Direct Democracy

There is quite a bit of appeal to civil disobedience in America.  I think that a great deal of it is that it allows individuals to feel like they are having a direct impact on the way that government is making decisions.  By being involved in something that has the potential to cause a change, there is a clear connection between the individual and the governing body.  Since this is often not apparent, civil disobedience offers citizens the ability to force government to pay attention to them and address the injustices that are being inflicted upon them.  King’s use of examples was extremely smart and calculated.  Who could argue against someone who is doing the exact same thing in society that Abraham Lincoln or Jesus had done years ago?  By making this comparison, King is ensuring that the individuals to which he is writing will be unlikely to denounce his actions.  His use of scenarios also played well to emotion to the reader.  The examples that involved children were especially powerful.  I think that this is the case because he was able to use their sense of innocence to showcase and exemplify the clear injustices that were taking place.  By including their perspective on segregation and the implications of this on their young lives, he showed that segregation had the potential to cause more severe problems as these children grew up and due to their childhood had had their personality “distort[ed]…by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people” (580).

Q: Why do you feel that civil disobedience has such appeal in the US?

What is the effect of Civil Disobedience?

According Webster’s dictionary, civil disobedience is simply, the refusal to obey laws as a way of forcing the government to do or change something. In Henry David Thoreau’s case, he refused to pay taxes because he believed the government was using its revenues to promote slavery, which Thoreau was strongly against. After reading through Cummings’ chapter on Henry David Thoreau, I began to think about the positive and negative effects of civil disobedience. If you look at the history of the United States, you would see that this country has been built through much pain and suffering. Abraham Lincoln hhenrydavidthoreauad a famous quote and he said within that quote the following, “Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children’s liberty”. If you look at this quote and relate it to civil disobedience and Thoreau’s actions, it is quite fascinating. Thoreau did not pay his taxes because he was against slavery and believed that government was using the tax money to promote and continue slavery. As citizens do we have an obligation to obey the law, like Lincoln said, or do we have an obligation to do what we think is right? If the US citizens never participated in civil obedience, where would we be today? It is hard to look at Lincoln’s stance and his quote and think about how we could have improved out society and the human rights issues we faced in the past. I find it hard to believe that we would be where we are at today without civil disobedience.

Is civil disobedience the most effective way to see change in out society? Is it more or less effective than protest or rioting?

Protesting

Reading Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from the Birmingham City Jail really reminded me of what’s happening today, which I’m sure it did for a lot of people. He writes, “Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country,” (Cummings, 579). I think it’s interesting how this still applies to today, though I think many people don’t want to think about there being a police brutality issue.

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When he writes: “At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist,” I just thought of how all the posts I’ve seen online keep saying violence isn’t needed, and if they would have been peaceful instead of using violence it would have done better for them, (Cummings, 583). However, Martin Luther King Jr writes about how even peaceful protests were seen as extreme. I feel like if everyone at Baltimore had been peaceful, there would still be people calling it extreme. In Milwaukee, people were protesting not being violent yet I always heard the people around me commenting on it harshly and negatively.
The whole right side column of the third page really stuck with me as it probably would for any caring human now. It wasn’t an example with just adults, but it really showed how kids were impacted. I think it lends into when he says: “your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being,” earlier on (Cummings, 579). People should have been concerned about what was happening during this time that would make people feel the need to protest, but many were just angered by it. It really reflects what is happening today. People are just angered by the protests and the riots, but they don’t really question why it is happening.

What do you think would make a protest extreme?

Civil Disobedience: is it democratic?

Reading Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, it seems as though Thoreau has a great deal of contempt for what many of us today would consider staples of democracy. Compromise, voting, persuading the majority, all of these things are viewed as worse than useless by Thoreau. He holds that any person who would tacitly endorse an unjust law or an unjust regime, simply by not withholding material support for it, fails their conscience and is as guilty of the injustice such laws and regimes bring as any other. Simply being against something in word is not enough for Thoreau, one must also be opposed to something in deed. “There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man.” For every one person who follows their conscience there are 999 who speak their conscience while betraying it, says Thoreau.

“All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expedience. Even voting for the right thing is doing nothing for it.”

This is pretty radical talk, as if all people were to act as Thoreau seems to want them to then democratic society as we know it might even collapse. Every time the majority chose some course of action that a minority did not agree with, the minority would then “clog” the country with “its whole weight.”

But this assumes that democracy means nothing more than voting, and I could see how what Thoreau advocates is a more full realization of democracy, casting “your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” Indeed, Thoreau isn’t saying that men should always strive to do what is best and right, but merely that they should avoid doing wrong even if the state compels them too.

“It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous, wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support.”

According to Thoreau, this course of action is the most effective way to make society and the state more just and morally accountable. Attempting to persuade or reform “takes too much time” away from the “other affairs” of life, namely to live it. But by refusing to lend practical support to injustice, “if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America.”

Although Thoreau mainly spoke in terms of environmentalism and abolition, the modern parallels to his line of thought that comes to my mind most readily would be the various tax-protestor movements on the right. Ideologies like the Sovereign Citizen movement seem to be taking Thoreau on his word, but are most commonly associated with reactionaries, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and militia movements. Though it might be unfair to hold Thoreau accountable for the actions of such people, I think it at least casts some doubt on his argument.

Is Thoreau’s argument regarding the duty of each individual to live according to his conscience practical? Is it moral? Is compromise overrated? Or is Thoreau wrong? Do we need to be willing to submit injustices we might disagree with for the greater good? Are the methods for reforming a system from within sufficient?

Letter from a Birmingham Prison

In Martin Luther King Jrs. Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, he is angry. Stating, “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” (Cummings, 579).

They have waited a long time for equal rights under the Constitution. The African American community in BIrmingham are fed up and are finally fighting back against these unjust laws. They are fine with the just laws. This is very important.  They have realized that the oppressors are not going to just give them what they want, he says this in“freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” (Cummings, 580).

They are doing just that in their protests and sit-ins. However, I think the saddest part of this letter was his disappointment in the church. He was a proud Christian man, and thought they could support him. I think it is astonishing to hear him say that, “That my tears have been tears of love.” (Cummings, 583). At least he still has the Negro churches support. Without this support, I do not think he could have gotten the support and change.

So my question is, was the extremist action that took place justified? Was this why they were successful because they were able to distinguish whether there would be extreme action or not? The riots and protests occurring by citizens in Baltimore right now, would Martin Luther King Jr. approve of these? Is this just the response to unjust police brutality faced?

Thoreau & Morone

As we wrap of the semester with Henry David Thoreau, I can’t help think what Thoreau might have viewed James Morone’s Hellfire Nation.  Morone spends a lot of time describing some of the moral panics that the reformers brewed up to stampede the public into action.  Thoreau, in Civil Disobedience, doesn’t think much of majority rule, “…when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted…to rule…not because they are most likely to be right…but because they are the physically stronger.” (Cummings, 239) Thoreau believes you cannot accede your individual conscience to the majority. He believes each individual must make choices based on their own values and not the values placed before them by the government.

Thoreau  takes an even dimmer view of voting, democracy’s most treasured attribute. “All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, playing right and wrong, with moral questions..” (241)  As Morone describes it, Congress passed the Comstock Act and Mann Act with little or no evidence that a problem even existed.  It didn’t matter because taking action was more important  to the constituency that taking no action at all. Thoreau would view the moral panic votes as  the result of individual conscience giving way to the majority interest.

I wonder how Thoreau would manage in today’s increasingly polarized political world.  How would he view the Tea Party with its professed philosophy the independence or would he see through the veil of rhetoric and find a darker image of intolerance and code-worded racism?

Civil Disobedience

s1Henry David Thoreau in his essay Civil Disobedience discusses the role concerned citizens should take when they feel that laws are unjust.  In the case of slavery, Thoreau believed that he could not be associated with a government that allowed part of its population to be enslaved (Cummings 240). He believed those that opposed slavery “in opinion” but did nothing to end it were more interested in the economic outcomes of the practice than in the cruelties and depravities that the slaves had to endure (Cummings 241).   Thoreau then makes a very interesting point about the American democratic process-he said a vote is only a gamble:

All voting is sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon with a slight moral tinge to it, playing with right or wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. (Cummings 241)

Thoreau believed that it took more than just casting a ballot to affect real change in government, that voting “for the right is doing nothing for it”. (Cummings 241). Unjust laws cannot be changed through complacency. For those that truly believe in an issue, action is required. Thoreau believed that slavery and the Mexican War were wrong and refused to pay his taxes to support the government’s policies and involvement in those issues (Cummings 238). Civil disobedience in his opinion was the only way to bring about change. Decades later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would use civil disobedience to bring attention racial discrimination.  He said:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue (Cummings 579)

Civil disobedience forces a community to look at an issue in a different light.  For those that make the choice to stand up for what they believe is important and right, the path is not always easy. I have some of the same questions as Thoreau. Can a person be satisfied with having only their opinion about an issue and not do anything to further the cause?  If a person sees injustice and does nothing, does that opinion have any value?


 

Cummings, Michael S. “Henry David Thoreau-Civil Disobedience (1848) ”.  American Political Thought. 7th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2015. 238-247. Print.

Cummings, Michael S. “Martin Luther King, Jr-Letter from the Birmingham City Jail (April 16, 1963) ”.  American Political Thought. 7th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2015. 578-585. Print.

Image: http://texaspolitics.utexas.edu/archive/html/ig/features/0607_01/slide1.html

 

Conservatism

During the early 20th century, America was going through a change politically but socially as well. In the late 1800’s, conservatism was much more prevalent, but once Theodore Roosevelt took the reins, conservatives started to accept some more liberal policies. “In the first decades of the twentieth century, the liberal-conservative establishment officially embraced the growing trend toward a stronger, more active government” (Cummings 523) was the entrance to a new change towards American policy. “Abandoning the classical liberal preference for primacy of the free market and strictly limited government, the new corporate liberalism of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson embraced the Hamiltonian use of the central government as a necessity in the increasingly complex modern world”(Cummings 523) is basically saying that not only the conservative base was changing, but also the liberal base. There was a sense of confusion on how to separate conservatism vs liberalism during the time. In regards to the changes of the past forty years, a classical conservative could view them as a more liberal agenda even though Republican presidents have been in office. More socialistic types of programs have been implemented that has increased the role of government with the implementation of The New Deal and Lyndon B Johnson’s, The Great Society. As technology takes center hold of the American economy, more and more women are having a higher opportunity to pursue careers in comparison in the early part of the 1900’s. Do you think the changing gender role of women reaching higher positions, in regards to them having less of a role in the workforce earlier in the twentieth century, is having an effect of in how families will look in the future?

The Culture of Narcissism

In The Culture of Narcissism Christopher Lasch discusses the rights of individuals against their government bureaucracy and corporate society. I felt his words were speaking truths to today’s society. I kept hearing about the public’s unwillingness to be politically active and in doing so results in general political revolt (Cummings 658).

What caught my interests in the first sentence of Lasch writing was his statement, “Modern bureaucracy has undermined earlier traditions of local action, the revival and extension of which holds out the only hope that a decent society will emerge from the wreckage of capitalism (Cummings 658).” I thought a lot about my work in the Small Business Administration. For some reason I agree with most conservative people about big government. I swear if I wanted to publish a Federal Registrar notice to the public, it would take me 3-4 people to sign off on my draft before we could publish. Not only that, if you pissed one of the people off while you were getting your signatures expect a major delay. My last day in the administration was also the final day I turned in the Federal Registrar notice; it took me almost two months to process. I believe in government and the protection of government, but there are some areas we could improve/streamline to make bureaucracy more efficient.

I was moved by Lasch last paragraph in the beginning of The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch writes, “For all these reasons, the devaluation of the past has become one of the most important symptoms of the cultural crisis to which this book itself, often drawing on historical experience to explain what is wrong with our present arrangements. A denial of the past, superficially progressive and optimistic, proves on closer analysis to embody the despair of a society that cannot face the future (Cummings 660).” I feel this statement speaks a lot to the Republicans of our modern society today. They talk about the debt our nation has and the money we spend, yet they forget the WARS they created in the Middle East. Not to mention the new War on Terror that will most definitely never see an end in our lifetime. I feel a lot of the reasons why so many people never care to think about the past is because they are in denial. Much as the majority of Americans are in denial of the American holocaust inflicted on the tribal nations that still live in the United States.

Are we going to continue denying our responsibilities to own up to our mistakes of the past? Or are we going to continue modifying history and blaming people (President Obama) for the large debt we have incurred as a nation? Come on now Republicans, let’s own up on this one.

Lasch

I found Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” and his argument that US citizens narcissistic ways are the cause for strains on families and other issues in today’s society extremely interesting. Lasch stated, “The narcissist has no interest in the future because, in part, he has so little interest in the past” (650). That’s slightly unsettling, because the future depends heavily on the past, not only the present. Lasch’s piece also got me thinking about the book “The Corporation” by Joel Bakan. Lasch said, “Disenchantment with governmental bureaucracies has begun to extend to corporate bureaucracies as well – the real centers of power in contemporary society” (658). That reminded me of the argument Bakan makes in his book, that corporations are running the country more so than the actual government is. Also, the traits he (Lasch) lists with narcissism reminded me of Bakan giving similar personal traits to corporations.