Letter From Birmingham Jail

Letter from Birmingham

How does King address the counter-argument that disobedience of the law that leads to anarchy?

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There are two primary methods King uses to defend civil disobedience. First is to distinguish civil disobedience from “anarchy.” He argues that he actually shows “the highest respect for the law” because he is willing to serve the penalty for breaking it. He does not break the law from a duty to himself and his ego, but from his duty to his fellow man. If all men are connected, if injustice anywhere hurts everyone, then he feels compelled to not only break an unjust law but to suffer the penalty of that unjust law in order to dramatize and illustrate its pernicious effect. As he writes this letter from incarceration, it is a difficult argument to counter (176).

Secondly, Dr. King employs a large number of historical examples to defend his use of civil disobedience. These range from the secular to the deeply religious. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are figures mentioned in the Biblical book of Daniel; Socrates is the archetype of human wisdom; the early Christians are heroes to anyone of that faith; and the Boston Tea Party is one of America’s first stabs at declaring independence from Britain. By providing unimpeachable examples, he challenges the clergymen to attack him for practicing his civil disobedience. Yet again, this is also an implicit attack on the clergymen for their apparent simplicity: they cannot tell the difference between civil disobedience and anarchy.