Opposition Politics Is More Important

Opposition Politics Is More Important

I have two objections to Michael Walzees stimulating essay.

Though Walzer’s main thrust is that tactical considerations are typically relevant to a moral estimate of civil disobedience, he allows an important exception: civil disobedience as personal protest need not be evaluated in terms of political consequences. The point is of more than passing interest because it was only civil disobedience of this type that Thoreau was concerned to justify. Concord’s sage claimed that if an act is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say break the law … As for adopting the ways which the state has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man’s life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad.

But Thoreau’s position is morally, hence politically, irresponsible. For any act of disobedience is likely to be public—to have political consequences. And in deciding on a course of action, responsible moral agents must always make a reasonable effort to evaluate such consequences. However insistent conscience may be, if it is itself properly conscientious, it will demand that the individual try to calculate the good and bad of consequences. The calculation need not be the decisive factor in shaping decision. That is not the point. It is enough that such an assessment is always morally relevant.