Civil disobedience and non-violent protesting has been apart of human history for hundreds, if not thousands of years. People like Mahatma Gandhi have utilized civil disobedience and non-violent protesting to fight for Indian independence from British rule and for the rights of the Indian poor. Mahatma Gandhi called this Satyagraha. Satyagraha roughly translates to “truth force”. Another famous person who adopted and was inspired by Gandhi’s approach of non-violence was Martin Luther King Jr. Both renowned leaders brought change to the world through their philosophy and leadership. You cannot talk about Martin Luther King Jr. without first mentioning Mahatma Gandhi, and through out this paper I will analyze the approaches used by Martin Luther King Jr. with revere to Gandhi, and MLK’s social ethics that helped shaped the civil rights movement. Civil disobedience and non-violence brings some shortcomings, but the advantages to the strategy, have been effective in political and social movements such as in the American Civil Rights Movement.
The philosophy of civil disobedience is nonviolence and this differs from other forms of resistance. The definition of civil disobedience is refusing to obey certain laws without using any form of violent actions. Why certain laws and not others? People know that the laws are wrong and unjust. Even if the government forces these laws into legislation, you must do what is right says the philosophy. Also, you don’t have to eliminate the laws; you just don’t have to follow them. Civil disobedience has the mentally and philosophy of moral high ground by being in the right, you don’t have to utilize force. Other philosophies embrace violence to accomplish political or social gains. When protesting, some movements say violence is an inherent right. The Black Panther party for example said it is ok to use violence in self- defense. These views are extremely different philosophies. They also produce extremely different results.
The philosophy of civil disobedience has some shortcomings that make it difficult to embrace for some movements. Immediate versus non-immediate payoffs is the number one shortcoming. Where a violent protest may give a protester instant gratification by seeing physical results, nonviolent protests requires high patience. This is called a long-term benefit. Some are not patient enough to embrace the philosophy and obtain results. The definition of civil disobedience can vary between individuals within a movement.
Some people will see nonviolence differently than others due to personal experiences. This stems from disorganization of movement or the actual protest. Not everyone will be on the same page so levels of nonviolence will be different. This can completely damage the whole movement. Nonviolent philosophy requires a higher knowledge about the movement and its goals. This shortcoming means anyone can embrace violence and it is easy to pick up a weapon to use. It is far more difficult to digest why you shouldn’t use violence and requires teaching to large amounts of people in order to be effective. Civil disobedience requires a leader who is very patient and intelligent, that is why Revered Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. made for a great man to be the leader and spokesperson for the Civil Right Movement.
There are multiple advantages to the philosophy of civil disobedience. It is very hard for a government to fight back against nonviolence. Governments only have armies, navies, etc. These entities are built around the theories of violence. It is impossible to justify using violence against nonviolent people. If a government does fight back, the violence portrayed against peaceful protestors is seen as not the norm. This will gain the movement media attention for their cause. This attention will draw more support for the movement. Civil disobedience gains the movement respect in a different manner than violence. Violence creates fear. Fear doesn’t accomplish anything it just perpetuates more violence. Instead of violence creating more violence, the nonviolent acts gain respect. It shows that you are intelligent and mindful of the laws. This shows that your group is not quick to grab a gun, rather to sit and talk about things and make real progress. Another advantage is that civil disobedience conveys moral superiority. This lifts the spirits of people inside and outside of your organization. It will have a snowball effect and lead to further nonviolence. If nonviolence can be adhered to, it will grow upon itself from this moral superiority.