When Should You Not Follow The Law?

A system of laws, or rules that we all must follow, is one of the crowning achievements of our society. The law makes civilization possible, so that different people can work together to do more than any individual could manage on their own.

At the same time, there have been, and will continue to be, bad laws that have been enacted. Laws can be unfair, either intentionally or unintentionally. And if there is a bad law, good people cannot be expected to follow it.

Sometimes, even good laws are broken. It is a rare individual indeed who has not jaywalked at least once in their life, but the existence of crosswalks increase public safety. Speeding on the road is common, even though speed limits are in place for a very good reason — they save lives.

But how does someone determine which laws should and should not be followed? The law itself allows our civilization to function, and any sort of mass, consistent breaking of the law by a significant portion of the populace would cause society to break down. Conversely, blindly following unjust laws could also lead to to an unjust society.

As individuals, we have a duty to follow the laws that our peers have agreed upon. However, we also have a duty to stand up to injustice, even if that means breaking the law.

How can we determine which is which? When should you not follow the law? What should the consequences be for someone who breaks an unjust or unfair law? Should we only try and amend unfair laws, or is it important to break them when necessary? When is it necessary?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? When is a lie justified? What do you do that you shouldn’t? Where does authority come from?