Civil disobedience is refusal to obey the law deliberately and publicly.
The phrase and the concept were popularized by Thoreau's famous essay, Civil disobedience.
Ideas of Henry Thoreau
Thoreau emphasized non-conformity and rebelling against society. He wrote in Civil Disobedience that we cannot lie to ourselves. We must be whoever we are, regardless of ours flaws and personality. He said we shouldn't conform to society's standards, we are all individual.
The second message of Civil Disobedience is rebelling against the government. Thoreau admits there must be a standing government, and it does good. But he says if you don't agree with something, then rebel. You don't have to change the law yourself, just don't obey it. That's a revolution by itself. The pinnacle of Civil Disobedience is that if a law "requires you to be an agent of injustice, then I say, break the law."
Ideas of Mahatma Gandhi
- In South Africa Gandhi worked to improve living conditions for the Indian minority. This work, which was especially directed against increasingly racist legislation, made him develop a strong Indian and religious commitment, and a will to self-sacrifice. With a great deal of success he introduced a method of non-violence in the Indian struggle for basic human rights. The method, satyagraha – "truth force" – was highly idealistic; without rejecting the rule of law as a principle, the Indians should break those laws which were unreasonable or suppressive. Each individual would have to accept punishment for having violated the law. However, he should, calmly, yet with determination, reject the legitimacy of the law in question. This would, hopefully, make the adversaries – first the South African authorities, later the British in India – recognize the unlawfulness of their legislation.