Justification of Civil Disobedience

Justificationof Civil Disobedience

Justificationof Civil Disobedience

Althoughthe international community has been fighting terrorism for manyyears, a serious war against terrorist groups began after theSeptember 11 attack. The general perception was that attackingcountries and governments that supported terrorist groups would bringglobal terrorism to an end, but this has not been the case. Despitethe decision by the United States to attack terrorist groups outsideits territories, especially in the Middle East countries, thesegroups have managed to establish worldwide networks and acts ofterrorism are increasing over time. Research shows that acts ofterrorism have been increasing with at least 30 % annually, whichhave reduced the hope of the general public that strategies put inplace to curb it are effective (U. N. Office for the Coordination ofHumanitarian Affairs, 2014). This has increased cases the civildisobedience which are platforms that members of the public use topass a message that the military actions against other nationsamounts to actions in futility. Although civil disobedience may notbe justified by the law, it can be justified under the moralobligations and higher law principles.

Justificationof the Boston civil disobedience

Thereare no legal provisions justifying civil disobedience that occurredin the United States following the government’s decision to proceedwith military attacks in foreign countries. However, there are threeoptions to show that civil disobedience was the most viablealternative for members of the public to air their views. First, thecivil disobedient protesters can show that legitimately enacted lawsought to be obeyed, but they have a moral obligation that outweighsthe obligations imposed by the law (Cohen, 2000). For moraljustification to succeed the civil disobedient protesters shouldagree that they, just like any other citizen are under the obligationto obey the law, but moral justifications have constrained them fromobeying the law under certain circumstances. Similarly, the civildisobedient protesters in Boston had the moral responsibility ofpreventing further attacks of foreign countries. The election of thenew president had failed to stop the military attacks, which impliesthat there was no hope for legal and constitutional approaches toresolve the issue.

Secondly,civil disobedience can be justified using higher laws (natural ordivine laws), which have supreme authority. This justification isbased on the notion that the legitimate political authority haslimits and overstepping those limits requires the members of thepublic to apply laws that are above any positive law (Markovits,2005). In the case of Boston civil protests, it is evident that themilitary attacks conducted abroad by the U.S. defense teams violatedhuman rights by killing innocent civilian, especially in Afghanistan(Ismail, 2013). The massive violation of civil rights by the U.S.military indicates that the legitimately elected government hasoverstepped its limits and civil disobedience is the only viablealternative to show the government that natural law is the onlystandard of human conduct.

Civildisobedience and the general will

Theconcept of the general will supports civil disobedience as one of thestrategies that members of the community can use to express theirdesires. According to King (2000) “general will” can be definedas a set of intentional communal desires that are universally held bythe members of a given community. This implies that members of thecommunity have unlimited authority to determine what is right andwhat is wrong. Similarly, members of the public in the United Stateshave the right to determine if military attacks conducted in theMiddle East and North Africa are right or wrong and express theirdesires through civil disobedience. There are two major aspects ofRousseau’s idea of the general will that support civildisobedience. First, Rousseau held that the general will is directlybound to sovereignty, but sovereignty does not necessary mean thatthe authority is held by a few people in power (Delaney, 2014). Thismeans that simply being in power is not sufficient for such power tobe considered morally legitimate. The true sovereignty is alwaysdirected towards the public good, which implies that the concept ofthe general will always speaks to the benefit of the public. Thismandates the government to listen to the views of the people,including the civil disobedient protesters.

Secondly,Rousseau distinguished between a collection of the wills ofindividuals and the general will. Individual wills looks for privateinterests while the general will considers the common interest. Thisimplies that the tendency of citizens to become ignorant of thegroups to which they belong pushes them to make decisions that are tothe advantage of the entire society, thus acting in accordance withthe provisions of the general will (Delaney, 2014). Therefore, civildisobedience that is intended to push the government to implement thewill of the people is morally acceptable. This suggests that theconcept of the general will supports civil disobedience.

Legitimacyof war Middle East and North Africa

Thereare four sources of information that can be used to assess whetherthe war in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Iran is legitimateor not. The work legitimate in this context refers to adherence toestablished principles, rules, and standards. First, the legitimacyof war can be evaluated on the basis of the international conventionsagainst terrorism. Some of these conventions include the ViennaConvention and Diplomatic Relations and the International Conventionfor the Suppression of the Financing of terrorism (Lyal,2000). Secondly,the war can be evaluated on the basis of the current U.S. foreignpolicy and its provisions on how the war on terrorism should beconducted. Any inconsistence with the foreign policy can affect thelegitimacy of the war. Third, the information showing whether the waris supported by the people can help in the determination of thelegitimacy of the war. This is based on the notion that legitimacy isheld by the people and not by a few people in power. Fourth, theinformation showing how the war was conducted can help in determiningwhether it adhered to all rules and principles guiding the war onterror. For instant, failure of the military officers to respect therights of civilians can affect the legitimacy of the war.


Althoughinitial military interventions to fight global terrorism weresupported by the public, they have lost popularity. This has resultedfrom the ineffectiveness of the military interventions to deterterrorism and massive violation of human rights among other reasons,such as the negative effect of war on domestic economy. Civildisobedience is one the responses given by the public and it can bejustified on the grounds of moral obligations and the principles ofhigher law. The concept of the general will support civildisobedience because it holds that members of the public haveunlimited authority to determine what is right and what are wrong.The information about adherence of the war in the Middle East andNorth Africa to the international laws on terrorism, the U.S. foreignpolicy, universal human rights, and people’s support is importantin determining the legitimacy of the war.


Cohen,C. (2000). Civil disobedience and the law. RutgersLaw Review,21 (1), 1-18.

Delaney,J. (2014). Jean-JacquesRousseau (1712-1778).Niagara: Niagara University.

Ismail,J. (2013). U.S.violated human rights by killing 17 Afghan civilians: Karzai.Tehran: Press TV.

King,P. (2000). Towards a theory of the general will. Historyof Philosophy Quarterly,4, 33-51.

Lyal,S. (2000). TheEmerging System of International Criminal Law: Developments inCodification and Implementation.Leiden: Brill Publishers.

Markovits,D. (2005). Democratic disobedience. TheYale Law Journal,114 (8) 1873-92.

U.N. Office for the Coordinationof Humanitarian Affairs (2014). Global terrorism fatalities up 30 %,risk of attacks increase most in China, Egypt, Kenya, and Libya.New York: OCHA.