22 Aug 2022


The Justification of Civil Disobedience by Rawls

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Academic level: University

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Thesis: civil disobedience is justified in situations where an injustice has been done to a minority or a section of society, a violation of fundamental rights, a reasonable chance of success, and the general disposition to protest similarly in similar cases would have acceptable consequences. 

Summary of arguments 

In the book chapter “the justification of civil disobedience”, Rawls argued that civil disobedience is justified when the normal political appeals to the majority have already been made and in good faith and rejected . The goal of civil disobedience is to appeal to the sense of justice of the majority. 

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Arguments in support of thesis 

First, Rawls attempts to locate the place of civil disobedience in a constitutional democracy. He defines this type of disobedience as a public, nonviolent, and conscientious act contrary to the law, and done with the goal of the bringing a change into the policies or law of government. Its resistance against government actions, but within the limits provided by the law and in the spirit of willingness to face the legal consequences. Rawls says that civil disobedience expresses sincerity to personal conviction about justice and respect for the civil order and meant to air dissatisfaction with government actions. 

Next, Rawls justifies civil disobedience by saying it is necessary when the government in the control of the majority is unwilling to address issues raised by the minority. It is a political action to force change when all other democratic options or processes have failed. It is addresses to the sense of justice of the majority, there must be clear, and substantial violations of the rights of the group involved in civil disobedience. Finally, according to Rawls, civil disobedience is justified if restricted to cases where the dissenter is willing to affirm the rights of others to act in a similar manner when subjected to the same injustices. 

Objection to the thesis 

On the other hand, Rawls considers objection that civil disobedience relies too much on the existence of a sense of justice. Some critics have argued that justice is not a vital force compared to other interests such as wealth, power, and prestige are more powerful. For Rawls, he thinks that while such interests are indeed powerful, a constitutional democracy must at least have some agreed principles, which underpins its government. Such principles necessarily gravitate towards establishing of a just and far regime without which the society would descend into chaos or Hobbesian state of nature. 


Rawls. The justification of civil disobedience 

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