To the editors:
Re: "Duane Bean's Life of Crime" (11/23/90)
The most arrogant people in the world are those who are so sure they know better than everyone else that they feel entitled to rule others. The second most arrogant people are those who are so sure they know better than everyone else that they feel entitled to ignore the laws in a nation where the people rule themselves. Based on the profile in the Reader, it appears that Duane Bean is one of the latter.
In a country in which citizens play no role in making the laws, their obligation to obey the laws is limited. For example, even in a totalitarian state, laws against murder and laws against running stop signs should both be obeyed, for obvious reasons, but laws designed to impinge upon personal freedom do not legitimately command obedience.
In a country in which citizens have a substantial voice in making the laws, however, the matter is more complicated. Civil disobedience generally is then justified only (1) by groups unjustly excluded from the political process or (2) as to vital matters on which reasonable, informed people cannot disagree yet on which for some objective reason the process is unable to function. These categories follow from the general principle that people who had a fair chance to take part in making the laws, but who lost, have no right to impose their will on the winners.
The problem with many who engage in civil disobedience is they think they know so much better than everyone else that they are entitled to ignore laws made by the people a majority of voters have elected. In other words, because everyone else is too dumb to elect people with correct political consciousness, those who know better can break any laws they want. This is pure hubris.
I, too, number among my greatest heroes Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King. I don't believe that Gandhi or King often, if ever, violated the principle I have so very briefly discussed, however, for they were not so immodest. It's a shame that others think they know better than Gandhi and King.
John P. Ratnaswamy