after the War?
THIS ESSAY is a study of a perennial problem in political life -- the conflict between the citizen's obligation to obey the law and his right, indeed his duty, to resist unjust laws. This conflict is especially acute in a democracy, since democracy alone imposes the peculiar requirement upon citizens that they both give and withhold their consent to authority. All men are to count equally in the making of the laws and, thus, they are all equally required to obey those laws. At the same time, the liberal tradition within democracy affirms that the individual is the final arbiter of when the law has violated the principles of democracy or a policy has transgressed the demands of decency -- no matter how procedurally correct the methods whereby the policy is enacted. Like Thoreau, the democrat celebrates the conscientious man as the last barrier to acts of political barbarism by his government. But against Thoreau or the anarchist, the democrat also argues the advantages that men receive from their willingness to forgo their private decisions in favor of collective choices. By participating in the benefits made possible by the existence of a public authority, the individual indirectly acknowledges a general obligation to be law-abiding.
It is when the two goods of individual autonomy and public authority collide that personal tragedies and public problems occur. In America this was demonstrated by the government's conscription of its citizens to fight an unpopular war in Vietnam. It is in the public's response to the situation of those caught in the conflict between their attachment to their country but not to a particular government policy that we discover the character of the political community. So it is with an issue such as amnesty.1____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Democracy and the Case for Amnesty. Contributors: Alfonso J. Damico - Author. Publisher: Florida Presses. Place of publication: Gainesville, FL. Publication year: 1975. Page number: 1.
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