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Martin Luther King, Socrates And Civil Disobedience

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Civil disobedience is having a peaceful protest or not using violence when trying to make a change. The first time this was enforced was by Gandhi. Gandhi led the salt march, a non violent protest to stop British rule. Martin Luther King also brought up the idea of civil disobedience in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. King talks about social injustices while maintaining civil disobedience. He says that for protesting they will accept punishments because their acts are illegal (King). From this the reader can see the racial and social injustice. The reader can see how from African Americans protesting publicly and allowing themselves to get arrested they are trying to raise awareness to the unfair laws. In the Crito, Socrates does not agree with his friend that he should escape from jail and he should accept the punishment sentenced to him by the Athenian court. Here, we can see a clear similarity in both readings. Both Martin Luther King and Socrates agree that they should accept their punishments rather than running away from them. If one runs away from their punishments, they will always catch up to them regardless of the circumstances.

Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail brings up the idea of civil disobedience. Martin Luther King wanted to reform laws that were unjust in Birmingham. King states that he was in Birmingham because he needed to respond to social injustices and he felt obligated to help or take a stand. King talks about the city’s segregation, police brutality toward African Americans, and their mistreatment in courts, along with many other things. This shows the reader how Martin Luther King finds the protests just and necessary due to the conditions and treatment towards the African American community Birmingham. “A just law is a man made code that square with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law… Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statues are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality” (King). This shows Martin Luther Kings differentiation of what makes a law just and unjust. This means that a law is determined just or unjust it depends on how it makes or portrays a person in society. He also makes the point that African Americans in Birmingham have tried to negotiate with community leaders but it never worked. This shows what led to to protest and that African Americans tried to negotiate with the whites in the community but they never came to an agreement or they never stuck to their side of the deal. “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation” (King). This demonstrates that King felt it necessary to protest and make it uncomfortable for the whites to have a change. King also says, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (King). This shows how in order for them to truly achieve freedom or change they need to protest and make it difficult for the opposing side.

Although the eight white clergy men say that Matin Luther King and other protestors are breaking laws, he states that he feels it to be a moral obligation to not follow unjust laws and that they laws they are breaking are unjust. Here he admits to breaking laws during his protests but at the same time he questions the validity of the broken laws. All of these points Martin Luther King has made thus far is related to civil disobedience. He states reasons for his protests and how they are acts of nonviolence against unjust laws in the city of Birmingham. He also says that he and is other protestors are going to accept whatever punishments they are sentenced for breaking the law. This shows how they are still showing some respect towards laws that are not considered unjust. “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty… an individual who breaks a law that consciences 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 law” (King). This shows how Martin Luther King feels on civil disobedience and protests. He thinks that if one wants change they have to be willing to do all they can while still having respect for just laws in the criminal justice system. I brings light to the idea that the idea of civil disobedience is to raise concern to the social injustice. “We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal’” (King). This shows how although Hilters acts were legal but unjust meanwhile the Hungarians acts were illegal but for good reasoning. This is important because it connects to the case in Birmingham because although the protestors are breaking laws, which therefore is illegal, it is for good reasoning while the whites in Birmingham are doing the wrong but it is considered legal. This shows the racial and social injustice and the split between whites and African Americans. King says that their movement is a third way of a nonviolent protest. This shows the extent of to which the protestors have tried make change in Birmingham. “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom” (King). This shows how Martin Luther King is connecting the racial and social injustice in Birmingham to the struggle of America gaining independence from Britain.

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By bringing this into his letter King means that in America it has always been a place seeking freedom and once achieved, maintaining that freedom. In a place that once seemed freedom from another nation, those in America should be free from social and racial segregation. Martin Luther Kings entire Letter from a Birmingham Jail has a main idea of achieving racial freedom by using civil disobedience. He believed that in order to obtain what African Americans desired, they needed to do so peacefully and they needed to increase pressure to the whites in community by not following the laws. Although at times it seemed as if the African Americans of the community would never achieve their goal and wanted to possibly use force or violence, he reminded them of civil disobedience and how it has worked in the past with other issues pertaining to racism. He also considers each persons argument against him however he says his point of view and justifies his argument as well. This is important to maintain civil disobedience because if one does not consider the other sides argument and only thinks they are right then there will be no progress and in the end they will never achieve their goal. Martin Luther King does this well in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. He keeps the white communities prospective in mind while also stating reasons for his actions. He also agrees with the white community in that he and fellow protestors are breaking the law and are willing to pay for the consequences, all while trying to change laws towards the black race. This shows how he considered the white communities argument and his at the same time and noticed that although he is participating in the protest and leading other African Americans in the protest for good reason, they are breaking the law and therefore should pay for the consequences. Civil disobedience is the act of trying for change by the use of nonviolence or peaceful protests. In order to maintain civil disobedience one has to truly be reminded of their goal and peace. They also have to try to stay peaceful by considering both sides and always believing that they will achieve their end goal and not giving up. These are all things that Martin Luther King did in order to maintain civil obedience and achieve his final goal, racial freedom. Civil disobedience is something that is key to achieving a final goal. In life you have to be civil with others in order to get what you want because otherwise both sides will never come to a final conclusion or mutual agreement without destroying or causing major damage to the opposing side. Martin Luther King believed it to be a moral obligation to oppose unjust laws. This is why Martin Luther King started the protest to begin with but he decided to do so peacefully in order to maintain civil disobedience.

In the Crito, Socrates does not agree to escape from prison as his friend urges him to do so. Socrates was in jail awaiting his execution. His friend visited him in jail and informed him that his execution will most likely be the next day. Socrates’ friend then says with the help of all of his friends he can successfully escape prison and his execution. Socrates continues to say no and does not want to escape his death or punishment. Socrates says that one should not disobey the law and they should suffer the consequencesnces the state imposes on them. Although he did not knowledgeably break the law and did it unintentionally, he thinks that he should pay the conesuences and face his punishment. I do not think that Socrates would agree with Martin Luther Kings standpoint on civil disobedience. “And is life worth living for us with that part of us corrupted that unjust action harms and just action benefits…” and “So one must never do wrong… Nor must one, when wrong, inflict wrong in return, as the majority believe, since one must never do wrong” (Plato 50–52). Socrates is saying that breaking the law, even if the law is unjust, is something that cannot be justified and it undermines the agreements that the person has made with the city. This shows the difference between Matin Luther King and Socrates felt on how they felt towards civil disobedience. Martin Luther King believed that one is morally obligated to disobey an unjust law while Socrates felt that even if a law is unjust then one must follow it because it is their obligation to follow the rules of the state they are living in. Socrates did not want to violate the laws of the city by escaping being that those laws were not in his favor. From this the reader can see that Socrates never meant to break any laws. Civil disobedience requires the intent of breaking a law to show the injustice of the law. Therefore Socrates did not participate in civil disobedience and would not agree with Martin Luther King. Socrates believed that if one is living in a country or state they must follow every law the state imposes on those living there. He considers it like a contract that one must follow in order to live there regardless if they believe the law is fair or not. Although Socrates’ friend continued to urge him to escape prison for many of the reasons being that he has a family and children he must tend to, Socrates still refused and questions what would be the morally right thing to do. After thinking Socrates says that he cannot escape prison because it would be morally incorrect. He thinks that if he escapes prison he will be breaking the “contract” he has with the state to follow all laws and receive punishment for breaking them. Socrates believed that since he is a citizen of Athens and enjoying all the benefits of living there and volunatarily staying he has a contract with the state to follow their laws and impositions. Therefore, if he violated this contract he would not only cause harm to himself but to his friends, family and the people Athens. Unlike Martin Luther King, Socrates finds it to be his moral obligation to follow the city’s laws even if they are unjustified and unfair. We can clearly see the difference in view points on civil disobedience between Martin Luther King and Socrates. We can see that Martin Luther King supports civil disobedience and would promote it in order to raise awareness to an unjust law. While on the other hand, Socrates would not support civil disobedience or promote it because he believes that one has a contract with the city and therefore should obey all laws imposed on them regardless if it is just or unjust.

Civil disobedience is the act of raising concern towards unjust laws imposed on a certain group of people. Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, addresses civil disobedience and shows how he supports it. He said that it is a moral obligation to raise awareness and demand change for unjust laws or acts. Martin Luther King thought that it is important to raise concern all while maintaining peace between both sides. In the Crito, Socrates brings up the idea of civil disobedience as well. However, Socrates’ view on civil disobedience differs from Martin Luther Kings. Socrates thought that it is a moral obligation to follow laws of the city because one has a contract with the city for living there and enjoying the benefits they need. Socrates felt that he could not escape prison because of his moral obligation to follow the laws even if they are not in favor of him. This shows how Socrates would not agree with Martin Luther King on civil disobedience. In conclusion, both Martin Luther King and Socrates have differing views on civil disobedience and on what is a moral obligation and what is not. Both Martin Luther King and Socrates have different ideas on what is morally correct and what is a moral obligation, as shown in both texts.

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