What To Do With the Laws
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward -Martin Luther King Jr.
Today marks a day commemorating the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. in the push toward complete integration and the end of racial injustice. Looking into the “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” he wrote, his drive to change the unjust laws and applications is clear. Now this seems to go against what Socrates idealized in the “Apology” and “Crito”. Socrates said the laws were to be followed by the citizen no matter the circumstance, while Martin Luther King Jr. told that unjust laws were unfit to be followed, but should be reformed through nonviolent action.
Martin Luther King Jr. gave various examples of what he believed an unjust law consisted of. He said a law is unjust when “it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege”, “a majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself”, and “a law is just on its face ad unjust in its application”. He gave these as a few examples, and does not limit unjust laws to these descriptions, but the idea of an unjust law is still present. Human laws are evidently made by humans, and just as humans make errors the laws may contain errors, intentional or unintentional, that make them unjust. It simply takes someone who is willing to point that out and stand up for what they believe.
Now if Socrates was to take this viewpoint, would his end have been different? If he believed that unjust laws should be reformed, then he would not be doing wrong when trying to reform the laws rather than follow the unjust ones as he did. Though the city of Athens reformed after the death of Socrates, it cannot be clear whether or not this was Socrates intention. Now through nonviolent action, Socrates could have escaped his death penalty without having to compromise his beliefs that no man should do any wrong. If the truth is justice, and he believed the truth should prevail above all, he should also believe that restoring justice would be the right course of action, as long as through this no one is harmed, hence the nonviolent action.
Now, this is simply taking Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideas and applying them to Socrates situation. They each had problems with the majority that needed to be fixed, but they went about it in separate ways. Which way is better could be debated, and maybe the outcomes could change, but here stands two people, hundreds of years apart, both looking for justice and trying to do something to change it.