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Civil Disobedience and Contemporary Constitutionalism: The American Case (From Civil Disobedience, P 249-269, 1989, Paul Harris, ed. -- See NCJ-121683)

NCJ Number
W C McWilliams
Date Published
21 pages
This analysis of traditional constitutionalism and the role of civil disobedience concludes that civil disobedience may have a vital role in any contemporary constitutional order, because it represents a method of remedying critical defects that otherwise might encourage more serious forms of disorder.
Constitutionalism seeks to transform a political environment in the direction of valued ends by means of institutions that are designed for that purpose. Some of the oldest forms of constitutionalism recognized that procedures can be designed only for the normal case, however, and that political wisdom requires that exceptions be made. However, the United States currently faces a constitutional crisis. The traditional alternatives for producing change are amendment and revolution, but clearly these are not sufficient. The need is not for ways to overthrow the constitutional order, but for ways to preserve its virtues while making changes. Civil disobedience is a way of generating changes, because it can create a case or controversy that will enable the rule to be adjudicated. Thus it may be a vital part of constitutional order. However, it requires political prudence and must not be protected from the threat of punishment. 69 reference notes.


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