Michael Walzer justifiably wants to loosen up the traditional definition of civil disobedience to include the kinds of mildly coercive acts and limited resistance to police that he found in the sit-down strike of 1936- 37. Surely this is one of the advantages of history; it evokes situations that test rigidified principles and so opens us to new possibilities, to better principles. But we are using this opportunity badly if we stick too closely to the circumstances of the historical event we are looking at and fail to let the event suggest larger possibilities. I find two such limitations of vision in this essay.
First, why does Walzer insistently stop short of a challenge to “the legitimacy of the legal or political system”? Why must civilly disobedient persons recognize “the moral value of the state”? Neither Thoreau nor Tolstoy—both believers in civil disobedience—did. If we can expand the definition of civil disobedience in the way he suggests ...
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