Antigone and Civil Disobedience
When one considers the philosophical debate with which Antigone struggles in Sophocles’ “Antigone,” he is forced ask the question were Antigone’s actions justified? Through the processes of text examination and introspection one can only answer a resounding yes that Antigone’s actions were justified. One comes to this conclusion after considering ideas such as civil disobedience and god.
The first and most important justification for Antigone’s actions is the spirit of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is defined as the refusal to obey civil laws as a way of securing reforms. One can see, however, that this definition is incomplete and that the definition will have to be amended. Civil disobedience must include that the individual disobeying the law is willing to accept the consequences for disobeying that same law. With this new definition one can now apply it to Antigone to see that she is justified in her actions.
Ismene- you are so headstrong Creon has forbid it.
Antigone- It is not for him to keep me from my own. (53)
In a conversation with Ismene Antigone states her refusal to keep Creon’s laws. Antigone will bury her brother because she believes it to be right, even though she knows the punishment is death.
Antigone- it will be good to die, so doing. I shall lie by his side loving him as he loved me; I shall be a criminal-but a religious one. (82)
It is through these words that Antigone demonstrates her willingness to except the punishment for doing what she believes to be right. It is through these same words that we glimpse why Antigone thinks she is right.
Antigone believes that there is a higher law than the law of the state. This higher law is the law of God.
Antigone- I know I’m pleasing those I should please most (103)
Antigone- the god of death demands these rights for both (570)
Antigone obviously believes that God’s laws are more important than the laws of man because she is willing to die for the laws of God. Antigone would rather die than live with what she would consider sin just to appease civil law. The question of the existence of God can only be answered individually through faith. Logically, however, if one believes in God then God’s laws must take precedence over man’s laws.
Many individuals have broken the law throughout history (some good and some bad.) A few these individuals have shown the human race the correct way to break laws. Individuals like Socrates, Gandhi and Martin Luther King have demonstrated that breaking laws that are unjust can be a good thing by bringing reform. Antigone broke the law, and whether it was a good thing is up to each individual to decide. The answer to the question of whether Antigone’s actions are justified, however, is a resounding yes. Antigone was justified because of her beliefs in a higher law, and more importantly the way in which she broke the civil law. Antigone’s name belongs next to those other names of the civil disobedient/great social reformers.