Prison officials may be a wee bit nervous about seeing a review on Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience, by Abe Fortas, in a prison newspaper.
No need to panic, Fortas’ argument [in which I agree] initially takes into account what his brethren, Associate Justice William O. Douglas, said about law and order: “I fully accept the principle that each of us is subject to law; that each of us is bound to obey the law enacted by his government.”
That being said, “A function of free speech is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces … unrest … or even stirs people to anger.”
The subject of dissenting opinion by people subject to the state is an interesting discussion, considering California prisoners last hunger strike. The prison officials and the inmates might have come to terms sooner if principles in Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience were understood and followed.
Dialog between the government and the people, no matter who the people are, is always a productive course of action when a legal policy instituted by state officials is debatable.
During the hunger strike, state officials wanted the legal and established means utilized to express opposition, while the strikers wanted immediate action to end their alleged frustration and suffering.
“A function of free speech is to invite dispute.”
“A democratic society should and must tolerate criticism, promotes, demand for change, and organizations and demonstrations within the generally defined limits of the law to marshal support for dissent and change,” Fortas’ analysis of the dilemma would have considers. “It should and must make certain that facilities and protection, where necessary, are provided for these activities.”
Fortas recognizes that the courts “have the ultimate responsibility of striking the balance between the state’s right to protect itself and its citizens.”
While acknowledging the right to protest is not “absolute,” Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience argues that even the hunger strikers have a right to protest their living conditions.
One of the demands of the hunger strikers—that they not be punished for protesting, failed to consider one of Gandhi’s primary concepts to protesting individuals—individuals who refuse to comply with the rule of law must assume that they will be punished “and it requires peaceful submission to punishment.” Moreover, when Gandhi was asked, “Is nonviolence, from your point of view, a form of direct action?” he responded, “It is not one form, it is the only form.”
Fortas’ philosophy that state officials must accept dissent from individuals follows the Jeffersonian tenet: “Not every difference of policy is a difference of principle.”
Understanding the divide between the individual and the state, Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience gives the reader a simple lesson: “The story of man is the history, first, of the acceptance and imposition of restraints necessary to permit communal life,” Fortas writes. “And second, of the emancipation of the individual within that system of necessary restraints.”