Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is one of the many ways people have rebelled against what they deem to be unfair laws. It has been used in many nonviolent resistance movements in India (Gandhi’s campaigns for independence from the British Empire), in Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution and in East Germany to oust their communist governments, in South Africa in the fight against apartheid, in the American Civil Rights Movement, in the Singing Revolution to bring independence to the Baltic countries from the Soviet Union, and recently with the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia and the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, among other various movements worldwide.

One of the oldest depictions of civil disobedience is in Sophocles’ play Antigone, in which Antigone, one of the daughters of former King of Thebes, Oedipus, defies Creon, the current King of Thebes, who is trying to stop her from giving her brother Polynices a proper burial. She gives a stirring speech in which she tells him that she must obey her conscience rather than human law. She is not at all afraid of the death he threatens her with (and eventually carries out), but she is afraid of how her conscience will smite her if she does not do this.

Thoreau’s 1848 essay Civil Disobedience, originally titled “Resistance to Civil Government”, has had a wide influence on many later practitioners of civil disobedience. The driving idea behind the essay is that citizens are morally responsible for their support of aggressors, even when such support is required by law. In the essay, Thoreau explained his reasons for having refused to pay taxes as an act of protest against slavery and against the Mexican-American War.

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Thoreau’s words

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