There is a point at which the law becomes immoral and unethical. That point is reached when it becomes a cloak for the cowardice that dares not stand up against blatant violations of justice. – Kurt Huber
What does that mean?
This is an excerpt from one of the leaflets produced by The White Rose, a peaceful, intellectually based anti-Nazi group. The author of this was also a professor of Music and of Philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and was executed shortly after the group was infiltrated, rounded up, and interrogated by the Gestapo in 1943.
The quote is clear and quite penetrating. The law is the law, that much is certain. But laws can be immoral. Laws can be unethical. The question is when do they cross a line, when can they no longer be tolerated, when have they invalidated themselves by becoming abhorrent to the law-abiding?
The quote answers that the point is reached when the law becomes a refuge for the scoundrels who hide behind it. Scoundrels who are afraid to stand and defend their positions using logic and reason, or who use the phrase “it’s the law” to justify violating all principles of justice.
The author got to prove his point, if posthumously. He was convicted in a show trial in a political court, defended by a junior attorney of modest ability, and quickly sentenced to death. Cold comfort, but they proved his point. As a final irony, the leaflet Kurt composed was smuggled to England, and dropped over Germany in the closing months of the war.
Why are ethical laws important?
What if a law was passed which codified the toddler’s rule “If I grab it, it’s mine!”? By nearly every standard, that would be an unethical law, right? It would be a law which would codify the circumstances when stealing was legal, even if it remained unethical.
What of students and cheating? What if a law (or a school / university rule) was passed that prevented a plagiarist from being penalized, and forbade grades below 50% to be given? You might laugh, but a local High School Principal recently proposed just such an arrangement. Even if it had been implemented, it would have been unethical, wouldn’t it?
Another example of unethical laws would be the very concept of slavery, whether it was in the UK, the USA, or in any other country. The concept is abhorrent to nearly every form of ethics, and nearly every civilization. Yet for centuries, even millenia, it was common, and justified by any means necessary.
Would you fight to keep any of the laws mentioned above, or would you fight against them? I know that I would fight against these, and many others. There might even be a few I would even fight at the risk of my life. How about you, how important are ethical laws to you?
How do I apply it to my life?
In the USA (and in other countries, I would imagine), our Congress frequently passes laws for the ‘little people’ which it promptly exempts itself from having to obey. If that isn’t a textbook example of both hypocrisy, as well as an unethical law (and an unethical government), I don’t know what is.
What if the law on stealing (mentioned above) was only applicable to things you could pick up and carry away, could you imagine the chaos that would ensue? How could you have a store? How could you have anything of value that wasn’t either bolted down or defended by angry dogs? Looting, like we see in riots, would be legal and common.
So how do we oppose laws we feel are unethical? As usual, one person has little power on a national scale (typically), so start locally. Find others who feel the same way and gather together. Discuss the issues you have with the law, and what you think should be done about it. Does it need to go, or does it need to be modified?
Then decide how you will achieve your desired result. Unfortunately, this is the place where so many groups fall on their faces. How sad is it when you see a group that claims a law (or legal behavior) is unethical, but then either protests, demonstrates, or acts against it in an unethical manner?
I don’t know about you, but that’s the ultimate fail in influencing. If you want to protest fur, that’s up to you. If you want to run around naked, that’s kind of tacky. But to destroy the property of others because you don’t like fur, that’s not ethical, it’s not legal, and it’s not very funny.
I know there are people with other opinions on tactics, and I would invite them to support the ethics of their behavior here. I don’t see how, but apparently they do. It will be a lively discussion, I’m sure. In my view, by taking the low road, it becomes difficult to see how the protester is more ethical than the law.
That is part of why Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Mohandas Gandhi were so effective. First they selected laws which they believed were unethical. Then they attacked them by maintaining ethics which were so pure as to draw a bright line between the their actions and the law they were protesting.
They made it easy for all to see who had the high ground and where the ethical path was. They won over people who would otherwise have opposed them by their ethics. They showed the world the cowardice and blatant violations of justice which the laws embodied.
And the people spoke. The laws fell. Unfortunately, so did these great men. But some people are willing to die for a cause in which they strongly believe.
From: Twitter, @APribetic
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/k/kurthuber212157.html
Photo by mattlemmon
Happy Birthday to Kurt Huber, who died opposing the German National Socialist (Nazi) party, born 24 Oct, 1893.