by Neville Kennard, preaching and practising capitalist

The freedoms that we treasure and enjoy have not been granted or bestowed by benevolent governments. They have been hard fought gains, won through civil wars, revolutions, and — civil disobedience. Kings, emperors, sultans, presidents and prime ministers seldom, if ever, grant an increase in freedom to their citizens without some “persuasion” from those citizens.

Our governments legislate enormous amounts of laws that have nothing to do with the proper function of what governments are really there for — to protect us from internal and external threats. Our governments and the police and courts are so busy doing silly things that they don’t have time or energy to carry out their proper function. So appropriate civil disobedience, it could be said, is “in the national interest”. We have a duty to practice some civil disobedience, to reform our laws, so that our governments and their agencies can do what they should be doing.

Civil disobedience has a glorious tradition from Jesus Christ though Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Civil disobedience is called for much more than it is practiced, probably because we choose to conduct our civil disobedience privately and inconspicuously and avoid the inconvenience of being arrested, tried, fined or imprisoned for our little indulgences.

In the 1970s in Australia, a Melbourne hardware store owner went to gaol for opening his store on Sundays. In Sydney a toy store opened on Sundays, defying the law and the belligerent trade unions, and was instrumental in changing trading laws there. This is hard to imagine today where most states have liberal if not unlimited trading hours, though in a couple the citizens are inconvenienced by some archaic and messy restrictions. Queensland, for example, allows stores to open longer in some area, and the rules are so messy that some “civil disobedience” in trading hours could go unnoticed.

There are two types of civil disobedience. The first is just to do something without permission, where we want to do something innocuous and don’t know about, or choose to defy, some statute or rule. I call this Personal Civil Disobedience. For example a homeowner may want to add a room to his house for his growing family by closing in the back veranda. To ask permission could be costly and painfully slow, and could require adherence to a mess of council regulations. Many people choose this inconspicuous form of civil disobedience. Australians are good at defying authority. There are countless unapproved backyard sheds, added rooms, granny-flats that serve their users and offend or upset no-one.

And what about all the trees chopped down in defiance of council edicts claiming you need their permission to cut down a tree bigger than a certain size? Many home-owners very sensibly just cut the tree down.

There is a saying that “it is frequently better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission”.

Civil disobedience is practiced by many of us — most of us, I dare say — quite frequently. We drive over the speed limit (because the speed limit is an arbitrary and silly limit quite often), we park illegally if we don’t think we’ll be caught, we may take recreational drugs, drink outside of legal hours and gamble in unlicensed premises. We are breaking the law, but because there is no victim we don’t feel in the least guilty. Most of us are quite capable of distinguishing between a real crime — where there is a victim and property or life is interfered with — and a victimless crime, where no one is hurt but the state has decreed that it is a “crime”.

And then there is civil disobedience where the aim is to change the law. Overt, open, conspicuous civil-disobedience, where the object is to draw attention to a silly law and to get support and get that silly law changed, or better still, eliminated.

I would like to “legitimise” civil disobedience of both types, make it reputable, honourable, our duty even. To do this there needs to be some “rules”. When is it OK to do some “CD”, and how to do it with integrity? How, too, to be effective with CD?

Essentially there must be no victims; no-one may be hurt and no property damaged. There must be a clear distinction between the victimless crime law you are trying to change, and real crimes involving injury, death and loss and damage to property. Acts of civil disobedience, by individuals or groups, will gain more support if the behaviour of the protestors is exemplary.

The grubby, unruly and sometimes violent behaviour of the “Rent-a-Mobs” we see demonstrating gain more resentment than support from the sensible law-abiding citizens whose support ultimately is needed if laws are to be changed. But think of the respectable sensible protestors who brought attention to the wrongness of the Vietnam War, and ultimately brought about it’s end, by passive demonstrations and civil disobedience.

Gandhi was the master of passive resistance. A charismatic but humble and modest man who saw that to be violent against the British would not win the fight for independence. So he protested non-violently with enough support to eventually prevail.

Civil disobedience needs to be “strategic” — it would probably not have worked in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. Unless you want to be a martyr — and this could be a strategy, albeit an expensive one. Although even in such authoritarian regimes enough people protesting and practicing CD could bring down the government — Eastern Germany and Soviet Russia in 1989 are examples.

(in order of appearance on
  1. Welcome from Neville Kennard
  2. Think Tanks Don't Work
  3. "Market Failure": Just what the government ordered!
  4. The Tragedy of the Tax Pool Commons
  5. Corporate Welfare
  6. Citizenship for Sale?
  7. I Don't Vote
  8. Voting: Right or Privilege?
  9. Stockholm Syndrome and our Love-Hate Relationship with Government
  10. Civil Disobedience: The Rules of Engagement
  11. Should Respect for Law Extend to Bad Laws?
  12. Jaywalking as a Demonstration of Individuality
  13. Government Likes War
  14. Collusion is Our Right
  15. Why Not the Drug Olympics?
  16. Unconventional Wisdom
  17. Tiger Farming: An Alternative to Extinction
  18. Looking Backwards: Mont Pelerin Society Conference, Sydney, 2010
  19. Tax Avoidance is a Patriotic Duty
  20. Kennard Writes to IPA Review Editor
  21. Genocide by Welfare: A Tragedy from the Aboriginal Welfare Industry
  22. Separating Sport and State
  23. Your Home is Not an Investment
  24. Dick Smith, Celebrity Philanthropist
  25. A Libertarian's New Year's Resolution
  26. Extend Politicians' Holidays to Create Prosperity
  27. Entrepreneurs are Disruptive, and Bureaucrats Hate It
  28. What is a good Australian?
  29. Governments Like Employment But Hate Employers
  30. The Market Failure Industry
  31. Neville Kennard: The Tax Avoidance Imperative
  32. Wot if ...?
  33. The Tribal Chief and the Witch Doctor
  34. The Tannehills
  35. Democracy versus Property Rights and Prosperity
  36. Government Doesn't Work, and That's the Way They Like It
  37. Minarchy vs Anarchy
  38. Euthanasia and Self-Ownership
  39. The Right Policies to Fix a Depression
  40. Is Howard Our Best PM?
  41. Tax Producers vs Tax Consumers
  42. Where There's a Queue, There's a Business Opportunity
  43. Authoritarian Freedom
  44. Why Classical Liberals Should Debate Anarchocapitalists
  45. The Tyranny of the Majority
  46. If you could choose to whom you paid your tax
  47. Business Should Exploit Boat People
  48. The Immorality of Trade Unions
  49. "America" vs "The United States"
  50. Sweet Anarchy
  51. The Illusion of "Job Creation"
  52. Gold Is Money
  53. Guilty Capitalists
  54. Bureauphobia
  55. Prosperity vs Growth
  56. Capitalism vs Democracy
  57. More people = More fun
  58. Self-Ownership - the very idea!
  59. Government will murder Neville Kennard if he doesn't back away
  60. The Australian Dollar Has Been Cowardly and Criminally Devalued, Harming the Poor Particularly
  61. Is Taxation Theft and Government a Tax Cheat?
  62. My Journey to Anarchy:
    From political and economic agnostic to anarchocapitalist
  63. Government Needs Bad Guys –
    that's why they like wars
  64. What Is Obscene?
  65. Traffic Economics
  66. Wayne Swan stands on the shoulders of other intellectual pygmies
  67. Neville Kennard Obituary
  68. Neville Kennard in 1979 proposes new alliances to end penalty rates
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