Paper Example on Civil Disobedience: MLK Jr. and Rawls' Views on Protests Today

Published: 2023-11-07
Paper Example on Civil Disobedience: MLK Jr. and Rawls' Views on Protests Today
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Law Justice Martin Luther King Civil rights
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 1054 words
9 min read

Civil disobedience refers to the violation of the law based on political or moral principles. Civil disobedience is not new in American history. Some of the most renowned advocates of civil disobedience are Martin Luther King Jr (MLKjr) and John Rawls. These figures identified different circumstances under which civil disobedience can be practiced. As a result, they made civil disobedience a respected practice worldwide. To understand today’s protests such as Black Lives Matter, anti-mask-wearing, Hong Kong, and climate change activists-extinction rebellion, it is important to review MLKJr and Rawls’s thinking. This paper aims to discuss MLKJr and Rawls's justifications for civil disobedience and how they characterize the current protests.

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According to MLKjr and Rawls, there are certain circumstances when breaking the law that count as civil disobedience. These two figures advocated civil disobedience to conform the man-made law to the natural law and a sense of justice. King’s advocacy for civil disobedience is well captured in his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’ In his writing, King argued that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. He stated that “a just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” In his view, just law should be supported, while unjust law should be disobeyed because it degrades human personality. For instance, the segregation statutes were unjust because they distorted the soul and damaged the personality of affected persons. King also gave an example of unjust law as a code inflicted on the minority and is not binding. To him, a just law is one that a minority is willing to follow. This means that if a minority is unwilling to follow a certain law, but the majority compels it to follow, then the code is unjust. Another circumstance which law becomes unjust, according to King, is when a minority had not been included in the enacting process. King emphasized that civil disobedience must be done "openly, lovingly, and willing to accept the penalty.” King led by example by participating in civil disobedience in the African-American civil rights movement.

On the other hand, Rawls argued that civil disobedience is a politically motivated action aimed at changing the law. In his justification of civil disobedience, Rawls stated that "in a reasonably just democratic regime, civil disobedience, when it is justified, is normally to be understood as a political action which addresses the sense of justice of the majority to urge reconsideration of the measures protested…” In other words, civil disobedience aims to ensure that the law conforms to the requirements of justice. Rawls based his arguments on the social contract doctrine, which requires people to conform to just institutions. To Rawls, civil disobedience is a political act justified by moral principles that define a civil society and the public good. Just like MLKjr., Rawls believes that civil disobedience should be conducted in circumstances where arrests and punishment are expected and accepted without resistance. In his opinion, this will help make the action sincere and diligent in the majority's eyes. Civil disobedience is applied to the violation of the two principles of justice. The two principles of justice identified by Rawls include the principle of equal liberty and the principle of open offices, which protects the equality of opportunities. Rawls stated some of the conditions that warrant civil disobedience. He argued that one has the right to engage “when one is subject to injustice more or less deliberate over an extended period in the face of normal political protests; where injustice is a clear violation of the liberties of equal citizenship; and provided that the general disposition to protest similarly in similar cases would have acceptable consequences.”

MLKJr and Rawls's stance of civil disobedience has contributed to the present-day protests that are being witnessed across the globe. One way in which MLKjr and Rawls argument of civil disobedience characterizes present-day protests is that the people who engage in the actions are aware and accept the penalties associated with such actions. This way, several people are usually arrested and arraigned in court for violating the laws. The other characteristic is that activists use civil disobedience to protest against laws that promote injustice. For instance, Black Lives Matter is nonviolent civil disobedience that protests against police brutality and racial violence against African-Americans. In other words, Black Lives Matter protests aim at promoting justice for African Americans who have suffered injustice for a long period. MLKJr. In his letter claimed that oppressed people would not remain oppressed forever and the people have demonstrated this statement through the movement. In this movement, many people have participated in the protests knowing the possible consequences of being arrested and penalized. The current protests also use civil disobedience to highlight the government’s failure to pass laws that address issues related to equality or other aspects. For example, Black Lives Matter activists use civil disobedience to protest the government’s inability to enact laws to tackle racism in different parts of the world.

Since civil disobedience is one of the most effective ways of promoting justice and fairness in society, I agree with the views of MLKjr and Rawls. The fact that these two figures advocated for nonviolent actions is one reason I agree with their views. The view that civil disobedience is a tool for promoting equality justifies the need for this action. In most cases, the liberties of the people are misunderstood, and their rights are often violated, and so many people, especially the minorities, have suffered for long. Rawls argued that “denying men their rights is to infringe the conditions of social corporation among free and rational persons.” I believe civil disobedience is necessary to guarantee the people justice and protection of their rights. I agree with their view that one should openly engage in civil disobedience without fear whenever justice is undermined. This is because the unjust institutions and the majority will give way.


Abel, Donald C. Fifty readings in philosophy. McGraw-Hill, 2012.

King Jr, Martin Luther. "Letter from Birmingham city jail." (1963).

Rawls, John. "The justification of civil disobedience." In Civil disobedience: theory and practice. New York: Pegasus, 1969.

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Paper Example on Civil Disobedience: MLK Jr. and Rawls' Views on Protests Today. (2023, Nov 07). Retrieved from

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