Jan 28 2018

HOWARD ZINN ON CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

Behind this LINK is a very good interview with the late Howard Zinn who talks on civil disobedience.

An excerpt: “You say that our problem is civil obedience, not civil disobedience. ‘Both in war and in the law courts and everywhere else you must do whatever your city and your country command’, states Socrates; and these words, you claim, have been impressed on our minds. You find in history many instances of submission to authority even in the face of terrible injustice, and very few of rebellion. Why do people submit so readily to injustice?

HZ: People submit to injustice for two reasons: one is that they do not recognize it as injustice. A young person submits to the exhortation to join the military without recognizing that he or she may go to a war which cannot be morally justified. The media and the educational system may not educate them about historical examples of resistance to injustice. Or people will submit to an injustice because they feel they have no alternative, that if they refuse they will be punished, perhaps by loss of a job, perhaps by being sent to prison. They may submit because people they have been taught to respect and trust – the President, their minister, even their family – may tell them they must submit to injustice because they owe something to their government, or their church or their family (as Plato had Socrates saying in The Crito, he couldn’t escape from his death sentence because he owed something to his government).


Some would like us to believe that the present system provides legal and political means to bring about social change. Justice Abe Fortas of the Supreme Court, who wrote Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience, was one of these people, and your response to him is found in Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order (1968). Here and in other works you charge that the rule of law reinforces the unequal distribution of wealth and power and the ballot box proves to be utterly ineffective as an instrument to rectify injustice. What do you say to those who still insist that the law is neutral and democracy is alive and well?

HZ: If you study the actual workings of the justice system over the course of our history, it becomes clear that it favors the rich over the poor, the white over the black, the orthodox over the radical. The very structure of the system insures it, with judges generally coming from the upper classes, often appointed by the political elite, with money dominating the system at every turn, as in the greater difficulty of poor people in being represented adequately in court.

If you study the legislation passed by Congress throughout history, from Hamilton’s economic program in the first Congress to the tax laws of today, benefiting corporations and the wealthy, you will see that our representative system represents the wealthy in large part. If you observe our wars, you find that the so-called ‘checks and balances’ we learn about in school, where no one branch of government can dominate, simply don’t work in times of war. The President decides on war, Congress goes along obediently, and the Supreme Court has never ruled that a war is unconstitutional, although judicial review is presumably part of their job, and every war since World War II has violated the requirement of the constitution that Congress alone can declare war.”

Permanent link to this article: http://lacatholicworker.org/2018/01/28/howard-zinn-on-civil-disobedience

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