danger that the prevailing minority that holds power
will use legality and force to deter all pluralistic politics and opposition.
In the swiftly changing human and physical environments of modern
technology and international relations, such a mood can quickly dislocate
a nation, destroy legitimacy, escalate violence and endanger the peace
of the world. A state system whose central and primary values become the
negative and costly ones of internal security and repression is soon riddled
by subversions, interventions, assassinations and extremist fits and sei-
zures of all sorts 40
To those who are satisfied with the status quo, the unfounded
fear that civil disobedience will lead to anarchy is of more concern
than the injustices which permeate much of American life. The
reaction of the swelling contented middle class of Americans, for
whom the system “works”, is to look to traditional forms of politics
in order to solve any problems. It is difficult for those who have
“made it” to identify with the millions in society who have not.
This, however, is blindness that will lead to disaster. Disobedience
and civil disorder are already engulfing much of America. It is
obvious that those who have long been buried under the nation’s
facade of equality, wealth and justice can no longer be kept hidden
and divided. The theory of civil disobedience can help counteract
and contain the rage of those who have long been suppressed. Civil
disobedience draws the line in a society seeking to move by
deliberation and choice rather than by accident and force. Successful
examples of civil disobedience would serve to diminish the possi-
bilities of anarchy or communism which the defenders of law and
order seem to fear most. The danger of anarchy comes not from
acts of civil disobedience but from the fatalism and hopelessness

4ONieburg, Violence, Law and the Social Process, (March, April, 1968), 2
American Behavioural Scientist, at p. 19; at page 17, Nieburg points to the
uselessness of attempting to quell riots by simple repression rather than
dealing with root problems, in stating “[n]ormal police security methods
become counter productive; they merely solidify the capability and likelihood
of disruption by a group which is increasingly polarized and alienated…. In
the face of major political violence, the prevailing consensus of interest and
power groups must choose between social-economic-political adjustments and
the unpromising course of infinite escalation and counter-escalation of force”.

[No. 3


of a wronged people to whom the possibilities of action are closed.
It is only when people lose all hope of being able to determine
their own destiny that law becomes an alien force and violence and
anarchy appear as the only viable alternative. 41 Conant has shown
that violence will remain as an indispensable corrective ingredient
in our society, “the sole qualification is that all other avenues
of legitimate and peaceful change first be substantially closed,
exhausted or ineffective”. The “law and order” reaction of sup-
pression to acts of civil disobedience does little more than close
the last avenue of peaceful and legitimate change.42

Civil disobedience acts within the frame of established authority,
rather than outside of it. Charles Black, Jr., Professor of Juris-
prudence at Yale has said:

Civil disobedience… is not aimed toward overthrow of law and order.
On the contrary, it works within the framework of the legal system to
rectify specific wrongs. Where the wrongs pertain to the processes of
that system itself, the civil disobedient intends not to render the overall
system inoperative with respect to his own act. He may, in fact, want
by his act to render their absurdity and injustice more patent.43

Except for those few for whom the very phrase civil disobedience
locks the door to logic and reason, the enormous difference between

41 “When peoples’ just expectations are satisfied, the law is accepted and
respected, and a peaceful, orderly and harmonious society is possible. When
these expectations are not fulfilled, when just grievances are not remedied,
confidence in the law is diminished, people are alienated from law and society,
and instability, unrest and even violence replace order. This has been the
lesson of both ancient and contempory history”; Goldberg, Equal Justice for
Rich and Poor, Proceedings: National Conference on Law and Poverty,
(Washington, 1965), at p. 145.

42 See generally Woffard Jr., “Law as a Question”, Civil Disobedience, ed.
Robert A. Goldwin, (Chicago, 1969), at pp. 79-93; the unwillingness of America
to totally commit itself to the eradication of human misery coupled with its
“law and order” reaction of repression against almost all dissenters has caused
both the American concept of “law and order” and democracy to become the
object of international scorn.

“The British people look with genuine horror at the American mess in
Vietnam and at the picture of the wealthiest country in the world incapable
of diverting enough wealth from the over-consumptive society to clean up
the ghettos and eliminate poverty… law and order in the U.S. has pro-
gressively degenerated as it always will under a right-wing government because
for a democratic society you will never cure violence by repression.” Employ-
ment Minister Castle, Montreal Star, (June 8, 1970) pp. 1-2.

43 Charles L. Black Jr., The Problem of the Compatibility of Civil Disobe-
dience with American Institutions of Governement, (1965), 43 Texas L.R., at
p. 509.


[Vol. 16

civil disobedience and rebellion seeking to overthrow or repudiate
government is clear. Blackstone explains this fact by saying:

A civil disobedient is distinguished from those who advocate rebellion
or revolution in that he advocates neither the complete overthrow of
existing authority nor the violation or subsequent change of all laws
but only of some. The complete collapse of a government and of the
basic structure of law in a given society or in general is not his objective
and this clearly distinguishes a civil disobedient from a revolutionary or
a political anarchist who seeks the complete overthrow of all constituted
authority …. Civil disobedience is much more than a mere act of protest
or demonstration against a given law, for it is illegal activity. But it is
much less than rebellion or the advocacy of anarchy.44
The main reason, of course, that liberal Americans give for the
restriction of civil disobedience within the strict frame of “consti-
tutional protest” is not fear of anarchy but that the democratic
structure of the nation is adequate to remedy the problems of
society. They take for granted that the political system is successful
and that the existing channels of dissent, the rights to protest, to
speak, to publish, to assemble peacefully and to participate in the
electoral process, are sufficient to remedy existing grievances.”
Taylor concludes that the democratic system has shown that
“conditions for justice can be established by all of the legitimate
techniques available to a free people…” but does not discuss
where justice has or has not prevailed.4 Leibman’s remarks are
more revealing, however, of the narrow conceptual framework within
which he views democracy.

This open or democratic republic is man’s highest achievement –
only for what it has already accomplished, but more importantly because
it affords the greatest opportunity for orderly change and the realization
of man’s self-renewing aspirations … unhampered dialogue makes possi-
ble the opportunity to continuously approximate, through our legal system,
our moral and spiritual goals.

Although the dialogue is eloquent it is when he discusses the achieve-
ments of the system that his values become clear. “Never before
have 190 million people enjoyed so many material goods, however
imperfect their distribution”; he continues: in relation to dignity,

44 Blackstone, loc. cit., n. 12, at pp. 680-681; see also: Cohen, loc. cit., n. 5,
at p. 260; Jones, Civil Disobedience, (1967), 3 American Philosophical Society,
at pp. 195-196.

45 For an in-depth examination of the general problem of civil disobedience
in a democratic society see Spitz, Essays in the Liberal Ideas of Freedom,
(Tuscon, 1964), at p. 63, and particularly pp. 63-77, where Spitz concludes that
civil disobedience cannot be rejected on the simple basis of the essentially
democratic nature of the government.

46 Taylor, op. cit., n. 28, at p. 235.

[No. 3


equality and freedom for all citizens, “[t]he cry for immediacy is a
cry for impossibility”. 47 This is the kind of reaction that caused
Martin Luther King to say:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great
stumbling block in his struggle toward freedom is not the white citizens’
Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more
devoted to “order” than to “justice”… who paternalistically believes
he can set a timetable for another man’s freedom.48

Waldman, also in his desire to “protect” democracy speaks of
Negroes enjoying the same civil rights as other Americans as well
as equal opportunity to a job, an education or to vote.49 Powell
speaks of “painfully slow” procedures of democracy as a more
dependable and a less dangerous mode of correcting injustice and
social problems. The danger to democracy is explained by pointing
out that civil disobedience breeds abuse of drug laws and infiltration
of Communists and leftists seeking radical changes in United
States society, as well as the danger that individuals seeking personal
gain will “synthetically create” mobs.50

There is evidence to show that the American democratic system
cannot solve the issues tearing at the nation by resorting to tra-
ditional modes of change alone. There are those, however, who
see in any challenge to the operation of the system in which they
have become so comfortable, a sinister plot to undermine the
democratic form of government. Others, have simply not thought
about or are incapable of grasping the failures of the American
democratic system. All of these people either do not see the glaring
areas of failure or attempt to gloss them over.

Many Americans speak of all that has been accomplished in the
area of civil rights through “normal” channels of the democratic
system. Yet the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders
points out that, in fact, almost nothing has been done for black
people aside from “showpieces”. 51 The tone of the Commission’s

47 Liebman, loc. cit., n. 10, at pp. 21-26.
4s King, loc. cit., n. 3, at p. 68.
4 9 Waldman, loc. cit., n. 9, at p. 332.
50 Powell, loc. cit., n. 17, at pp. 228-231; See also: Endres, loc. cit., n. 8, at p. 499.
51 The plight of black Americans is being used as an example as it offers
the perfect case of the democratic system “in action” in order to achieve
justice for an oppressed minority. Much time and emphasis has been placed
in this area and so the results are of extreme importance in any assessment
of the ability of the democratic system, as seen by those arguing for consti-
tutional limits to civil disobedience, to solve grievous problems. In this respect
it has recently been said: “In spite of all the successes we can point


[Vol. 16

report was strong and its conclusion, shocked many. “Our nation
is moving toward two societies, one black, one white –
but unequal.” 52 The saving grace of our democracy is that it is
supposed to provide alternatives to civil disobedience. When applied
to the facts, this generalization becomes a cruel hoax. This was
recognized by Frankel, who has said that, “the basic fallacy in
the proposition that in a democracy civil disobedience can never
be justified is that it confused the ideals or aims of democracy
with the inevitably less than perfect accomplishment of democracy
at any given moment.”53 Taken at its simplest level this can
result in problems to which no legal machinery is available for
redress. Father Robert Drinan, Dean of the Boston College Law
School spoke of this:

In hundreds of grievances there is no legal machinery to process the
complaint, much less bring it to the stage of “the last resort”. Some
injustices, furthermore, place the victims in such pain, humiliation and
moral peril that the minority group inflicted by them has not merely
a right but conceivably a duty to bring them to public attention by some
dramatic event or spectacular conduct.54
As for the system itself, “the reality of the situation is that the
democratic process offers less chance of success for the Negro
both in terms of joining a coalition which can continue to produce
legislation and in terms of gaining the willingness of a society
to comply with any legislation which is passed”.?5 Americans have
long made a hypocritical distinction between the Negro’s theoretical
right to full participation in society and the practical or specific
applications of those theoretical rights.

For those who speak of “time” it should be pointed out that
Constitutional guarantees and the electoral process have existed

to, all of the activity of the past fifteen years has not significantly altered
the life chances of the large majority of black Americans”, Masotti, Hadden,
Seminatore, Corsi, op. cit., n. 25, at p. 11.
52 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders Report, Kerner Report,
5 3 Frankel, Is it Ever Right to Break the Law?, New York Times Magazine

(Washington D.C., 1968).

Section, (January 12, 1964).

“The term ‘democracy’ has, like many other honorific terms, fallen
victim to twentieth century doublespeak, which is a device used by the
practical minded for the purpose of ‘adjusting their ideals to reality’
thereby obscuring the gap between the ideal and the real and substituting
the name for the thing.” Horowitz, “Toward the Democratic Class
Struggle”, Agenda 1970, Lloyd, McLeod, ed., (Toronto, 1968), at p. 241.
54 Drinan, Lawyers and Nonviolent Demonstrations, (June, 1964), The

Catholic Worker, at p. 7.

55 Masotti, Hadden, Seminatore, Corsi, op. cit., n. 25, at p. 159.

[No. 3


for many years and although there have been “gains” they have not
been adequate for the times in which we live and the expectations
that people have a right to hold.

The Kerner Report evoked no substantive action from the White
House. Little or nothing has been done to implement its suggestions
for remedial action, as the overwhelming majority of white Ameri-
cans refuse to accept its judgment –
one which implicates them
and their democratic ideals. 56 The Poor Peoples’ Campaign was
organized to appeal to Congress to act on the Report. It was intended
to utilize means of protest within the law. The ineffectiveness of
the Campaign says much for traditional forms of dissent. Its effect
on Congress was a poverty program which did not differ signifi-
cantly from any other and also resulted in no action on the Kerner

Americans, as we have noted, have an amazing ability to become quickly
disturbed and then to become even more quickly complacent. Persons
and agencies in control of the mechanisms in our society which satisfy
the demands of its various competing groups are not much more moved
than the general populace by disturbing situations until these situations
become crises which continuously impinge upon their consciousness or,
more likely, directly threaten their own well-being. For this reason, and
for the reason that obedience to law is not a singularly prominent Ameri-
can trait, major social changes, as we have seen, do not occur in this
nation without rancorous outbursts of hostility.57
The situation of the Negro is that he has won de jure recognition
in most areas but the objective reality of the Negro’s situation in
the United States has not significantly improved, even with the
passage of civil rights legislation, reinforced by judical decisions.
The rhetoric of democracy, justice and equality requires that
America produce a corresponding set of attitudes and policies.
“Otherwise, the frustration of rising expectations, which undermines

56″What white Americans have never fully understood –

but what the
Negro can never forget –
is that white society is deeply implicated in the
ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it and
white society condones it.” Kerner Commission, op. cit., n. 52, at p. 2;
“The present mood of this nation seems more intent on legislating against
riots and uncovering organized conspiracy than on responding to real issues.
The response, or lack of response of this nation to the report of the National
Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders… gives reason to seriously question
whether we as a nation are capable of coming to grips with the realities
we face. In fact, it is not at all clear that we, as a nation, even understand
what is happening to us.” Masotti, Hadden, Seminatore, Corsi, op. cit., n. 25,
at p. xi.

W Masotti, Hadden, Seminatore, Corsi, op. cit., n. 25, at p. 161, (Emphasis



[Vol. 16

legitimacy, can only promote the conditions for violence.”58 The
“due process” of democracy has, in itself, not been able to afford
major social change of the degree required. The authors of A Time
to Burn? point out that only crisis can move the general populace.
These distinguished scholars, from four different social sciences,
make a point of explaining at the outset, “We are not ‘bleeding
heart’ liberals. In traditional political rhetoric, we represent a
spectrum from moderately liberal to moderately conservative”. Yet,
they clearly recognize the inability of the normal channels to foster
some of the desperately needed change.59 Martin Luther King
recognized this as well. In his book, Why We Can’t Wait, he said that
the purpose of the direct action program is to create a situation so
crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negociation.
Those who believe that the normal channels of American society
are the only ones which can be used seem to feel that the only
alternative to these channels is uncontrolled violence and chaos.
It is clear that change is needed –
and that more and more people
realizing that the normal channels have not and will not, by them-
selves, be sufficient have taken to the streets. Civil disobedience
can offer an alternative more effective than traditional politics in
creating a crisis situation sufficient to spur change and much less
costly than both the spontaneous and premeditated violence which
has already engulfed much of America and continues to escalate.
The violence on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic
National Convention provides an example of the results of “law

5sIbid., p. 177.
59 Ibid., at p. vii. The need for crisis or a profound shaking of the conscience

of America has been recognized by many:

“Certain antagonism is the natural reaction of persons whose habitual
apathy has been profoundly shaken. When persons are made to realize that
they have inhaled the invisible, odorless but poisonous gas of prejudice
and bias, their spontaneous reaction is to assert that they have not been
poisoned as others allege.

This defensive reaction must revert rather quickly into continued apathy
or yield to a more affirmative position. The cessation or even the diminution
of direct protests by the Negro community, done out of deference to white
antipathy may be precisely the wrong reaction at the wrong time and for the
wrong reason.” Drinan, loc. cit., n. 54, at p. 12. Once the failures of the
system and the needs of society are closely examined by an objective observer,
perhaps the conclusion of Woffard Jr., a lover of both democracy and human
dignity, to the effect that, “Perhaps the conclusion is that civil disobedience,
as a form of protest, like democracy is a form of government (according
to Winston Churchill) is the most inefficient way –
except for all others,”
is unsuitable. Woffard Jr., “Law as a Question”, On Civil Disobedience,
ed. Robert A. Goldwin, (Chicago, 1969), at p. 92.

[No. 3


and order” and a refusal to tolerate any “non-legal” protest. Some
protesters were clearly violating the law as they gathered in the
streets but aside from causing monumental traffic jams and hurling
abuse at police and passers-by, little physical damage was being
done. As the latter acts alone were totally unacceptable to the
proponents of “law and order” or “proper channels”, police were
sent in not to control the crowds but to show that Chicago would
never “… permit a violent, lawless group of terrorists to menace
the lives of millions of people, destroy the purpose of the national
political convention, and take over the streets of Chicago”.60 The
result was the infamous “Battle of Chicago” which pitted police
and guardsmen against a coalition of anti-war protest groups. As
millions watched on television, Chicago police savagely beat protest
marchers, members of the press and innocent by-standers. The
report of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention
of Violence concluded that, “Although Chicago police were targets
of mounting provocation by word and act.., the nature of the
response was unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence….-61
That violence was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was
often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order,
made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and
large numbers of people who were simply passing through, or happened
to live in the area where confrontations were occurring. 62

is true that order was restored, the convention was not
disrupted and not one life was lost. Still, thoughtful Americans
.but at what cost to ultimate domestic peace”. 3 The
may ask, “…
events in Chicago, seen in conjunction with other factors, lead to
these conclusions. There are many in America who, for a variety
of reasons, are dissatisfied with the status quo. The normal channels
of communication are, in many instances, inadequate to serve the
needs of these people. The events of the last decade prove the futility
of hoping that these groups will disappear beneath the apparent
affluence of the nation. If the possibility of civil disobedience is
closed by the guardians of “law and order”, the only alternative
left to the dissatisfied is the very violence, chaos and anarchy
feared by those advocating “normal channels”. What is even more

60Mayor Richard Daley, New York Times, (August 30, 1968), at p. 1.
61 Walter, “Rights in Conflict (The Violent Confrontation of Demonstrators
and Police in the Parks and Streets of Chicago During the Week of the
Democratic National Convention of 1968)”, A Report to the National Com-
mission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, (November 18, 1968).

62 Ibid., at p. 1.
03Masotti, Hadden, Seminatore, Corsi, op. cit., n. 25, at p. 170.


[Vol. 16

disturbing is the mounting evidence, ignored by many, which points
out that “law and order” may even turn civil disobedience into
civil disorder and that once at the latter stage it can only result
in a very “stop-gap” peace –

as counter-escalation mounts .4

It is baseless to assume that observance of the law is always
conducive to strengthening the democratic system and that diso-
bedience can never have a beneficial effect. The complacent
acquiescence of the majority to unjust laws will eventually corrode
the faith of the minority in the democratic system and yet, its
viability and continuing strength is dependent on the minority’s
belief that it can rectify evil. There clearly do exist situations in
which civil disobedience may jolt the democratic system into
greater awareness and immediate action.

An appeal for the acceptance of civil disobedience as a legitimate
alternative to lawful protest necessarily includes a rejection of
many of the “limits” which have become, in the public eye, an
integral part of the notion of disobedience. In many cases the
application of these “limits” are sufficient to render the protest
meaningless by severely hampering the ability of the demonstrators
either to protest a certain evil or to create the “crisis situation”
necessary if there is to be any hope for change.

The first of these “limitations” is the idea that civil disobedience
must be directdd only against those laws which are in themselves
wrong. This attitude has been taken by several commentators, whose
opinions include the reasoning behind their idea. Mortimer Adler
has said in reference to the “basic error” generated by Thoreau, that
Thoreau disobeyed a tax law that he did not regard intrinsically unjust
in order to use that act of disobedience as a protest against the injustices
of slavery and what he deemed to be the injustices of our war with
Mexico …. I think we should say that Thoreau was mixed-up and confused,
and that his action was not civil disobedience…. Thoreau made a public
nuisance of himself. Most of the civil rights agitators today, who follow
acting for
in his footsteps, are making public nuisances of themselves –
a good cause, but using the wrong means to do so, because the means

04For example, sniping during riots has now been “replaced” by full.
scale “shoot-outs” between Black Panthers, who have over the past several
years become increasingly alienated from the mainstream of American life,
and police. Conant explains the process which has lead Black Panthers to
this “value re-adjustment” and stresses their inability to achieve “normative
re-adjustment” through the proper channels. When civil disobedience
closed as a viable alternative, revolution remains as the only possibility.
Conant, loc. cit., n. 39, at pp. 420 et seq.

[No. 3


they use involve breaking laws that are not in themselves unjust and
that they are totally without grounds in conscience for disobeying.0 5

Delbert Smith examines court decisions involving this type of
disobedience and concludes that the court’s concern with the actual
effect rather than the avowed purpose is a practical approach.
But, when he speaks of “situations which have been beyond the
justification of the civil rights movement”, such as a work haltage
at a construction site, he does not make clear whether he is speaking
of legal, moral or both types of justification.6 The implication,
however, is clear. Smith sees justification only in terms of legality.
In relation to the “lie-in” at the World’s Fair in New York, which
was, according to Bayard Rustin, an attempt to dramatize the
contrast between the glittering world of fantasy and the real world
of bigotry and poverty only miles away, Powell states that, “If
valid breach of peace and trespass laws may be violated at will
to protest these age old infirmities of mankind, rather than seeking
to ameliorate them by lawful and democratic processes, there
would soon be little left of law and order”. 7

The perspective of Powell is clear. After all, poverty and bigotry
are “age old infirmities” neither of which, no doubt, directly affect
Mr. Powell. From this perspective “indirect coercion” may appear
slightly more radical than it does to those who suffer from the
scourge of these maladies which Powell can so easily brush aside.
This limitation is not supported only by those with little
sympathy for any change in the status quo. Tweed, Segal and
Packer argue vigorously for disobedience as an acceptable means
of challenging the constitutionality of various laws but they can
go no further. This legalistic approach leads to their concluding
that, “When valid laws are broken simply to create sympathy for
the civil rights’ position or, even less defensibly, simply to dramatize
the contention of the demonstrators, it seems clear that important
values are being unjustifiably sacrificed”. 8 For this reason, accord-
ing to the above-noted authors, this activity merits “condemnation”.
There is only a requirement for protest to be directed toward
a need or against a wrong which has been clearly identified and

65 Adler, Is There a Jurisprudence of Civil Disobedience?, (1967), 5 Illinois
Continuing Legal Education, at p. 95. Quoted in, Morris, loc. cit., n. 30, at
footnote 4.

36 Fordham L.R., at pp. 726-728.

G6 Smith, The Legitimacy of Civil Disobedience as a Legal Concept, (1968),
67 Powell, Jr., loc. cit., n. 17, at p. 216.
68Tweed, Segal and Packer, loc. cit., n. 27, at p. 295.


[Vol. 16

the only obligation that does exist in this area, is for the demon-
strator to communicate the nature of the protest to the public.,9
Although Waldman directs his fury at protest not directed against
a specific law, by stating that, “…. instead of being condemned,
it gets to be understood”, there are many common sense “under-
standable” reasons why this type of protest is required.70 Most
of those who oppose this method invoke the rule of law. This is
yet another example of what is moral becoming what is consti-
tutional and therefore morality is reduced to law –
to the current
opinions of the Supreme Court.

If this position is accepted it would be impossible to “sit-in”
at a restaurant where black people are not served due to the policy
of the owner rather than a particular law. Here the wrong occurs
not because of a bad law but because of the failure to enforce
a good one. There is no law that can be violated to protest inaction.
As well, some of the most serious problems in America are not
represented by an identifiable law. For example, there is no spe-
cific “poverty law” which the poor can violate to protest their
wretched condition. Although segregation laws have for the most
part been repealed, it does not mean that racist attitudes and
the more subtle forms of discrimination have suddenly ceased to
exist. It is illogical to argue that while protest may be directed
against racism supported by law it may not be directed against
racism supported by attitude. To those who bear the brunt of this
hatred the distinction must be very academic. By accepting this limi-
tation one guarantees that many of the most fundamental problems
of American society will remain beyond the reach of civil diso-

By invoking the names of King and Gandhi, it is argued by
many that civil disobedience must be absolutely non-violent at
all times. The definition of civil disobedience does not, however,
in itself exclude violence as does “passive resistance” or “non-
violent action”. As civil disobedience is a device to promote change
the question of means must be left open. That is, there must be
a realistic assessment of the most effective method of achieving the
ends of a civil disobedience campaign. There is a limitation.
Proponents of civil disobedience must be guided by a moral stance
which will “uplift human personality” and as such must advocate
non-violence as one of their moral principles. However, in the
“crisis periods” of civil disobedience it would be naive not to

69 Keeton, The Morality of Civil Disobedience, (1965), 43 Texas L.R. at p. 515.
70 Waldman, loc. cit., n. 9, at p. 336.

[No. 3


recognize that a simple distinction between the two categories is
not always possible.

Philosophers have long recognized the difficulty of defining the
term “non-violent”. Blackstone, while considering non-violence to
be a necessity in the practice of civil disobedience and the factor
which distinguishes it from rebellion, concedes that, “The point
is that the very concept of violence is itself opaque and needs a
great deal of analysis”. 71 Smith speaks of the difficulty in defining
the term with any “precise content”. He concludes that one may
argue that, “… there is a freedom to perform a civilly disobedient
act only so long as the rights of others are not directly affected
in ways that are not connected with the policy or law under
protest” 2 It has been argued, in fact, that civil disobedience by
its very nature cannot be non-violent and the implication is that
it is, therefore, an unacceptable mode of protest. Referring to the
civil disobeyer, Prosch has said:

But the trick is that you are asking them in such a way that they will
have to reply. Do they believe in the rightness of these laws firmly
enough to continue enforcing them upon people who keep coming back
to be arrested or even beaten? They must either act or not act in the
face of your challenge and so they must return an answer.., since the
employment of arguments –
rational, emotional or some combination

is not involved at its point of action, your opponents are not likely
to identify your effort as an attempt at moral persuasion. They must
rather tend to regard it as a power move on your part. Therefore, even
though your action is non-violent, its first consequence must be to place
you and your opponents in a state of war. For your opponents now
have only the same sort of choice that an army has; that of allowing
you to continue occupying the heights you have moved on to, or of
applying force –
dynamic, active, violent force…. In terms of its
practical impact, therefore, your tactic is basically a military one rather
than a morally persuasive one – or even a political one.j 3
In fact, much of what Prosch has argued is true. The act of
civil disobedience does demand and answer to a vital question.
It may also be true that this puts the targets of civil disobeyers
“in a state of war”. But to argue that one should not demand
an answer to a vital social issue because it may cause opponents

7′ Blackstone, loc. cit., n. 12, at p. 682.
7 2 To Smith, violence includes “coercion” by means of a “sit-in” in a public
official’s office to suspend activities. As well, he includes the violence which
might occur if observers were to attack the demonstrators. It would seem,
therefore, that non-violence is impossible and that civil disobedience cannot
be justified; Smith, loc. cit., n. 66, at pp. 714-715.

73 Prosch, Limits to the Moral Claim in Civil Disobedience, (1965), 75 Ethics,

at pp. 104-105.


[Vol. 16

to react negatively or to argue that one should never vigorously
seek to create the crisis needed to shake the complacency of the
populace is to oppose fundamental change no matter what the
issue. To demand of civil disobeyers a guarantee that their opponents
will react non-violently is an absurd proposition. What is arguable
is that those engaged in civil disobedience take as much care as
possible that they do not stir up violence. The problem of presenting
an effective challenge to authority without eliciting violent response
in others is a matter which must be considered but as pointed
out by Keeton, “… some injustices are so grave as to warrant
the risk. The point is rather that the risks should be realistically
foreseen and found to be compatible, if incurred, with the objective
of the long-run betterment of society”.74

This was clearly recognized by Martin Luther King and his
followers. Their reaction, however, was that when one cheek of
a demonstrator was slapped the other be turned. King asked that,
no matter what the provocation, black men should reply with a
fierce love. Yet, King clearly recognized the hopelessness of forcing
a protest to end because of the violent reaction of on-lookers. Carl
Cohen speaks of the need to meet violence with non-violence and
to suffer the consequences which may range from assorted indignities
to physical beatings. 5

Brown Jr. gives three reasons why non-violence, on the part
of the demonstrator, is a necessary part of civil disobedience. The
first is that violence, being evil in itself and being no less evil
for being used in a good cause, can be morally justified only in
circumstances where the alternative is an even greater evil. The
second reason is that a clear distinction is needed between justified
acts of civil disobedience and justified acts of civil rebellion. Finally,
he speaks of the need to preserve civil disobedience as a tolerable
and ritualized form of protest in which law breaking is kept to
a minimum. 6 James Farmer, however, points out that, “Civil diso-
bedience and non-violence are by no means synonymous … The
reason for this is simple; a tactic –
survives when it works.. .”.7 Paul Goodman, an advocate of non-
violence, has admitted, “Unfortunately, since the populace has been
sluggish and complacent, occasional violence seems to be ad-

by definition pragmatic –

74Keeton, loc. cit., n. 69, at p. 517.
75 Cohen, loc. cit., n. 5, at p. 258.
76S.M. Brown Jr., Civil Disobedience, (1961), 58 Journal of Philosophy,

at pp. 679-680.

77 James Farmer, “Civil Disobedience and Beyond”, On Civil Disobedience,

ed. Robert A. Goldwin, (Chicago, 1969), at p. 133.

[No. 3


vantageous to wake people up”.7 8 This is not a theory likely to be
easily accepted.7 9 However, there are instances where the use of
violence may not be totally unacceptable.

There is a distinction, which is rarely made, between people
and things. Violence is apparently seen as equally objectionable
in both cases. The American devotion to “things” was carried to
its logical extreme when, during the Chicago riot, the police were
ordered to “shoot to kill arsonists and shoot to maim looters”.
The Chicago mayor apparently had great confidence in the marks-
manship of the police as well as in their ability, during those
confused and disorderly few days, to instantly differentiate between
the thousands of citizens caught in the midst of the chaos and
arsonists or looters. A line can and should be drawn between
limited cases of property damage and justified civil rebellion. In
order for civil disobedience to remain a tolerable alternative to
those who participate, it must have a chance to succeed. For most,
the violence of a Milwaukee priest who picks a lock and burns
draft board records is apparently unacceptable but the violence
of American troops in Vietnam is. The breaking of windows in
the Pentagon horrifies the solid citizen and draws a reprimand
from the proponent of non-violence. Seen in the light of 40,000
American dead and all the other grim “facts” of an undeclared war
being fought for vague and undefined goals, this type of protest
seems mild. Many of the sharpest critics of violence to windows
in America can find reason to justify violence to people in Vietnam.
Those who oppose violence at all times must remember that the
oppressed and morally outraged cannot be forever expected
dam the anger induced by man’s inhumanity to man.

This is not to suggest that violence is commendable or preferable.
What is being suggested is that the unfortunate reality is that
effective dissent may, in extreme cases, require some violence to
“things”. That violence to “things” must not and cannot be equated
to violence to people. While accepting non-violence as morally correct
and striving for its achievement at an international scale, it must
be recognized that historically social change has always been ac-
companied by violence. America is not an exception but a prime
example of that proposition. Indiscriminate violence must always
be condemned no matter how great the cause but in lieu of
“justified civil rebellion” some violence to “things” may prove to

78 Goodman, loc. cit., n. 6.
79 “… [Amny result-oriented test will favour action that, while effective, might
fall beyond the ordinarily accepted forms of non-violent action.” Smith, loc.
cit., n. 66, at p. 720.


[Vol. 16

be the only effective method of jolting a complacent nation. It may,
unfortunately, be a classic example of where the end can justify
the means. 0

One other issue, which to some extent is purely semantic,
deserves consideration. Unlike the common criminal or the civil
resister, the civil disobeyer does not try to evade the authority of
the state or to act in a clandestine manner. That is, a public
claim against the state is publicly acted out. The willingness to
act in public and to offer explanation is indicative of the civil
disobeyer’s concern with the consequences of his acts and their
effect on the people.8′ As the civil disobeyer recognizes the basic
validity of the structure within which he lives and acts openly and
unashamedly, it is often accepted, as a matter of fact, that he
must accept his punishment as right.

It is of the essence of the law that it is equally applied to all, that it
binds all alike, irrespective of personal motive. For this reason, one who
contemplates civil disobedience out of moral convictions should not
be surprised and must not be bitter if a criminal conviction ensues.
And he must accept the fact that organized. society cannot endure on
any other basis. His hope is that he may aid in getting the law changed.
But if he does not succeed in that, he cannot complain if the law is
applied to him.82
There is no question that the state must punish lawbreakers.
As Buckley has pointed out, “It is the individual’s right to refuse
to go along with his community, but the community, not the
individual must specify the consequences”. 3 This the civil disobeyer

80 Gandhi, the greatest exponent of non-violence, himself recognized that
sometimes the ends could justify the means and that many should be
unable to utilize non-violence as courageously and effectively as he had. In
Doctrine of the Sword, referring to those agitating for a just cause, he
seems to imply that even violence to people may sometimes be justified.
I advise
violence. I cultivate the quiet courage of dying without killing. But to him
who has not this courage, I advise killing and being killed rather than
shameful flight.” Quoted in Freeman, Civil Disobedience, Law and Democracy,
(1966), 3 Law in Transition Quarterly, at p. 43.

“Where the only choice is between cowardice and violence,

8117or those who cannot accept any violation of the rule of law this

“openness” in no way legitimizes the act.

“Disobedience to law is bad enough when done secretly but it is far
worse when done openly, especially when accompanied by clothing such
acts in the mantle of virtue and organizing well-advertised and financed
plans to carry out such violations.., the open violator, the agitating violator,
acts shamelessly, in defiance of his neighbour’s judgment and his fellow
man’s disapproval.” Waldman, loc. cit., n. 9, at p. 333.

82 Grswold, Dissent-1968, (1967-68), 42 Tulane L.R., at p. 726.
83 William F. Buckley, Civil Disobedience –

Is it Justified?, New York Times

Magazine Section, (September 26, 1967).

[No. 3


accepts. But as the purpose of disobedience is to change unjust
laws or conditions the protest cannot stop simply because judg-
ment has been rendered by the courts. Whether legal or not, a
morally justified protest remains just to the end. The protest
must not, therefore, stop the moment the critized government
decides against it. The punishment for a morally justified act cannot
logically be “right”. While not surprised at the decision, the diso-
beyer may be “bitter” and must “complain”. There are instances-
where a jail sentence is welcomed but the purpose is a pragmatic
one –
the need to dramatize the sincerity of the protester and
the morality of his cause. But normally, the jail sentence is the
price the civil disobeyer recognizes the government can exact
from him. While recognizing its right to do so, he does not recognize
the right as “right”. To accept as “right” these decisions is to
perpetuate the injustices being protested against. The sentencing of a
civil disobeyer should result in continuing protests, so that the moral
claim of the demonstrators is not ended by the government’s act.
Unless one accepts the proposition that the entire moral life of
the individual is absorbed into the state, the obligation to obey
the law is only prima facie –
and civil disobedience may be
justified. For American democracy to survive and flourish, its people
must not relinquish civil disobedience as a weapon against the
overwhelming power of the state. Those in privileged positions
are naturally prone to emphasize the risks of harm rather than
the possibility of the potential benefits in the challenge to entrenched
injustice. It is increasingly obvious that, “For white America, it
has always been easier, faster and more desirable to pass such
legislation as an anti-riot bill than to take constructive action that
would eliminate the underlying causes of disorder”. 4 But it is clear
that we must construct a new society. To the oppressed, we must
restore a sense of personal dignity and worth. The oppressor must
be helped to cast off values and habits which degrade the morality
of mankind. To those morally or physically outraged, the possibility
of securing change by means compatible with the present frame-
work of government may restore confidence in the possibility of
lawful behaviour. Civil disobedience must offer an alternative to
the increasing minority of morally outraged individuals who are
becoming increasingly polarized and turning to civil resistance.
Violence and destruction are already beginning to engulf the nation.
Some search for reasons and try to understand, some criticize,

4 Masotti, Hadden, Seminatore, Corsi, loc. cit., n. 25, at p. 154.



[Vol. 16

some re-enforce long established hatreds – most hope that it will
somehow end.

As a nation, America has been short-sighted about the future,
choosing instead, to be concerned only with the present. The con-
dition of the black man, the existence of poverty, the continued
insanity of war, the destruction of our environment are problems
which have not been solved by a reliance on the traditional methods.
Mild, gradual, institutionalized steps, while comforting, will not
bring about the needed change. The existing political institutions
are simply incapable, at present, of initiating the type of action
needed without the prodding of those who have not so easily ac-
cepted the paradoxes of American life.

It is difficult, in the comfortable surroundings of middle-class
America to discard the notion that, with patience, everything will
get better. Unfortunately, it is simply not so. There is a desperate
need for the comfortable to transcend their own position and to
somehow perceive the plight of the less fortunate. To those Amer-
icans who claim to sympathize with the oppressed, but do little to
improve their lot, Martin Luther King has said, “He who passively
accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.
He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really co-
operating with it”.85 The need to agitate is clear. “… [tihe question
is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists
we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we
be extremists for the preservation of injustice or the extension
of justice?” Il There is no question that social change of a sweeping
nature is needed and that such change has always been accompanied
by violent tremors. Civil disobedience must be legitimized in the
sense that it should be a legitimate factor to be weighed by the
law in exercising the explicit or implicit discretion which it possesses.
In this way alone can the law hope to help channel and control the
agitation needed to shake the complacency of the nation 7


85 Martin Luther King, Stride Toward Freedom, (New York: 1958), at p. 51.
86 King, loc. cit., n. 3, at p. 71.
8 7 “The welfare of any society depends, in good part, on its ability to adjust
its legal system to changes in the social, technological and economic climate.
Unless its legal institutions respond to current needs, the system faces many
dangers. Institutional rigidities can create such conflicts within a societal
framework that they may spark a decline of the society, a phenomenon
which has occured several times in the course of man’s history”. Massel,
Legal Institutions in a Changing Society: The Need for Appraisal, 21 Journal
of Legal Education, p. 125.

– B.C.L., LL.B.

The Case for Family Maintenance in Quebec in this issue Recent Cases

related content