Can we consider voting as the only means of showing our disdain for politicians and bureaucrats? In this short piece, I hope to share my thoughts on why obedience to the state could be considered the greatest threat to the individual, and how civil disobedience keeps a society free.
“There will never be a free and enlightened State until the state comes to recognise the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its power and authority are derived.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
Nazi Germany, North Korea, China, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, The Soviet Union – the list goes on. Tyranny can be a rampant plague that infects nations with an undiscerning population. Millions upon millions of people lead to death because they obeyed immoral and unjust laws by destructive politicians. Notice how many of these tyrants get into power by playing on the average man and woman’s virtues.
“Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God” – Benjamin Franklin.
The Civil Disobedience Dilemma
If a populace fall descends into a totalitarian state, its people’s enslavement, through the mind, body and otherwise, is inevitable. First, there will be the enslavement of the mind using persistent propaganda, and then physical bondage. This could be blatant like Nazi Germany, or subtle, like mass surveillance and a legal system that keeps people in a state of docility and submission.
When a nation has fallen to these depths, disobedience takes an act of heroism. Should the state determine your thoughts and actions against their will, you can pay with your life. It becomes even more difficult within a full-blown totalitarian state as all economic activity grinds to a halt as private business is rendered unnecessary. Why would you need personal business when the state takes care of you? (or so the propaganda says) Of course, leads to a shortage of life’s essentials and the individual is left without their fundamental needs being met – namely food, water, warmth and rest. (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs)
“This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half.” ― George Orwell, Animal Farm
As discussed, disobedience is near impossible without enormous acts of courage. Therefore, disobedience cannot be considered an antidote to tyranny; it can only be used as a tool to avoid it. With anything in life, preventing an event is better than the cure (western medicine won’t tell you that of course).
Solitary acts of courage will rarely have enough power to withstand a galloping authoritarian state, which leads us into civil disobedience – when a group of similar thinking, people publicly show their dissatisfaction and disobey.
“When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson
When Is It Right To Disobey?
It is easy for the herd to follow the leaders of a movement into disobeying unjust rulers. But when is it a good time for the leaders (the first-movers) to disobey? Is it worth the ultimate risk of death?
If a tyrannical government has taken everything away from a man, it may create fearlessness. As said by Alexander Solzhenitsyn – “You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power—he’s free again.”
A leader will need to ask themselves more profound, existential questions:-
Do I feel complicit in the destruction of my fellow man?
Can I live with myself if I allow this to continue?
Are my faculties in a pure enough state to discern between good and evil?
Conscience – ‘a person’s moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behaviour’.
Disobey tyrants and risk physical death, or disobey your conscience and risk an emotional and mental death? A fundamental question to be asked by all considering civil disobedience.
Should a conscientious will rise in the few, others will follow with a common aim of freedom; only then can civil disobedience become possible. To what degree people love freedom will depend on the level of psychological manipulation of propaganda. As seen in history; fear, division and hatred are standard with a tyrannically ruled populace. If these negative states are at the forefront of one’s reality, the people will despise freedom, freedom being the opposite of fear.
“DisobedienceDisobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience