Flat White

The new necessity for civil disobedience

14 February 2021

6:00 AM

14 February 2021

6:00 AM

The twenties are a difficult period for any century. We are no different, having reached the point where the stresses of civil unrest have begun manifesting in the streets. 

Civil disobedience was once thought of as an archaic practice of our less-civilised ghosts, but it has resurrected itself with piles of rubble and in-coherency that are impossible to ignore. 

The drama of activism is a marketable commodity for social media and legacy media alike. It is Instagrammed, Facebooked, Twittered, and plastered over the twenty-four hour news cycle as a form of click-bait to entertain an otherwise imprisoned populace with nothing better to do than make noise. 

That is unfair of me… The profitability of civil disobedience is a distraction from its intent. Whether or not the behaviour is legal or moral has plagued the authors of civilisation for thousands of years, who mostly accepted it as a necessary check-and-balance against despotism. Listening to politicians argue over whether or not it should be allowed is a moot point, because it is something that happens when the law wanders into absurdity. 

Let us clarify that there are two types of civil disobedience. 

The first is the fundamental duty of all citizens to protest against the laws of the state if those laws are unenforceable, illegal, ridiculous, created without reasonable consultation, destructive to society, or are otherwise a breach of international standards to which the nation is a signatory. In this case, the act of civil disobedience is not against the nation, but rather in defence of it against those who have abused the laws of the state. It is an act of preservation, not destruction. 

Civil disobedience is also the favourite tool of rival political movements attempting to seize power via force, threat, intimidation, violence, and mischief. These revolutionary movements are statistically unpopular. Knowing that they cannot progress through the normal democratic process of election, they attempt to coerce the law against the wishes of the majority by frightening political leaders. Black Lives Matter, Antifa, social justice, and other collectivist movements with roots in revolutionary socialism, fall into this category. 

Superficially, these two types of civil disobedience look the same, but while the first intends to uphold good laws, the latter exists solely to tear down authority. The purpose of predatory revolutionaries is to pull at the threads of society from a million different angles, creating as much conflict as possible until the civil unrest becomes uncontrollable and the system of law (as we understand it) collapses. Socialism is, at its heart, a political movement that views the law as a tool to constrain society and to do that, laws that protect society have to be erased. 

When people talk about civil disobedience being morally wrong and insisting that police lock up the perpetrators, they are usually talking about political uprisings that threaten the peace. Should teenagers who can barely read be allowed to march through town defacing war memorials and burning public property? No

We return to the more complicated issue of disobeying bad laws en masse

Covid restrictions have been issued as ‘medical mandates’. This is an authoritative way of creating laws made worse by their contradiction with protected Constitutional rights, and scope to cause immense harm to the population. 

Most Covid laws have been created without community consultation, and fall outside what regular citizens understood the limit of government power to be. 

It was never expected when politicians were elected, particularly in a country like Australia, that a state premier could waltz out in front of the camera one morning and decide to shut businesses down for a year. With freedom of movement between states protected by the most fundamental of our legal documents, the notion that suddenly families and businesses in different states are cut off from each other has quite rightly caused outrage. 

The legality of these mandates is questionable while their harm is undeniable. They were not taken to election and where they conflict with the Constitution, no referendum has been held. While a team of lawyers might be convinced to uphold the medical mandates with an intricate scaffolding of fine print, that does not mean that they are ethical or within the spirit of the legal structure. 

A case could easily be placed that the medical mandates themselves are not in line with the original intention of the Quarantine Act of 1908, from which the modern Health Act is divined. Unlike other health matters, this Commonwealth power overrides the states making the Prime Minister ultimately responsible, whether he likes it or not. The meat of these excessive medical powers was designed to protect the survival of the whole nation not to protect individuals from harm. 

Australia faces a situation where these untouchable medical mandates are being decreed by unelected medical bureaucrats in each state, placing the nation on the verge of a poverty catastrophe. Businesses are in free fall while the job market is forming a line outside Centrelink. Hundreds of thousands of families are set to lose their homes and a generation of children are missing out on the formative years of their education. Mental destitution, loneliness, and a prison-like existence have been artificially created by the actions of politicians and their advisers. Citizens have been lied to, mislead, and – quite frankly – left to the mercy of public servants incapable of dealing with the task. 

It is in exactly this situation that historical civil disobedience has been used to demonstrate the failures of poorly drafted laws to a bad government that lacks the self-awareness to fix itself. 

‘Legal’ is not interchangeable with ‘moral’. Some of the worst government actions in history were technically legal, and while Australia is not dealing with the malicious laws of Nazi Germany or Mao’s China, we are facing a crisis of our own where mandated law is causing genuine harm to citizens. 

When did we allow the state to decide whose jobs were ‘essential’ and whose were disposable? Why are family businesses shut while large corporations are given government blessing to remain open? How do the wealthy and politically influential gain exemptions to the travel restrictions keeping ordinary families separated? When medical mandates make no medical sense, why should citizens be fined for ignoring them? Why does the government care about a lack of fruit pickers when it routinely forces restaurants to throw out fresh produce by the tonne for arbitrary lockdowns? Since when was the Australian government allowed to manipulate the commercial market without proper compensation? If internationally recognised human rights and Australian civil rights can be ignored, what validity does the system of law actually have if it ignores its own fundamental rules? 

The state cannot answer these questions satisfactorily. 

Civil disobedience is not necessarily violent, as advertised by politicians seeking to ban protests that embarrass their leadership. In fact, if civilians are breaking bad laws, then their behaviour will almost certainly appear reasonable and legal. Perhaps they are opening their shop, or going for a walk. Maybe they decided to cross state borders to pay their last respects to a dying relative. Shock-horror, they stood up to drink at a bar instead of sitting on a chair, or they have exercised their right not to be forced into a drug trial by the ransoming of their civil rights. 

If the government persists in being unreasonable, then civil disobedience is not only reasonable, it is a responsibility. 

Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. If you would like to support her work, shout her a coffee over at Ko-Fi.

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