Robby George: civil disobedience wimp

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George.jpegThe Manhattan Declaration released a couple of weeks ago caused a bit of a flurry by threatening civil disobedience if the signatories (Christian leaders of various denominational stripes) were legally obliged to do things that violated their consciences with respect to abortion or same-sex marriage. The question in this space was what kind of civil disobedience they had in mind. The Los Angeles Times chastised them for “going too far when they declare they will break laws.”

Now comes an answer from the Declaration’s prime mover, Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. In response to a query from NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez on the appropriate time for and expression of civil disobedience, George, after declaring that “gravely unjust laws…do not bind in conscience,” allowed as how medical professionals should “abandon their careers” rather than participate in abortion and Catholic hospitals should likewise “go out of business.”

Whatever one thinks of such injunctions, they have nothing to do with civil disobedience. No law would be broken or even challenged by a medical professional or institution that followed them. Indeed, what’s being recommended is no more than the position taken by John F. Kennedy in his 1960 speech to the Houston ministers that Catholic conservatives these days find so inadequate:

But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to
be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either
violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would
resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do
the same.

Perhaps Professor George should re-read his Thoreau. Or stop talking about civil disobedience.

  • You’re right, that’s a seriously watered-down definition of civil disobedience. It’s even worse than what usually passes for CD these days–disobeying a noncontroversial law in symbolic protest of an unacceptable one. Blocking doors to public buildings or occupying someone’s office might or might not be useful, but unless one’s opposed to the laws against such things it’s not the same KIND of thing practiced by Thoreau, Gandhi, the teenagers at lunch counters, etc. And it’s usually a whole lot less risky. Now George is claiming the CD name for something that isn’t illegal or risky at all.

  • S. Kingsbury

    I am reading one of Chuck Colsons books and it mentions a paper presented by Robby George on pro life. Presented to the American Society of Political Scientists.
    Is that you?
    May I get information on how to receive a copy of the paper?
    Thank you,
    S. Kingsbury