Good Argumentative Essay About Letter From Birmingham Jail
In this letter written to his fellowmen, Luther, King aimed at justifying his actions as well as his philosophy of justice and equality in the United States in the 60s. This essay will argue that people should disobey certain laws and accept the punishment for breaking that law.
In this letter, King states that his acts and activities are primarily a form of protest against the inhuman treatment meted out by a large section of the white communities on their black counterparts. He highlights numerous instances of rabid discrimination and scant respect for the minority black residents by their white counterparts in most towns. In response to this, King advocates a non-violent and civil disobedience movement by breaking certain unjust laws, even if it meant serving a certain prison time. (King 3, Point 12) In such a protest, King often tended to deliberately break certain segregation laws that were not viewed very favorably even by some people from the black community. This was, especially since most people felt that such an act could precipitate further violence. Therefore, a large section of the black community objected to this form of civil disobedience that King constantly makes reference to, in this letter.
According to King, there are two types of laws – just laws and unjust laws. A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. King feels that it is one’s foremost duty to obey just laws, while similarly disobeying unjust laws. (3) An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. (3) Similarly, any law that uplifts human personality is just while a law that degrades human personality is unjust. On a legal basis, an unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. Since unjust laws are those codes of jurisprudence that are unequal in nature, that are not rooted in natural law and lead to degradation of human personality, and consequently that of human society, King feels that people must disobey laws that are unjust.
Further, King asserts that “one who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.” (3) King feels that when one deliberately breaks an unjust law and serves any form of punishment for the same, one tends to stir the conscience of the community itself. In breaking such a law, he wants to be sure that in trying to break an unjust law, a situation of anarchy does not arise. Therefore, King suggests that the spirit of civil disobedience should also involve a sense of openness, love and willingness to accept the punishment for breaking the unjust law. By breaking an unjust law keeping the following things in mind, King strongly feels that one would be expressing the highest respect for the law.
The strongest objection to King’s philosophy of law would be that one should not break any law, no matter how just or unjust such a law might be. A person who breaks a law is considered an offender by law enforcement officials and the judiciary. There is no pride or prestige in breaking an unjust law since the end result could be a penalty or possible even imprisonment, although such an act could be considered an act of principle. Similarly, there is also no guarantee that by breaking an unjust law one would be necessarily successful in evoking the collective conscience of a certain community. If these points of objection are true, then King’s philosophy of law would be rendered ineffective since its very basic premise of civil disobedience is rendered useless.
I would agree with King on his assertion. While most people would view breaking a law with contempt, I feel there is nothing wrong with breaking certain discriminatory or unjust laws through non-violent means. In his letter, King comes across as a compassionate person who wants to prove a point but without inconveniencing the general public (through possible anarchy). When one breaks an unjust law to prove a point and suffers the penalty for it, society must understand that such an act is one of the most selfless and compassionate acts that the particular person has done for the betterment of society, in general, and for the improving the plight of discriminated communities, in particular. Such collective understanding, then transforms into a mass movement or revolution that leads to changes in social structures for the better. The most important reason for agreeing on this point is the success that Gandhi achieved in South Africa and India, by introducing his concept of non-violent civil disobedience. This movement ultimately culminated in the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the demise of the English rule in India. Therefore, King has two solid successes to base his philosophy of law.
In conclusion, King’s assertion about laws being just and unjust based on their morality is a very important facet and most democracies around the world encourage their lawmakers and judiciary to ensure that unjust laws are weeded out. Further, King’s method of disobeying laws and serving the penalty is an effective way of getting the message across to the members of the society, the lawmakers and the judiciary. It is one of the best ways of raising the collective conscience and promoting a positive revolution. Time and again, this concept has been proven in various places across the world. Therefore, one can say that conscientious members of civil society should disobey certain laws and accept the punishment for breaking that law in order to bring about change.
Luther, King M Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail. 16 Apr 1968. Web. 23 Feb 2015