civil disobedience

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civil disobedience,

refusal to obey a law or follow a policy believed to be unjust. Practitioners of civil disobedience usual base their actions on moral right and employ the nonviolent technique of passive resistancepassive resistance
a method of nonviolent protest against laws or policies in order to force a change or secure concessions; it is also known as nonviolent resistance and is the main tactic of civil disobedience.
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 in order to bring wider attention to the injustice. Risking punishment, such as violent retaliatory acts or imprisonment, they attempt to bring about changes in the law. In the modern era, civil disobedience has been used in such events as street demonstrations, marches, the occupying of buildings, and strikes and other forms of economic resistance.

The philosophy behind civil disobedience goes back to classical and biblical sources. Perhaps its most influential exposition can be found in Henry David ThoreauThoreau, Henry David
, 1817–62, American author and naturalist, b. Concord, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1837. Thoreau is considered one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature.
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's On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849), in which he claims that the individual, who grants the state its power in the first place, must follow the dictates of conscience in opposing unjust laws. Thoreau's work had an enormous impact on Mohandas GandhiGandhi, Mohandas Karamchand
, 1869–1948, Indian political and spiritual leader, b. Porbandar. In South Africa

Educated in India and in London, he was admitted to the English bar in 1889 and practiced law unsuccessfully in India for two years.
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 and the techniques that he employed first to gain Indian rights in South Africa and later to win independence for India. Gandhi developed the notion of satyagraha [Sanskrit: holding to truth], acts of civil disobedience marked by Indian tradition and his own high moral standards and sense of self-discipline. Attracting a huge number of followers from the Indian public, Gandhi was able to use the technique as an effective political tool and play a key role in bringing about the British decision to end colonial rule of his homeland. His was one of the few relatively unqualified successes in the history of civil disobedience.

The philosophy and tactics of civil disobedience have been used by Quakers and other religious groups, the British labor movement, suffragists, feminists, adherents of prohibition, pacifists and other war resisters (see conscientious objectorconscientious objector,
person who, on the grounds of conscience, resists the authority of the state to compel military service. Such resistance, emerging in time of war, may be based on membership in a pacifistic religious sect, such as the Society of Friends (Quakers), the
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), supporters of the disabled, and a wide variety of other dissenters. In the United States, the most outstanding theoretician and practitioner of civil disobedience was civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther KingKing, Martin Luther, Jr.,
1929–68, American clergyman and civil-rights leader, b. Atlanta, Ga., grad. Morehouse College (B.A., 1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (B.D., 1951), Boston Univ. (Ph.D., 1955).
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, Jr. During the 1950s and 60s he achieved international fame by leading numerous peaceful marches, boycotts, and sit-ins. Like Gandhi, he was jailed several times. The beatings, mass arrests, and even killings of civil-rights demonstrators pledged to nonviolent civil disobedience were important factors in swaying public opinion and in the ultimate passage of new civil-rights legislation (see integrationintegration,
in U.S. history, the goal of an organized movement to break down the barriers of discrimination and segregation separating African Americans from the rest of American society.
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). Civil disobedience in the United States traditionally has been associated with those on the left of the political spectrum, as were most participants in the anti–Vietnam War movementanti–Vietnam War movement,
domestic and international reaction (1965–73) in opposition to U.S. policy during the Vietnam War. During the four years following passage of the Tonkin Gulf resolution (Aug., 1964), which authorized U.S.
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, but toward the end of the 20th cent. the strategy also began to be employed by those on the right, for example, by those involved in confrontational but nonviolent antiabortion activities.


See G. Woodcock, Civil Disobedience (1966); C. Bay and C. C. Walker, Civil Disobedience (1973, repr. 1999); D. R. Weber, ed., Civil Disobedience in America: A Documentary History (1978); J. De Nardo, Power in Numbers (1985); P. Harris, ed., Civil Disobedience (1989); H. A. Bedau, ed. Civil Disobedience in Focus (1991); P. Herngren, Paths of Resistance (1993); M. Randle, Civil Disobedience (1994); S. L. Carter, The Dissent of the Governed (1998); R. Bleiker, Popular Dissent, Human Agency, and Global Politics (2000); A. Roberts and T. G. Ash, ed., Civil Resistance and Power Politics (2009).

civil disobedience

any overt act(s) of deliberate lawbreaking with the aim of bringing to public attention the alleged illegitimacy of certain laws, or their lack of moral justification. The term was originally introduced by Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) in his essay on the duty of civil disobedience (1849), which supported the nonpayment of tax as protest against the government support of slavery Perhaps its most famous exponent was Mahatma Gandhi in India in the 1920s. His broad strategy of peaceful civil disobedience was adopted by the Indian National Congress to protest against the British imperial government. The strategy has been adopted by several modern CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS such as those in the US and Northern Ireland. See also CIVIL RIGHTS.

civil disobedience

Politics a refusal to obey laws, pay taxes, etc.: a nonviolent means of protesting or of attempting to achieve political goals
References in periodicals archive ?
Of course that is a high barrier to civil disobedient action.
So we made the video Returning a Sound, 2004, in which a civil disobedient, Homar, traverses the island on a moped with a trumpet welded onto its muffler.
In contrast, flag burners, by definition, renounce through their action all aspects of the social contract in which the civil disobedient activist resides.

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