The Separation of Church & State Defended: Selected Writings of James E. Wood, Jr.

By Derek H. Davis; James E. Wood Jr. | Go to book overview

Civil Disobedience

The nineteen sixties have come to be characterized as "the decade of dissent." While it may be argued whether the phrase belongs uniquely to the nineteen sixties, there is little reason for denying that civil dissent and civil disobedience, not to mention extreme acts of violence, emerged more prominently and became more widespread in American life during the past decade than during any comparable period of time in this century. To many, particularly frustrated and disillusioned youth, rebellion and revolution appeared as the basis of effecting the radical changes requisite for the building of a new society. On the surface one might simply be inclined to describe the growing dissent in American life in the somewhat traditional terms of a polarization, however, dissent in the United States in recent years has been manifestly more than the traditional conflict between the haves and the have-nots, the defenders of the status quo and the advocates of radical social change. Rather, for large numbers of America's dissenters, non-militants as well as militants, all authority -- family, school, church, and state -- is being challenged.

Surely we have entered an era of authority crisis. From both advantaged and disadvantaged youth, unprecedented waves of protest have appeared across the country. To be sure, not all of this protest should be identified with civil disobedience. Although much of civil disobedience in recent years has been an avowed instrument of social protest, much of the social protest, as in the civil rights movement, has been entirely within American constitutional law and therefore is not to be confused with civil disobedience as such. But it is primarily the questionof obedience vis-a-vis disobedience which has precipitated a polarization crisis between those citizens whose primary concern

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