"If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law." - Henry David Thoreau
"An unjust law is no law at all." - St. Augustine
"One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." - Martin Luther King Jr.
"Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces." - Etienne de la Boetie
"Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state has become lawless or corrupt." - Mohandas Gandhi
"Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it." - Albert Einstein
"Every actual state is corrupt. Good men must not obey laws too well." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
"I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do." - Robert A. Heinlein
"An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law. … Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is… a prison." - Henry David Thoreau
So, if my stance is not clear by now: unjust laws aren’t laws at all, they are threats - threats of violence (from pepper spray to rape cages to lethal force) against an unruly populace. As letterstomycountry recently stated, following up a similar sentiment by statehate: All that’s legal is not right; all that’s illegal is not wrong.
Countless philosophers have covered the subject, so my answer here will be far from thorough. But, the premise is simple: the only just law is that which prohibits the initiation of aggression. In other words, one that echoes natural law; that is, one that protects and respects the life, liberty, and property of all equally. Any violation of a person’s self-ownership is illegitimate. So laws against theft, assault, battery, murder, slavery, rape, fraud, trespass, destruction of property, and the threats thereof are all legitimate because they would exist irrespective of a state. They are axiomatic consequences of human self-ownership.
(For more depth on the truth of self-ownership, the principle of non-aggression that subsequently emerges, and their implications - ideas which I’ve discussed repeatedly - see: I am the 100%, On Understanding Freedom and Self-Ownership, Defending Deontological Libertarianism.)
An unjust law is also easy to identify. If it initiates aggression to rectify unfortunate circumstances, it is not just. If it takes from a non-aggressor to give to a third party, it is not just. If the law favors one person or group over another, it is not just. If the law enables the state to do something that would be illegal for a common citizen to do, it is not just. If it prohibits activity because of the possibility of indirect harm, it is not just. If it seeks to keep someone from harming himself (and only himself), it is not just. If it prohibits or punishes any peaceful and consensual activity, it is not just. Laws that preserve our safety at the expense of our liberty are simply unjust.
So concern yourself less with what is legal and more with what is right. As I’ve said: Be a good neighbor to your fellow man, not a doting subject to the state. Most laws are written for the benefit of another party at the expense of our liberty, and as such, deference to the law is inappropriate. (Of course, complying with a law to avoid being aggressed against does not constitute endorsement of the law.) Therefore, whatever “activism” you wish to participate in would be “morally permissible” only if it respects the self-ownership of others, whether or not it upholds the government’s laws.
It Is Our Duty
To Disobey Unjust Laws
Lest We Be Enslaved
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- freemarketliberal said:We are the 100%. That is beautiful. This is very well-put. Thank you, once again, LALiberty. I would have loved to meet you with Ricardo while I was in LA. I’m sure he’d thoroughly enjoy it as well.
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