By: Tera Ertz
Methods of King, Gandhi and the OWS
Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. King had clear guidelines on how laws were to be broken in the course of civil disobedience and direct action. Both men were firm believers in the necessity of law and the necessity of government. They did not advocate lawlessness as an alternative to an unjust system. Therefore, to avoid a general reduction in respect for the law and civil society, they set forth the following principles: the government was the target of their protests, they obeyed all other laws to the letter so that they could highlight the injustice of the laws they were trying to change through disobedience, they did not resist or complain about imprisonment but willingly complied with the consequences of their law breaking, they required that all acts of civil disobedience be in public, and there was to be absolutely no violence within the movement even in the face of violence from the government. The common element of these rules was that society ought by rights to be just, and that laws by rights ought to be followed, but when society was unjust men of good conscience were duty bound to follow the higher moral laws of God and Nature in spite of the consequences. This negated the argument that civil disobedience would necessarily lead to a state of lawlessness and anarchy.
In contrast, the OWS has not targeted government and specific unjust laws, but instead has targeted private companies with their protests. They have broken random laws by camping in undesignated areas, blockading bridges, streets and ports. They have blockaded and disrupted private political functions such as the AFP Defending the American Dream Summit, even going so far as to cause physical harm to fellow citizens in the process. Many of the encampments and protests feature a number of protesters in Guy Fawkes masks or bandanas, hiding their identities. They have threatened violence and become violent when authorities have finally been forced by their constituents to clear the public lands being used as camps. They have destroyed public and private property, disrupted businesses not in their target group, and generally practiced criminal disobedience (Nolte).
Alternatively, the Civil Rights movement, in conformity with the rules laid out by Dr. King and Gandhi, sought to alter unjust laws to conform to moral law. Similarly to the Declaration of Independence’s listing of grievance, it did so with the clearly articulated goal of equal rights for all citizens as stated in the Constitution. It openly broke specific laws depriving blacks of those rights, attempted to petition the government for redress, denounced violent elements within the movement, and demonstrated respect for the law in general. The ethical theories of libertarianism, utilitarianism, and classical liberalism, incorporated into the doctrines of direct action and non-violence, provide moral justification for the methods of the Civil Rights movement, but fail to justify the methods of the OWS. We can find ethical justification for the methods employed by the OWS only in Karl Marx and the Collectivist economic theory of justice.
Under Marx, the distribution of property is the sole motivating force behind government. The equal division of capital is the highest moral end of society, and the only true freedom. In this theory of justice and governance, the workers are within their rights to target not only government, but also the owners of capital, which he defines not as the human capital of labor, but as the means of production, such as factories and money. Marx also advocates the total rejection of all previously held morals and religions, all previous traditions and forms of governance, and all other rights. Based on this rejection, this theory of justice, which as noted earlier embraces the claim that economic disparity in itself is unjust, posits the goal can be used as justification for the methods (Lawhead 604-14). If we apply this theory of economic justice to the OWS, the motives and methods are justified by the accepted moral goal of economic justice as represented by income equality.
How do these movements affect the world?
Lastly, we look at the meaning of it all. When we observe the foundations of Gandhi and King and contrast them with the ethical justifications supporting the OWS, we cannot help but note two divergent world views. With the first we see men who based their entire philosophy, and thus their end goals for justice, on the concept that a man is more than what he has. They believed in a higher purpose and a higher being that transcended poverty, suffering and worldly goods, lending them the strength of will to endure hardship to leave behind them a world where men and women were free to aspire to be all they could be. With the latter, we see a philosophy that views the existence of man through the lens of how much he has in relation to others. The sum of a just society is defined by what is produced, how it’s produced, and who gets to keep what is produced, and only through equal possession can the world be a better place. As we examine the OWS going forward, and other political movements that come along, it would be wise for us to determine which world view best conforms to our personal philosophies of ethics, justice and morality so that we might effectively engage in leaving the world better than when we came into it.
Tags: Tera Ertz, Herman, OWS, poor, communism, Marx, Civil Rights, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, John Stuart Mill, John Rawls, John Locke, Eugene Robinson, CBO
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