Analyze and evaluate the disagreement between Martin Luther King (“Letter From a Birmingham Jail”) and Lewis Van Dusen (“Civil Disobedience: Destroyer of Democracy”) over the ethics of civil disobedience. What does each argument, in essence, say? What fundamental disagreements account for their differences of opinion? Who makes the better argument? With whom do you agree? (taken from BrianTomasik.com)
The above is a normal writing prompt found in many classrooms and law schools across the country. There may have been a similar prompt in my 7th grade English class as both of these essays were included in one of my books as a point/counter point critical thinking exercise. But comparison of these two specific essays weren’t on our class syllabus. While I don’t know the exact reason why the teacher chose to exclude them, it may have been because Lewis Van Dusen was my grandfather.
I might have gone my whole life not knowing about this Destroyer of Democracy essay, but having it stacked up in the index against the famed “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” made it not easily forgotten. Despite the fact that it was not assigned reading at the time, I of course read it on my own. I disagreed with it then. And I disagree with it now. I believe wholeheartedly that peaceful civil disobedience is a critical ingredient of democracy and our country’s social and moral evolution.
Before I highlight specific parts of the argument, I eagerly admit to not having any legal training. I understand that the terms legal and ethical are not synonyms. And I understand that legal logic doesn’t often result in what is just. I’m not parsing this argument as a lawyer. I’m reflecting as a socially minded, educated white woman in the 21st century, a citizen of democracy, and also as a granddaughter.Read More