Law, Rights, and Justice essay

civil disobedience / Rawls / moral principles / Dworkin / justice

Essay Topic:

The main principles of law, rights and justice and the relation of “civil disobedience” to them.

Essay Questions:

Why did Ronald Dworkin and John Rawls dedicate their work to the analysis of the principle of law, rights and justice? What is the generally accepted definition of “civil disobedience”? When does the breach of the principle of equal liberty and the principle of justice occur?

Thesis Statement:

Civil disobedience cannot “…act breach the same law that is being protested…” -confirms Rawls and it is lead by ”the principles of justice”.


Law, Rights, and Justice essay


Introduction: Ronald Dworkin and John Rawls dedicated a lot of works to this phenomenon. They tried to draw a sharp line between acceptable forms of “civil disobedience” and the unwarranted ones. One of the key characteristics of the justified “civil disobedience”, according to both of them is its non-violent nature and its manifestations within the limits of law of the country. Both of the theorists consider “civil disobedience” to be primarily a political act with the purpose of changing some law or its consequences. They imply that the major criterion of accepting “disobedience” as a justified act or not is the moral principle that is on its top. According to Rawls it is not viewed from the point of the acts of “civil disobedience” being or not being truly democratic, but for the point of the value of the moral principles defended by these acts. Can an act of “civil disobedience” be performed to defend certain moral principles and at the same time reveal itself through destruction and damage? Rawls makes a stress on the impossibility of defending moral principles through immoral actions. Civil disobedience cannot “…act breach the same law that is being protested…” -confirms Rawls and it is lead by ”the principles of justice”. Therefore, the reasons for these actions have to be consci¬entious but we have to differ it from the conscientious refusal of an individual to do something due to his won moral values.

Rawls points out the possible appropriate objects of “civil disobedience”: the breach of the principle of equal liberty and the principle of justice. Which reveal through “…the right to vote or to hold office, or to own property and to move from place to place, or when certain religious groups are repressed and others denied various opportu¬nities”. As for Rawls “civil disobedience” is the last “tool” to introduce but he obviously emphasizes that it can restore justice. Dworkin is more conservative concerning the matter of “civil disobedience”. He puts an accent on the duty of a citizen to obey the law even if he wants to change it but he also considers the idea of not following the law if it goes against one’s conscience and beliefs with keeping in mind the possible penalizing. According to Dworkin the definition of the possible appropriate objectives for “civil” disobedience is close to Rawls but he marks that the objective must not have a subjective reason. The other objectives can be divided into three groups: integrity based, justice based and policy based civil disobediences. All of them imply the “civil disobedience” to comply with a majority of the population and its reason to have an obvious mass negative influence. Dworkin speaks more about the right not to obey, than the duty to obey. Both of them present very unflinching points of view. I think that “civil disobedience” is a massive problem for our contemporary society, but it is sometimes the only way to fight for what is right. I completely agree with Rawls on considering it as the last option and with Dworkin that we have to consider our very own moral beliefs and our conscience, too. I support Dworkin because according to him if you follow a law that makes it your duty as a soldier to kill a man during the war and you cannot take it you still have the right to disobey to enter the army than to desert from it later and to suffer.

As Dworkin gives the example of the straight line correlation between people not taking their rights and laws seriously it is important to mention that there also is a correlation between people’s perception of justice and law. If the society does not believe in justice, therefore throughout it everyday life it does not consider justice as an option of behavior. Justice may be one thing for one person and completely another for another one. Other words if a shared conception of justice does not exist in a certain society is turns out to be a catastrophe for it, because one laws will be respected by one certain group of people, others – by another one. Eventually, as many analysts have already said, it may cause anarchy and add tension to the relations inside the country. Nevertheless it can change, if the majority of the population has one common goal. For instance we can take as an example the shocking situation with the elections in Ukraine. It seems that people there never believed in justice and therefore the law was no use for them, because the country was believed to be very corrupt. And all the sudden we observe the great variety acts of “civil disobedience”. People stand up and want to fight for JUSTICE and for the president thee have chosen. And calling for justice they use the law. Here we see how the Court can actually work on solving difficult cases like that. So as long as people do not realize the correlation between the justice and the law there is no hope that there will be the least opportunity to improve the society. If people take law seriously and use it as people did in Ukraine there is a higher probability of obtain justice. It is necessary to say that the knowledge of one’s rights is the decisive factor in a productive interaction in the society. If a person does not know his rights there is a very little chance that he is going to face justice. He has to defend his rights and therefore interests. As Rawls states that justice is supposed to be above the inevitable conflict of interests the only way it can avoid conflicting the defense of different interests is to estimate the consequences of not agreeing to satisfy one’s interests. They do not work in cross-purposes.

Conclusion: What they do is they complement each other, making a clarification of what “rights” are at the present situation appropriate to defend and what are not. For instance, a family has a right to adopt a child if it is suitable for all the requirements. Imagine that you are given a profile of a good family and at the same time you have the child’s biological parents trying to get the child back and working hard on it. Of course the situation may be different but and the details should be analyzed. That is what justice does through the law. It simply chooses what is the best, having in mind the interests of each of the sides.


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