Res Publica - Journal of Undergraduate Research

Article Title

The Dichotomy of Justice


The history of disobedience is as lengthy as the history of legislation. For as long as there have been laws, there have been those who oppose them. Civil disobedience, as Howard Zinn defines the term, is the “deliberate violation of law for a vital social purpose” (Zinn 2002) - a definition broader than that of Abe Fortas. Fortas’ definition of civil disobedience is the “peaceful, nonviolent disobedience of laws which are themselves unjust and which the protester challenges as invalid and unconstitutional." (Fortas 1968). The dilemma of which conditions under which dissenters against democratic states are justified lies precisely within these definitions: one is broad, while the other imposes restrictions. In a democratic state where the citizens and the state rely on fair play, any law which violates basic human rights should be disobeyed, as the principle of fair play is being violated. This should not apply to strictly peaceful movements, as the process of amending laws is lengthy, and the systems and processes we have in place to change them are not adequate in terms of brevity.