OKOYE GOSIFE DONALD
HISTORY 100: CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE FROM ANCIENT GREECE TO MODERN AFRICA
SUBMITTED ON TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5TH, 2013
Democracy is defined as “That form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens directly or indirectly through a system of representation.” (Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition.) However, the idea of democracy as far back as before 300 B.C would have had different implications, and as such, it would be rather unfair to judge people from that era with our current notion of what constitutes democracy. Therefore, it would stand to reason to consider the government run in Sophocles’ Antigone in terms of the system of government that Sophocles was born into and in which he grew up. The Athenian government was based on aristocracy; a government ruled supremely by the state with little or no contributions by the citizens. Citizens had their own opinions but the law was absolute and the law was decided upon by the reigning monarch. Needless to say, citizens can only be controlled absolutely for so long before they revolt. These revolutions came in form of public mass demonstrations that were based mainly on the principle of strength in numbers, and this is considered civil disobedience. Compare this crowd mentality to Antigone’s singular decision to swim against the tide alone and bear the consequences and one is left with a concept that transcends civil disobedience. One comes to the conclusion that Antigone’s actions are not borne simply out of a desire to justify her political and moral inclinations, her actions rather have far reaching implications that completely revolutionizes the relationship between the state and her citizens.
The Athenian state was a powerful one, and one that continued to propagate and impose its laws upon its colonists. Consider the way that Athens had moved to threaten the Melians into submission, and one would come to the conclusion that had the Spartans not defeated Athens, they would have continued to overpower the world and no one could stop them. Little wonder why the Melians were reluctant to subject themselves to the control of the Athenians without putting up some form of resistance. This conclusion would lead to an even direr one; injustice would propagate as long as it remains unopposed. Kreon had his own idea of what justice should be, but unfortunately his misguided definition of justice brought the entire kingdom to the brink of destruction. Kreon’s injustice needed to be stopped before it got out of hand, and Antigone unflinchingly stepped into the role of the knight. Antigone went against Kreon’s decrees and buried her dead brother knowing fully well that she would die for it. Antigone without directly mentioning it implies that the citizen, though bound by honor to dwell within the laws, is equally bound by the higher power of conscience to follow the dictates of one’s conscience. This calls to mind Henry Thoreau’s stance in ‘On the Duty of Civil Disobedience’ that “When a person’s conscience and the laws clash, he or she must follow his or her conscience.” Antigone followed her conscience and proved that the citizen-state relationship is not akin to that of a slave and his master as the Athenians had made it out to be when they tried to intimidate the Melians during the Peloponnesian wars.
Besides, Antigone did not do something that the rest of the citizens did not think was right. In fact, when she retorts to Kreon’s accusation that “You (Antigone) are the only citizen who holds that view,” by pointing out that “They (the citizens) keep quiet to please you (Kreon),” she was absolutely right. The citizens had their opinions but were too scared of authority to confront it. The sycophantic chorus knew the right paths to follow but