Justification of Civil Disobedience Beyond Democracy



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Justification of Civil Disobedience Beyond Democracy

——With a Possible Justification of Civil Disobedience in Chinese Philosophy


Xiao Sifeng
Since the first public use by Thoreau, the term "civil disobedience" theory has been considered as a theory that exists only in democratic society in the West and thus it only can be discussed in the western political philosophy and legal philosophy. Everyone who attempts to apply the theory of civil disobedience in other society, he will meet with many kinds of difficulties: (1) the premise of civil disobedience. In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls declares that he assumes that the society in question is one that is nearly just; and this implies that it has some form of democratic government, although serious injustices may nevertheless exist. In such a society I assume that the principles of justice are for the most part publicly recognized as the fundamental terms of willing cooperation among free and equal persons. From Rawls’s words above, we have to make the conclusion that, the theory of civil disobedience can not applied into a society beyond democracy where the common people do not view some kind of just as the principle of the society he lives; (2)the requirement of loyalty to the law in civil disobedience. In a democratic country, civil disobedience is “within the limits of fidelity to law, a final device to maintain the stability of a just constitution. Although this mode of action is strictly speaking contrary to law, it is nevertheless a morally correct way of maintaining a constitutional regime. In the societies where are not under the rule of law, civil disobedience is to be used as a strategy of struggle, that is to say , to use "peaceful" means to strive for more freedom and rights, and in these societies, the real problem of laws and policies is not that they are flawed, but they are unreasonable or unjust. Of such laws and policies, citizens can not express their loyalty at all; and (3) the consequence of civil disobedience. In an society that is nearly to the just society, the civil disobedience can be end peacefully and the Court Judge may worked as the final judge for the dissident. However, in a nondemocratic society, the civil disobedience will be viewed as part of chaos and can easily cause some kind of violent resistance.

There is no doubt that there are still a considerable number of other theoretical issues should be discussed and need to be resolved. But I think the answers to the three questions above will give a blueprint, of the theme of this article. Here, I still would like to remind readers that I do not want to have another definition of civil disobedience and give this theory another justification in a democratic society. As a matter of fact, John Rawls have given a clear definition and a perfect justification. The definition of civil disobedience, “a public, nonviolent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government ”. By acting in this way one address the sense of justice of the majority of the community and declares that in one’s considered opinion the principles of social cooperation among free and equal men are not being respected” given by John Rawls will be the start point of my discussion. And the justification in a democratic society will also be admitted. Rawls put forward the "civil disobedience" theory because he is aware of that even in a society which is a nearly just society, one that is well-ordered for the most part ,some serious violations of justice nevertheless do occur. Then we must imagine, in a society which is departure from the social justice to the larger extent, what will happen to the civil disobedience theory?



To answer the three questions in the first paragraph and also give a possible justification of civil disobedience beyond democracy. I believe that the kernel of "civil disobedience" theory of needs to be clarified thus these clarifications will help us a lot. In a society that is difficult to judge it is as a democratic society or not, the theory of "civil disobedience" can also be applied and justified at least three dimensions: (1) the deviating of positive law from natural law. In the eyes of John Rawls, the primary subject of justice is the basic social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation. By major institutions, John Rawls said he understand the political constitution and the principal economic and social arrangements. If in a democratic society, civil disobedience is a major solution to the existing unequal arrangements and the problems between the principles of justice and reality, then. I have every reason to show that in a non-democratic country, the theory of civil disobedience is to solve the disharmony relationship between natural law and positive law (2) the form of "civil disobedience". in a community with serious legal and political injustice and we can consider it as a kind of deviation from natural law or justice of the society. Under this situation various forms of resistance will be put forward. Among the many possible solutions, civil disobedience has its own unique advantages. Nonviolence is said to also be considered to mitigate the negative effects of violation of the law. And only through civil disobedience approach can the protestor keep their activity within the scope of law. What’s more, it can arouse considerable public concern at the same time, while not against the public interest and individual freedom; and (3) the possible consequence of "civil disobedience” activity. It can promote citizen’s law-abiding spirit,, which is the basic conception of a society ruled of the law.

When it comes to the urgent question that in which society the "civil disobedience" theory can be applied, I find that the traditional culture and philosophy of a particular society plays a vital role. The traditional Chinese philosophy associated with these core elements of "civil disobedience" will give a possible justification of civil obedience activity in China. This justification includes the improvement of disobeying unmoral rules and the praise of nonviolent activity, such as recluse.


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