|All men who can affect each other reciprocally should be under the purview of a legislative influence binding to all.”
Because I agree that obedience to law is necessary to the safety and stability of society, I must negate the following resolution: Civil disobedience is justified in a democracy. In order to clarify the resolution, the negative offers the following definitions: (If your definition is the same as your opponent’s, you can just say that it is without reading your definition.)
Civil disobedience: non-violent, public, political act, contrary to the law committed with the aim of bringing about a change in the government’s laws or policies (John Rawls)
Justified: rightness concerning fairness and due treatment (American Heritage)
Democracy: government by the people, either exercised directly or through representatives (American Heritage)
The value premise of today’s debate is Justice, defined as “conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude.” Kant’s categorical imperative, the value criterion for this round, creates three ethical tests that an action must pass in order to be considered morally good.
The first test is that the action could be made a rule (or maxim) for everyone to follow (universally willed).
The second is that the action must not treat other human beings as a means to an end, because this reduces their standing in relation to other people (respect).
The third is that it allows us to see other persons as “mutual law makers in an ideal kingdom of ends” (unified moral development of a society).
In a democracy, civil disobedience fails all three tests.
Contention One: Civil Disobedience cannot be universally willed. The first element of the categorical imperative states, “Act so that your principle of action could safely be made a maxim for the entire world.” In other words, our choices are correct only if we feel everyone else in our situation should act as we did. In a democracy, if rights are given to a few, they must be given to all.
Civil disobedience cannot be universally willed for two reasons: first, standards are necessary for the preservation of society. A government in which citizens do not have an obligation to obey laws is not truly a government at all. If persons could disobey any law they disagreed with, this would undermine the authority and efficacy of the government.
Second, the resolution doesn’t restrict civil disobedience to cases in which citizens have been oppressed or morally wronged. Therefore, to justify civil disobedience for some is to allow it for many who may not use it for nearly so worthy a cause. For instance, to justify Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience is also to condone the civil disobedience of any other group.
Contention Two: Civil disobedience uses man as a means to an end. The second element of the categorical imperative commands us to “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, both yourself and others, never merely as a means, but only as ends.” Civil disobedience makes people into instruments of dramatic protest, thus violating this provision of the categorical imperative. In a democracy, with its deliberative lawmaking, access to courts, freedom of speech, petition and assembly; with its guarantees of due process, and its electoral system, civil disobedience chooses to utilize persons as lawbreakers. This is not moral according to Kant.
Contention Three: Civil disobedience does not respect the Kingdom of Ends The third element of the categorical imperative states, “All maxims of our own making must harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends.” Kant tells us that the kingdom of ends “is ..a collective goal-- a moral community.” The Kingdom of Ends, another name for the moral development of a society as a whole, is not achieved when members act arbitrarily on their own interpretation of universal law. Under the third provision of the categorical imperative, interests and views of all members of the society, including the majority, the minority, and the individual, must be accepted and acknowledged so that this ethical consensus can be attained to the benefit of all. Civil disobedience is an abuse of minority power because it circumvents the established rules which ensure that everyone plays the game fairly and gives the minority too much authority, and thus fails to achieve the kingdom of ends.
By applying our value criterion, Kant’s categorical imperative, to the value Justice, we see that Civil Disobedience in a democracy is not justified.