A reason for Rawls to defend this coordination requirement is that,in most cases, it serves a more important concern, namely, theachievement of good consequences. It is often argued that civildisobedience can only be justified if there is a high probability ofproducing positive change through that disobedience. Only this canjustify exposing one's society to the risk of harm. The harms usuallyidentified with civil disobedience are as follows. First, civildisobedience can be a divisive force in society. Second, since civildisobedience is normally designed to attract public attention, it canlead people, as a result, to think of resorting to disobedience toachieve whatever changes in law or policy they find justified (Raz1979, 262). Third, civil disobedience can encourage more than justother civil disobedience; it can encourage a general disrespect for thelaw, particularly where the law is perceived as being lenient towardcertain kinds of offences.
There are reasons to believe that civil disobedients should be dealtwith more severely than ordinary offenders are. First, there is thefact that disobedients seem to have put themselves above the law inpreferring their own moral judgment about a certain issue to that ofthe democratic decision-making process and the rule of law. (Althoughsome judges have endorsed this caricature, it is worth noting that itclashes with how both dissenters and many theorists characterise theiractivities; cf. Rawls 1971; Greenawalt 1987; Markovits 2006.)Second, the communicative aspect of civil disobedience could be said toaggravate such offences since it usually is attended by much greaterpublicity than most covert violations are. This forces legalauthorities to concern themselves with the possibility that law-abidingcitizens will feel distressed, insecure and perhaps imposed on if noaction is taken. So, notes Greenawalt, while authorities may quietlylet minor breaches pass, failure to respond to violations performed, insome respect, in the presence of authority, may undercut claims thatthe rules and the persons who administered them deserve respect(Greenawalt 1987, 351–2). Third, any use of violence would seem toaggravate civil disobedience particularly when it increases the harm ofthe offence or when it directly incites further and unjustifiedinstances of violence. And although violence may eloquently communicatea dissenter's seriousness and frustration, it changes the natureof the dialogue. It pushes authorities to respond in ways consonantwith their stance on violence – responses which may be harsherthan those they would otherwise wish to make toward acts of civildisobedience that defend values they can appreciate.
Are we Ever Morally Justified in Breaking the Law? essays