AR-FAQ - #90

#90 Isn't extreme activism involving breaking the law (e.g., destruction of property) wrong?

Great men and women have demonstrated throughout history that laws can be immoral, and that we can be justified in breaking them. Those who object to law-breaking under all circumstances would have to condemn:

  • The Tiananmen Square demonstrators.
  • The Boston Tea Party participants.
  • Mahatma Gandhi and his followers.
  • World War II resistance fighters.
  • The Polish Solidarity Movement.
  • Vietnam War draft card burners.

The list could be continued almost indefinitely. Conversely, laws sometimes don't reflect our moral beliefs. After World War II, the allies had to hastily write new laws to fully prosecute the Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg. Dave Foreman points out that there is a distinction to be made between morality and the statutes of a government in power. It could be argued that the principle we are talking about does not apply. Specifically, the law against destruction of property is not immoral, and we therefore should not break it. However, a related principle can be asserted. If a law is invoked to defend immoral practices, or to attempt to limit or interfere with our ability to fight an immoral situation, then justification might be claimed for breaking that law. In the final analysis, this is a personal decision for each person to make in consultation with their own conscience. DG

Certainly one of the highest duties of the citizen is a scrupulous obedience to the laws of the nation. But it is not the highest duty. Thomas Jefferson (3rd U.S. President)

I say, break the law. Henry David Thoreau (essayist and poet)

SEE ALSO: #89, #91