By acting civil but disobedient you are able to protest things you dont thinkare fair, non-violently. Henry David Thoreau is one of the most importantliterary figures of the nineteenth century. Thoreaus essay “CivilDisobedience,” which was written as a speech, has been used by many greatthinkers such as Martin Luther King Jr.
and Mahatma Ghandi as a map to fightagainst injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor that headed the CivilRights movement. He was a gifted speaker and a powerful writer whose philosophywas non-violent but direct action. Dr.
Kings strategy was to have sit-ins,boycotts, and marches. Dr. Kings “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was basedon the principles of Thoreaus “Civil Disobedience”. Both Martin LutherKing Jr.
and Henry David Thoreau are exceptional persuasive writers. Even thoughboth writers are writing on ways to be civil but disobedient, they have oppositeways of convicing you. Dr. King is religious, gentle and apologetic, focusing onwhats good for the group; while Thoreau is very aggressive and assertive for hisown personal hate against the government. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and HenryDavid Thoreau have the same ideas, but view them differently.
Dr. King wants toultimately raise awareness and open doors for the better of a group. Thoreauwants more individual rights for people.
Dr. King is explaining his view ofconscience: I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tellshim is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arousethe conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing thevery highest respect for the law (Martin Luther King, p. 521).
This quote showsDr. Kings opinion on going to jail. King knows that he was unjustly put intojail. He accepts going to jail even though he was put in jail wrongly. Thecommunity then knows of the injustice and should pressure the government. Theother thing that happens is King is respecting the law by obeying it.
He is apeaceful man and wants justice, but believes in following the rules peacefullyto get the job done. Thoreau feels that conscience plays a more personal role.Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide rightand wrong, but conscience?… Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in theleast degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man aconscience, then. I think that we should be men first, and subject afterward(Henry David Thoreau, p.
581). Thoreau is questioning why majorities make therules. He is questioning democracy. Hes telling us to question anything we doand why we should give into the government if we do not agree with a rule. Whyshould we be individuals with brains and have thoughts of our own if we are notallowed to think for ourselves and do what we want? If we believe we are free,why do we have so many rules? Thoreau believes we should be real to ourselvesand live for ourselves, not the government.
King wants to change the lawsbecause they are morally wrong and Thoreau wants to change the law because hepersonally doesnt like it. Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King bothagree injustice exists. Thoreau thinks of injustice as friction or tension thatcan wear the machine down.
King thinks that injustice just exists and tensionmust be created with direct action to negotiate with the machine. Thoreauexplians, If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine ofgovernment, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth,- certainly thatmachine will wear out…, but if it is of such a nature that it requires you tobe the agent of injustice to another , then, I say, break the law. Let your lifebe a counter friction to stop the machine. (Henry David Thoreau, p.
587).Injustice is a cause of friction, which is brought on by the government. Thegovernment has created something that is working against itself; if the frictionof the injustice is left alone it will continue to grind down the machine. Onceagain Thoreau questions if you can wait that long and what are you personallygoing to do about the injustice. Thoreau says use your life to stop the machine.
Dr. King explains, ” injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Weare caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment ofdestiny.
Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” (King p.516).If we allow injustice to affect any one place the government knows they can getaway with it. If people dont fight injustice the government will continue toallow it because they know they can get away with it. We are all tied togetherin a mutual destiny; we are all in the same boat, what ever affects you affectsme. How can you sit and watch injustice happen, we are all connected; whatinjustice happens to me happens to you. Both Thoreau and King are trying toprove the point that we are our brothers keeper. We all need to fightinjustice to save each other.
Thoreau and King have said what role conscienceplays for them and that injustice exists but you must use your conscience todecide what to do. Now they discuss just and unjust laws. Thoreau explains,unjust laws exist: Shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor toamend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress themat once. ( Henry David Thoreau, p.586) Thoreau is acknowledging that unjust lawsexist. I think he figured like the sun rises every morning there will be unjustlaws. How you deal with them if you do not approve of them is the question.Thoreau asks, will you be happy to just obey the law for as long as it takes tochange the law by the governments rules?Do you want immediate acton? If youfollow the governments rules it will take a very long time to appeal theunjust law in court and they still may not change the law.
Can you wait thatlong?Or, should you take drastic direct action to be heard at once. Are youwilling to be arrested? Can you handle the responsibility for your actions, orare you scared. Thoreau is impleying that you should not wine about somethinginless you are ready and able to take the conciquinces. Dr. King explains how hejustifies breaking some laws and following others; the fact is there are simplytwo types of laws. Dr. King explains there are, just and unjust laws, One hasnot only a legal, but moral responsibility to obey just laws.
Conversely, onehas a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. A just law is a man-made codethat squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code thatis out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint ThomasAguinas, and unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and naturallaw. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades humanpersonality is unjust.
( Dr. King p.519-520).
King is saying that just lawsshould be obeyed because they are the law and they are morally right. Morallyright is being or acting in accordance with established standards of goodbehavior. So, if a law is legal and good you should fallow it. People should notfollow unjust laws because they are wrong; you owe it to yourself morally.
Ajust law is one that God would O.K; God is all loving, blind to any indifferenceand will forgive. The constitution says that all men are created equeal; sotherefore if the law is not the same to everyone, it is not a just law.
Ifanyone is dehumanized it is an unjust law. Plain and simple, an unjust law makesyou feel bad about who or what you are . A just law should make you feel equaland proud to be a human being.
While Thoreau focuses on what you might do abouta law, Dr. King focuses on what makes a law just or unjust. Thoreau knows thereare unjust laws; I believe he thinks as long as laws exist there will always bethe possibility of being unjust laws. Thoreau says yes, unjust laws exist butwhat are you going to do, just sit there or fight. Dr. King is trying to get into the heads of his fellow clergyman that unjust laws are morally wrong.
Butthey both want to get the point across that you must do something to changeunjust laws because they are wrong and can take your God given freedom away.Even though both writers are writing on ways to be civil but disobedient, theyhave opposite ways of convincing you. Their concepts are similar but theirapproaches are totally opposite. Dr. Kings religious and moderate tone aretotally different from Thoreaus intense hatred for authority, mostly thegovernment. They both want to point a finger at the government.
Thoreau believesthe best government is one which governs the least. Dr. King believes theprinciples of government are necessary to keep order, but need to live up to”All men are created equal.” The underlying meaning that I got from readingboth essays was that you should follow your heart and your conscience againstinjustice and unjust laws, no matter what approach you choose to take.Bibliography”Letter from Birmingham Jail” – Martin Luther King “CivilDisobedience” – by Thoreau