Tuesday, November 17, 2020


The concept of civil disobedience, defined as the peaceful refusal to follow a particular law, is most often associated with its greatest practitioner, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But it’s an old notion, and it’s been followed by Americans since the start of our country. The desire to demonstrate upset with perceived government injustice by means that do not topple society, is, in a decisive respect, very American.

This Thanksgiving, as we gather with family, we will, many of us, be practicing civil disobedience. When we ignore mandates to wear masks outside, we are practicing civil disobedience. When the ailing small business owner, in desperation to keep the lights on, gives closed-door haircuts or sells food behind the store, he is practicing civil disobedience. Increasingly (and shamefully), these acts of hopelessness are met with fines and arrests.

That we do these things generally under only incredible duress — like the COVID-19 lockdowns — is a testament to the law-abiding spirit of most Americans. We don’t, by nature, like to contravene legal authorities. But we will when government overreach occurs. That the media and elites of our country consider this blameworthy is an easy charge to level when one lives behind high walls, receives grocery delivery and enjoys cushy bank accounts. It is both astounding and shameful. This does not matter, however. The extended lockdowns have awakened an old spirit and it will be with us for some time.

What civil disobedience is not should also be made clear. For instance, the First Amendment protects the right of peaceful assembly. The liberal media are happy to point this out and there is no disagreement here. But in an era where any conservative policy the public finds unsavory is met with widespread protest and, inevitably, rioting, the definition of “peaceful assembly” is distorted. When multiple city blocks in Portland or Seattle are shut down for weeks and months, the malcontents and media do not get to call that civil disobedience. It should be called what it is: domestic terrorism.

On net, it is a positive development that Americans feel comfortable questioning the law when its tentacles extend beyond where it should — and tyrannically. In an era where Big Government, Big Tech and Big Media have combined forces, more pushback from the sentient and freedom-loving will be necessary. But Americans must never, ever confuse righteousness with licentiousness, wanton lawlessness with measured civil disobedience. Elide these categories and destruction certainly follows.

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