I think Timothy McVeigh's actions were not an entirely unreasonable reaction to Ruby Ridge and Waco.

In his Letter, Martin Luther King Jr. argued that civil disobedience has to be done “lovingly, openly, and with a willingness to accept the consequences” . In the context of his writing, “lovingly” seems to mean non-violently and with patient deliberation. I think that’s a fair description of what sets ethical civil disobedience apart from terrorism and general criminality. It certainly separates Timothy McVeigh from those who pulled down a statue. King also goes into a fair bit of detail about how one can untangle just and unjust laws.

Bricker seems to suggest that this is brand new territory–that the question “how can we determine which laws are just and which are unjust?” has never been trodden, that anyone attempting to do so will be stumbling in the dark, because there’s no ethically sound way out of this quagmire. It’s a complicated ethical question. That’s why there’s tons of work on the subject: philosophers have been grappling with it for centuries. This is not a new observation. It seems disingenuous to pretend the well-known arguments of King and Thoreau never happened. It’s taught in high school classes.

But that’s just it: the “same reasoning,” I’m discussing is your willingness to break the law, not the bars you put up that you think fence in the acceptable ways in which the law may be broken.

And it’s not even that, really – it’s your willingness to cheer on those that did it.

I don’t pretend those discussions don’t exist, Manda Jo. I argue that adopting them allows others to also adopt parts of them and reject the bars that you have lovingly crafted around them.

You argue that this kind of law-breaking is justified. And you set forth rules about when other kinds of law-breaking are not justified.

Why must McVeigh adopt your rules, when you’ve already agreed that laws may be broken when the goal is Justice?

It’s true. There is broad agreement, which I certainly share, that mass murder is far more reprehensible than property damage.

So what? I’m not arguing that they are equally blameworthy.

I cheerfully concede, as I have multiple times before, that mass murder is far more demeritorious than property damage, and both are in turn far more objectionable than mere infractions.

I argue only that when someone cheers on the deliberate speeder, and valorizes the vandal’s actions, he damages the social norm that stands for obeying those laws. When they are flouted, the correct response is not to applaud – even of there are other, worse acts for which you would not applaud.

So do you feel that Thoreau and King are morally culpable for acts of violent terrorism because people might have misread their message and cherry picked their philosophy?

Do you think there are any instances of civil disobedience that were morally justified? If so, cpuld you share which ones and why?

I think that they are each somewhat liable for the notion that they possess the authority to dictate which laws may be obeyed and which flouted, yes.

Is this a “ever, at any time, in the world” question, or a “present-day United States,” question?

I don’t know if I consider someone who is willing to accept the consequences–jail time, or fines–could accurately be described as “flouting”. Does that seem accurate to you?

Either. I guess I am specifically interested in what you consider edge cases, because that would show where you draw the line.

It’s indeed a powerfully persuasive statement to say, in effect, “I accept the legal sanctions that I have earned by this act as a price to highlight the need for change.”

But that isn’t what happened here with the statue, and certainly not what happened with many reactions in this very thread.

So the culpability I assign to King and Thoreau was not grounded in their own unwillingness to accept legal sanction, but in the very predictable outcome that others would wave their names as license to also commit crimes but then evade the part where they willingly accept consequences.

I cannot think of a present-day case inside the United States in which I would agree that civil disobedience that included property damage was justified. I would support trespass and peaceable acceptance of arrest as justified in a wide variety of circumstances, ranging from prisons in which an execution is imminent to abortion facilities in which an execution is imminent.

So, abortion facilities.

Gee whiz, we wouldn’t want to damage social norms, let’s preserve these monument to white supremacy.

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I guess the times I got pulled over for speeding, especially that time in south Texas, I should have just pointed out to the LEO that I was white.

I’m not cheering on those who did it. If they get caught, I expect them to suffer whatever punishment the government deems fit through the necessary trials and such.

I just don’t care about a statue being torn down.

I do care about a hundred people being killed.

I guess I just must be weird that way.

You know, to zoom out a little bit : the U.S. government can, and has, blown up buildings belonging to governments it doesn’t like. It did so in the recent round of wars. No doubt children were sometimes killed as collateral damage.

What gives the U.S. government the moral right to do this but Timothy McVeigh doesn’t?

Yes, from a legal perspective, McVeigh isn’t a sovereign government, but morally, it’s the same action. What makes the wrong “ok” if done by a government but “unforgivably evil” if done by an individual?*

And, taking this further : don’t the wronged citizens of Iraq/Afganistan and whichever other -stans the USA has bombed in the last 20 years have the moral right to infilitrate and do the same thing in revenge?

*I’m not saying what McVeigh did was right, just wondering actually why we don’t get outraged when our government does basically the same thing on a larger scale…

Would you cheer those who broke the law to trespass inside an abortion facility?

People DO get outraged. And then they get called anti-American, or they hate the troops, or support terrorists or other things like that.

Perhaps the Boston Tea Party should have been the Boston Tea Party in the more conventional sense of just calmly sipping tea, chatting about the weather, eating little cookies and whatnot. Remember to raise your pinkies when you sip, it’s etiquette.

Did they wear hoods? Did they run from the cops? Did they deny their involvement when questioned?

Where does that end? They outlined a method to effect positive social change against the tyranny of the majority. They built in safeguards to prevent it being used as a rationalization for evil. This is true for anything developed by people: safe abortion techniques were developed by doctors looking to save the lives of women–but it was utterly predictable that those techniques could be used in abortions. Does that make them culpable for the sins of abortion doctors?

So property damage is the big line for you. Why do you feel like property damage crosses a line and sets a precedent but trespassing does not? Cannot the McVeighs of the world take their inspiration from sit-ins and marches as easily as they can take their inspiration from statue-topplers? If they do, is the moral weight borne by the tresspassers different than that of the statue-topplers?

McVeigh mustn’t adopt my rules. Of course, he mustn’t adopt your rules about following all laws except that he’s allowed to break trespassing laws, either. What makes you think I, or Manda Jo, believe we’re able to force people to adopt our rules?

This is what’s so weird about your position to me.

I thought your line was “no breaking the law.” Now it seems to be something else: “no illegally destroying property.” If you allow non-property damage lawlessness, what’s to stop Timothy McVeigh from bombing a federal building?

In other words, you and I are both okay with some lawlessness in support of social justice. I draw the line between property damage and personal violence*. You draw the line between trespass and property damage. Why is it my line, not yours, that opens the floodgates to terrorism, in your view?

Wait a minute. By saying you support trespass and peaceable acceptance of arrest as justified in a wide variety of circumstances, aren’t you saying, according to your logic, that this would result in the"very predictable outcome" that someone would wave your name “as license to commit crimes but then evade the part where they willingly accept consequences”?

Sure. And hey, since screw social norms, let’s burn down the abortion clinic, because abortion is an even greater evil that an inanimate object.


Cool! Now we can blame Bricker for everything bad in the world.
Just kidding. We all know it’s really the Freemasons.