It’s our responsibility’s as citizens to not only follow the laws in place but to challenge them when we deem them unjust. By doing this we are directly committing civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a tool that when molested can hurt the system in place but, when used justly to alter the laws inhibiting certain rights in can enlighten the system.
One of the most famous proponents of Civil disobedience is Martin Luther King Jr, he saw injustice in our society and fought to correct it. In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” King Draws a connection between himself and Socrates, who was a firm believer in the laws of Athens, yet he in turn practiced civil disobedience.
In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” King surmises that although he may practice Civil disobedience, so did many other influential people in history, one being Socrates. King believed that Socrates openly practiced civil disobedience and “Academic freedom is a reality because Socrates practiced civil disobedience” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, page 5). MLKs definition of civil disobedience is when an individual directly violating unjust laws or social norms set by the status quo nonviolently and with the intent of succumbing to the punishments.
In the king’s eyes, Socrates practices civil disobedience similarly to the way he does, because Socrates directly disobeys the opinions of the majority of his fellow citizens. Socrates doesn’t just disobey the social norms, but he openly passes on his opinion of unwritten laws and encourages “individuals [to] rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, page 3).
Although Socrates openly encourages others to go against certain Athenian social constructs, he is a firm believer in the laws of Athens. When Socrates was given the opportunity to save his own life by fleeing imprisonment he assures his dear friend Crito that he would rather die than break the laws of his beloved city.
Even though Socrates was wrongly imprisoned and sentenced to death he would choose to die for his beliefs instead of live knowing he defied his moral code. To justify his opinion to Crito he then personifies the laws, saying that “By this action you are attempting to destroy us, the laws and indeed the whole city” (Crito, page 53) . Socrates believes by breaking the laws of the he is undermining everything the city and he stands.
One might wonder how this is could possibly be classified as civil disobedience. Socrates has the chance to live but, knows by escaping his punishment he is directly opposing Athens’s laws or committing civil disobedience. Rarely is there such a person that would lay down their lives just not to discredit the laws of their own government.
Humanity at its roots is selfish, and most people placed in this situation wouldn’t think twice about committing injustice if it meant their life. But, Socrates as so much faith in the laws of Athens he would die than oppose them. So how exactly could king justify Socrates’s civil disobedience?
Civil disobedience isn’t merely classified as opposing unjust laws, one can also commit civil disobedience by contradicting social constructs they deem unjust. During the golden age of ancient Athens the most widly definition of justice was the Homeric Code,