Understanding how the practice of civil disobedience lines up with the principles America was founded upon is critical to understanding the civil disobedience that is taking place in our nation today.
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Heritage visiting fellow Peter C. Myers recently wrote a report on the limits and dangers of civil disobedience. In it he stated:
At the heart of the American character is a seeming paradox: America is a republic of laws, yet it has a long tradition of civil disobedience.
Martin Luther King, Jr., the most renowned advocate of civil disobedience, argued that civil disobedience is not lawlessness but instead a higher form of lawfulness, designed to bring positive or man-made law into conformity with higher law—natural or divine law.
As King’s own legacy reveals, however, civil disobedience is complicated in its theoretical basis and problematic in its practical effects.
To gain our bearings amid today’s protests, characterized more by disruption and coercion than persuasion, we should look beyond contemporary justifications and return to the best of King’s thinking—and beyond King, to the understanding of civil disobedience grounded in America’s first principles.
How should civil disobedience be practiced? What’s appropriate and what are the lines that can’t be crossed?