Socrates and King on Civil Disobedience
Philosophers and political activists alike have struggled to determine the conditions under which human beings are morally entitled to disobey the law. Two thinkers -- Socrates and the more contemporary Dr. Martin Luther King -- will be used in advancing a personal belief in the necessity of civil disobedience under certain circumstances. It will be argued herein that whereas Socrates rejected any form of civil disobedience that brought an individual into conflict with the State, Dr. Martin Luther King held that there were times when a man needed to engage in non-violent protest and disobedient acts in defense of liberty and freedom. It is King's position that I share.
Socrates, as described by Plato (1973) in The Republic, was firmly convinced that a man was required to object even the unjust dictates of the State. When accused of corrupting the youth of Athens, Socrates defended himself with vigor and passion; he argued before the Athenian Senate that he had not corrupted youth, but had instead attempted to inculcate in young people the capacity for rational, ethnical and moral conduct in pursuit of the just life. As Solomon and Higgins (1996) commented, Socrates was condemned to death after being found guilty and, even when approached by a friend who offered to assist him in escaping his fate, refused to do so. This was because Socrates preferred to die rather than rebel against the law and felt strongly that having lived his life in obedience to the law, he should not attempt to avoid its punishment -- even though he felt that the punishment was unjustly meted out.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), set out to explain the reasons why many African-Americans were determined to secure equality and justice and why a "civil rights movement" was necessary to achieve this goal. King (1964, p. 134) made an important point in his book: given the historical injustice to which Afric...