The Instigator
dasamster
Pro (for)
Losing
7 Points
The Contender
Grumpy
Con (against)
Winning
25 Points

Resolved: In a democracy, Civil Disobedience is morally justified.

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Started: 12/6/2009 Category: Politics
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 12,962 times Debate No: 10359
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (13)
Votes (5)

 

dasamster

Pro

Hello, I am Sam Zack and I will be the affirmative for the resolution that "in a democracy, civil disobedience is morally justified". I would first like to start off talking about what civil disobedience is. Civil Disobedience is defined as the active refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, or of an occupying power. It is one of the primary methods of nonviolent resistance. There have been and continue to be serious disputes over exactly what the term "civil disobedience" means. Some scholars dispute whether conduct that seeks to be considered civil disobedience must even involve illegal activity. The disputes are so wide ranging that there is no one clearly recognized definition of "civil disobedience" in use; the term has a multiplicity of meanings. My value premise is morality, and my value criterion is the safety of the people. It is moral to be safe, and safety is important to everyone.

My first contention is that civil disobedience is justified due to the fact that it is a non-violent event. Edward DeForrest from Gonzaga University School of Law states that civil disobedience must be predominantly non‐violent. This requirement is necessary to distinguish civil disobedience from acts of overt terrorism or revolution. Acts of direct and intentional violence result in the deliberate destruction of the social order by shattering the basic right to security of person that each member of our society should enjoy. In fact, Gandhi, who led the nonviolent resistance movement against British colonial rule in India during the first half of the 20th century, recognized this point. He based his insistence on non‐violence upon it. He once wrote, "I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that violent non‐cooperation only multiplies evil and that as evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence." Civil disobedience is one step below revolution, which most make a mistake thinking that it is another form of it. Civil disobedience attempts to awaken the government, and the majority of society, to a right understanding of justice and the common good. It is not an attempt to challenge the very existence of government; rather it is an attempt to challenge a particular law or action by the government. By using violence, however, protestors attack the government's very existence. Matthew Hall from the University of Mississippi School of Law states that this component of the philosophy plays a crucial role in ensuring that civil disobedience poses little threat to social order. Because of the inevitable tension inherent in illegal protest, disobedients must not only eschew violence at the outset of their actions but also assess their ability to remain peaceful given the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their conduct.

My second contention is that Civil disobedience has been an important catalyst for change and is part of America's heritage and history. The Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that throughout history, acts of civil disobedience famously have helped to force a reassessment of our society's moral parameters. The Boston Tea Party, the suffragette movement, the resistance to British rule in India led by Gandhi, the US civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and others, student sit-ins against the Vietnam War, to name a few, are all instances where civil disobedience proved to be an important mechanism for social change. Why talk about long ago, before there were even laws against most offenses that civil disobedience can be against. The civil disobedience of the civil rights movement of the 1960s is well known. Not only were local segregation laws violated, but when people engaged in "sit-ins" in 1960 and 1961 to protest racial segregation, they were in violation of recognized federal law, as discussed in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883. The nation soon recognized that these violations of law were honorable, and that punishment of people seeking to support the principles of the First Amendment of the Declaration of Independence was wrong.

My third and final contention is that civil disobedience is justified because everyone who conducts civil disobedience has the same basic human rights in a democratic society. If we don't protect the human rights that we have, everyone won't be equal. Here is where the "moral" part ties itself into this subject. It is moral for everyone no matter what age, race, gender, or anything that can be a reason to dismiss someone from something, to have a say. Human rights are codified in the laws of a society. Further those same laws represent the morals of the society since the majority of a society will want its beliefs to be expressed in the laws. Therefore, by protecting human rights we uphold the ideals of a democratic society. Let me add on that without human rights, people are open to oppression from others. If a democracy allows for people to be oppressed then the whole reason for creating a government would be pointless. Civil disobedience shows that we are a democracy because the people have the ability to protest the government. The people wouldn't be in control because they wouldn't be allowed to protest the government that is made for, from, and by them. The government will have more control without civil disobedience, therefore making the government not as democratic, and then it would be harder to have more human rights with more control since the people would be prone to oppression from the government.

Thank you.

I have sources that are cards for debating... and have no idea how to put them online from word documents to make public.
Grumpy

Con

First, I would like to thank my opponent for proposing a very challenging debate and I hope to be able to adequately defend the con position I have accepted.

I have queried my opponent relative to narrowing his argument to a debatable subject and he has responded that he is prepared to argue that "[He is] debating the aff stating that CD is morally justified. Law can be in the argument pro/neg, but it is about morality, hence my VP, etc... that ALL scts are morally justified."

Thus I will begin by defining "Morality" as it pertains to "morally justified." Simply stated, morality is the distinguishing feature between right and wrong. Although it is easy to agree to this, it is impossible for everyone to agree at all times, just what is right and what is wrong. Civil disobedience, in my opponent's view is expressed as a "non-violent act" that hinges on the "safety of the people." However, I dispute this rendering as not only naive but inherently less effective as a violent confrontation or demonstration. In fact, most of the more recent acts of civil disobedience have resulted in violence, some times in the act of CD itself but many times more often in the reaction of those opposed to the actions of the disobedients(?) and/or those charged with the duty of preserving the peace and safety they view as threatened by the demonstration. Thus, the very purpose of civil disobedience is to provoke a militant response which, in itself, puts at risk the safety of the demonstrators as well as the public at large. It is this response that thrusts the issue into the public eye.

I think I should also point out that my opponent has not defined violence, although I believe he is referring to direct physical contact between humans or animals (such as police dogs, etc.). But I propose there are other types of violence that do not fall under that definition that often times occur during periods of civil disobedience, namely, damage to property and thetas of violence, such as the indiscriminate destruction of personal and public property (burning buildings, overturning vehicles and setting fires as barricades among others) that invites retaliation and counter violence. I also find it difficult to believe it to be morally against violence and at the same time beg for violence to illustrate a moral viewpoint.

My opponent states in his second contention, "that civil disobedience is a strong catalyst for change" but by saying this, does not delineate between morally "right" and "wrong" change. A prime example of this is the Prohibitionist issue which dominated a great deal of public thinking in the first half of the last century. One could equate "speakeasies" and "bootleggers" as civil disobienents rather than law-breakers but their actions produced a great deal of violence as well as the dominance of a number of organized crime syndicates that fostered an era of lawlessness and violence that still pervades our nation today. It was this "civil disobedience" that ultimately prompted the repeal of prohibition. Even today there are vast numbers of citizens who believe the consumption of alcoholic beverages to be immoral, but confine their proselytizing less confrontational means.

Finally, as you assert, the definition of civil disobedience means that the protesting party or parties must violate a law. This, then, precludes picketing, marches, inflammatory speeches, rallies, etc. since they are all protected under the constitution. It is when they BECOME violent that they become CD's. This then negates the pro argument.

I eagerly await your response.
Debate Round No. 1
dasamster

Pro

I would like to thank my opponent for taking this challenge as we go through this debate. I will first refute what the negative stated and then I will rebuild the affirmative.

The negative states that most of the more recent acts of civil disobedience have resulted in violence, some times in the act of Civil Disobedience itself but many times more often in the reaction of those opposed to the actions of the disobedients, and/or those charged with the duty of preserving the peace and safety they view as threatened by the demonstration. As I stated in my affirmative speech, Civil Disobedience is a non-violent event; it must be predominantly non‐violent. This requirement is necessary to distinguish civil disobedience from acts of overt terrorism or revolution. Stated, CD is a step below revolution. By using violence, protestors attack the government's very existence. Civil disobedience then degenerates into revolution, and the state has a legitimate right to use force to defend itself. The negative also states in his first point that those who do civil disobedience will get arrested. The protester who engages in a peaceful, open, unlawful action must also be willing to pay the penalty for that action. Civil disobedience is not, and must not become, an open invitation to anarchy. Even though a particular law may be unjust, the protester has a responsibility to society to uphold the fundamental integrity of the civic order. Properly understood, acceptance of punishment and arrest does not justify illegal conduct. Otherwise, civil disobedience would undermine the rule of law by suggesting that law breakers could purchase the right to commit crimes by agreeing to pay the price. Instead, acceptance of punishment constitutes recognition of the wrongness of the protest and a willingness to act in all other regards in abidance with law.

The negative also stated that it in my affirmative constructive, I have never defined violence. Since I stated that CD is not a violent offense, and most people know what "violence" is, I didn't define it. So, I will define it now. Violence is defined by Princeton Dictionary as an act of aggression. Negative states that he finds it difficult to believe it to be morally against violence and at the same time beg for violence to illustrate a moral viewpoint. Violence does not occur in Civil Disobedience. If it were violent, it would not be considered civil disobedience. Civil disobedience has as its goal, not the destruction of the social order, but its reform or, to use more utopianistic language, purification. Because of the inevitable tension inherent in illegal protest, disobedients must not only eschew violence at the outset of their actions but also assess their ability to remain peaceful given the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their conduct.

To clarify, the definition of civil disobedience... let's decode the term "civil disobedience" and its hidden meanings. Civil disobedience is a non‐violent act of breaking the law openly and publicly, without harming others, and accompanied by a willingness to accept punishment. The term "civil disobedience" is built on an oxymoron that reflects the positive and negative aspects of the concept. Strict law and order proponents take the view that the term "civil disobedience" is "semantically inaccurate" because disobedience cannot be civil (acceptable in a civilized society) "In democratic societies any violation of the law is an uncivil act." Opponents of civil disobedience claim that civil disobedients actually flaunt their lack of civility. In other words, civil disobedience is about disobeying the law, and disobeying the law simply cannot be deemed "civil" in a society that values order and stability.
Grumpy

Con

Again I wish to thank my opponent for his calm manner and adult approach to this subject and this debate.

It is noteworthy to point out that my opponent has not responded to the dilemma of determining whose morals are right and whose are not; nor to the many forms of undesirable activity that have, in some cases, evolved from what was originally accepted to be a "morally correct" campaign of civil disobedience.

It appears we are still talking about two different things here when we use the term "civil disobedience." While some forms of CD are done in "private" or in a passive sense such as failing to file income tax forms in order to protest the legality of income tax, and, by that very nature are not considered violent or inviting violence, a great deal of civil disobedience does invite violence, especially when done in a very public venue, such as the draft card burnings or flag burnings of the '60's and '70's or the WWI Veteran's March on Washington in 1932 [http://veteransrightsnow.50megs.com...], where over a thousand women and children, wives and children of WWI veterans, were systematically lined up and executed by Gen. Geo. Patton in Florida as traitors to "teach their husbands a lesson" and not to engage in civil disobedience against their government. But my opponent states, "Violence does NOT occur in Civil Disobedience." (Emphasis mine)

In these cases, and many others, although the protesters themselves were NOT violent and did not resist arrest, violence, in the form of fire hoses and attack dogs as well as armed police and sometimes even military personnel DID in fact take place, harming the protesters and inciting return violence in the form of self-defense. Thus, it cannot be stated, unequivocally, that civil disobedience will not result in violence. In fact, although organizers of a civil disobedience event may caution against violence, the event itself may succumb to violence by others who are less motivated toward non-violence and, using the heightened excitement of the event, may turn that same peaceful event into a violent confrontation.

If, in fact, civil disobedience was restricted to violation of the law being challenged rather than, for instance, marching in protest of some other law, such as civil rights or the current war, and if such disobedience were practiced by an individual who readily accepted arrest and confinement or other punishment, this still would not necessarily preclude violence. There is always the danger that persons with opposing viewpoints will instigate violence against the more passive protester. No matter what law a protester desires to break in an effort to demonstrate his moral opposition to it, there will always be people who support that same law and some will utilize violent measures to support that law.

To address the Original resolution, given the most conservative definitions discussed, Civil Disobedience, if total non-violence is guaranteed, and no other laws, such as those regulating free speech, free assembly, march permits and conduct if any disorderly sort are broken, and it is agreed upon by a majority of the population to be a moral crusade against an immoral law, could be considered "justified." However, this is not intended to be a carte blanche or a "get out of jail free" card. It is not a "right" handed down to accept law breaking in any form. No Constitutional Amendment exists that grants any individual the privilege to violate a duly enacted law. Many other mechanisms exist to remedy a perceived unjust law and must be exercised to their greatest extent before resorting to Civil Disobedience. Finally, any person who willfully and knowingly and with intent to do so, violates any law, statute or ordinance that has been enacted by legally elected lawmakers, must be ready willing and able to accept the prescribed punishment for same. It is also incumbent upon the government, at all levels, to enforce those same laws and apply prescribed punishment to those who violate them unless and until those laws are repealed, modified, or reversed.
Debate Round No. 2
dasamster

Pro

I, Sam, will be affirming for the last time the resolution that in a democracy, civil disobedience is morally justified. I will begin by refuting the negative and then I will rebuild the affirmative one last time.
The negative states that we are talking about two types of civil disobedience. He states we are talking about both private and public. However, for an event to change something such as a law is taking place, it is required to be public, in order for a change to happen. That is one of the parts and fundamentals of Civil Disobedience, which is the main concept.

The negative also states that those people will not want to accept their punishment of being arrested and taken to jail for breaking a law… "However, this is not intended to be a carte blanche or a "get out of jail free" card. It is not a "right" handed down to accept law breaking in any form." As I stated in my affirmative speech #1, I stated that those who take part in civil disobedience know they are going to be arrested and are willing to accept the responsibility and the consequences of their actions. That is part #2 of civil disobedience, which all persons whom conduct it shall expect to be arrested. He also stated that refusal to accept then leads to violence. This is no longer is civil disobedience, as it is taken a step above which can lead to revolution. If it gets violent, it isn't civil disobedience. The whole thought of civil disobedience going violent is simply a paradox.

Now to rebuild for the affirmative…

My first contention is that civil disobedience is justified due to the fact that it is a non-violent event. My second contention is that Civil disobedience has been an important catalyst for change and is part of America's heritage and history. My second contention is that Civil disobedience has been an important catalyst for change and is part of America's heritage and history.

I ask the public to vote affirmative, as civil disobedience is morally justified. Thank you.
Grumpy

Con

My compliments to my opponent for this fine debate, and the manner in which it was conducted. I look forward to many more debates with him and wish him well in his life's ambitions.

My final argument against the resolution that "in a democracy, civil disobedience is morally justified," will seek to codify my previous arguments while refuting those of my opponent.

In my response in round one, I stated that it is impossible to agree upon what is right and what is wrong. Thus, there can be no universal justification for civil disobedience. Since the Resolution does not specify any restrictions, I must assume and react to the assumption that ALL civil disobedience is contended to be morally justified, even in the extreme where, say an individual or group feels thievery is a moral stand, civil disobedience (meaning the violation of a law, since "disobedience" is a active statement meaning violating rather than a passive statement meaning doing nothing to actively uphold a law) would require that a person steal something to DISobey that law. This entire resolution can be taken to the illogical extreme and still hold together due to the lack of restriction or definition of what is right or wrong in ANYone's eyes. Remember Robin Hood? OK for one group NOT empowered by law to steal from the rich to give to the poor?

Also, in my response in round one, I brought up the question of private vs. public civil disobedience. My opponent has refuted that statement by stating that a civil disobedient act must be public, thus narrowing the debate to "Public Civil Disobedience" and then proposes a win by definition alone, that civil disobedience can never result in violence because it is not civil disobedience if violence occurs. But if a person engages in civil disobedience and a police officer pushes that person, either no violence has occurred or no civil disobedience has occurred. I contend that if civil disobedience RESULTS in violence, even if the "disobedient party" did not perform the violence, it still has resulted in violence and thus is not morally justified UNLESS the law broken is adjudicated to be immoral or unconstitutional and is overturned, thus absolving the party and, in the process, has provided a restriction to the resolution not originally included.

I also must re-affirm my contention that to guarantee non-violence in a civil disobedience event is naive and unrealistic. And to be morally against violence (as a CD must be) but to invite violence as a response (as it often does) is either morally inept or simply a way to distance one from the results of one's actions, neither of which is a moral position.

We must also, as stated in my first round, civil disobedience must be segregated from picketing, marches, inflammatory speeches, rallies and assemblies, etc. since these are already protected by the constitution and do not result in the disobeying of any law unless laws that are NOT being protested are being broken.

In my second round argument, I contended that there is no moral justification for civil disobedience that engenders undesirable results. The ends do not necessarily justify the means. This also negates the resolution.

I also state in my second round that a person engaging in civil disobedience is ultimately culpable for the results of that action, if not in a strictly legal sense certainly in a moral sense. The person has broken the law and as such is responsible for the actions resulting from that illegal act. Baiting the devil does not make one more moral.

In this, my final round I must first respond to my opponent's final round statements: "However, for an event to change something such as a law is taking place, it is required to be public, in order for a change to happen. That is one of the parts and fundamentals of Civil Disobedience, which is the main concept." I disagree. It does not require a group to be defined as civil disobedience. An individual, privately and without fanfare can refuse to comply with a law on moral grounds. Thoreau explained his reasons for having refused to pay taxes as an act of protest against slavery and against the Mexican-American War. [http://en.wikipedia.org...]

My opponent also states: "The negative also states that those people will not want to accept their punishment of being arrested and taken to jail for breaking a law..." This was never asserted by me. However, non-violent acceptance of arrest certainly does not infer that civil disobedients agree to readily acquiesce without resistance to inhumane or violent, sometimes life-threatening actions against their persons as acceptable results of being civilly disobedient. By the same token, my opponent's assertion that this then nullifies the entire action of civil disobedience and magically converts it into revolution or terrorism, as a convenient way of claiming a victory.

Civil disobedience, due to its inherent threat of a reduction into violent retaliation by opposing forces, is NOT morally justified in all cases. It may, in some instances, such as Thoreau's act of not paying taxes to support a war he opposed, may find some moral justification but, since the resolution encompassed ALL civil disobedience, con only requires one instance to negate the resolution. Thus, simply stated, the ends do not always, justify the means.

I rest in hope of securing a favorable vote against the resolution that "Civil Disobedience is [always] justified."
Debate Round No. 3
13 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by dogparktom 4 years ago
dogparktom
I wrote an article on 'rule departure' which is related to, but distinct from, civil disobedience. The article is brief. http://www2.mnbar.org...

I would be interested in any comments on the article.

Tom
Posted by XimenBao 4 years ago
XimenBao
@Nails - Cute

RFD: Argument points to Con for the argument summed up by "the ends don't justify the means"
Posted by wjmelements 4 years ago
wjmelements
Are we talking about true democracy, that is, anarchocommunism?
Posted by Nails 4 years ago
Nails
Communist Society > Democratic Society
Therefore, civil disobedience is always justified in a democracy b/c it causes insurrection in the state, leading to the downfall of the West, leading to the rise of the East and communism
Posted by dasamster 4 years ago
dasamster
I am debating the aff stating that CD is morally justified. Law can be in the argument pro/neg, but it is about morality, hence my VP, etc. So it would be your 2nd question .. that ALL scts are morally justified.
Posted by Grumpy 4 years ago
Grumpy
The debate you propose is confusing to me. Are4 you debating whether or not an act of "civil disobedience" is necessarily a violation of law? Or are you suggesting that all acts of civil disobedience are morally justified? Or are you asserting that without civil disobedience, morally "right" changes would (or could) not happen? Or, are you saying only non-violent (please define) can be considered civil disobedience? I am interested in taking up this debate but must know the parameters of the debate first.
Posted by dasamster 4 years ago
dasamster
No clue what debate that would be... this is the only one I have been in, or started... I just registered a little while ago!
Posted by Cody_Franklin 4 years ago
Cody_Franklin
Yeah, sure. Whatever. Can you please just respond to our debate?
Posted by dasamster 4 years ago
dasamster
Holy crud! .. that is a coincidence! .. It's my cousin.. his name is Sam too. duh! lol
Posted by Cody_Franklin 4 years ago
Cody_Franklin
http://www.debate.org...

What a coincidence that you both live in Greenwich, Connecticut.
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