“To abuse the notion of civil disobedience is to expose it to all forms of recovery”

Tribune. Can the anger and distress of cafetiers and restaurateurs, condemned to inactivity by government health measures linked to Covid-19, be qualified as “civil disobedience”, as certain media repeat to us? Do they not take the risk of confusion, amalgamation and, therefore, political manipulation by applying to a jacquerie – the reasons for which we can understand – an expression forged by a century of fights in the name of justice for all and the conquest of new rights?

What link can be established between the great figures of “non-violent civil disobedience”, such as Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Gandhi (1869-1948), Martin Luther King (1929-1968), to name but a few the most famous, and the events of today’s restaurateurs? Are they fighting for the conquest of new rights or for the sole survival of their activity?

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By making such shortcuts, which ignore the weight of history and divert the meaning of words, the media and social networks unwittingly despise generations of political activists for whom “disobeying” means “doing one’s duty” when it does. It is a matter of responding to what their conscience dictates to them. Whatever the cost. Gandhi and Luther King paid for it with their lives.

The “duty” at the heart of Thoreau’s philosophy

Indeed, “civil disobedience” has a long history. It begins in the XIXe century, with the American Henry David Thoreau, author of a short text entitled “civil disobedience”, written after a night spent in prison for refusing to pay his taxes to the State of Massachusetts, on the grounds that they were financing slavery and the American war in Mexico. “I advise breaking with the state as long as it hesitates to do its duty”, he wrote.

The “duty”, at the heart of all his philosophy which will inspire generations of disobedient. If Thoreau had been 20 years old in August 1914, when the great powers launched the first butchery of the 20th century, he would no doubt have been one of the rebels or the mutineers, obeying the “duty” of his conscience, against the “duty” of a state that sent a whole generation to the cemetery.

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If he had been 20 at the time of the Algerian war, he would have become a conscientious objector and undoubtedly have belonged to the Jeanson network, as, in his time, he was an active militant of the “ Underground Railroad », This network of aid to fugitive slaves who sought to reach neighboring Canada.

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