Agreeing with John Rawls to define civil disobedience as “a public, nonviolent conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government” is not self-interested and is always performed in public, nowise implies that smashing a fleeing intruder’s head cannot qualify as such. If and when the man accused of taking the law into his own hands comes forward to face the consequences of his actions in a court of law, its public proceedings suffice to ground the common interest in the effective means of self-defense, vested in his
ostensible infringement of refusal to defer to the state monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.
“Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife”, quoth Justice Holmes in Brown v. United States, 256 U.S. 335 (1921). But an analogous warrant for disobedience arises in the realm of detached reflection. In that regard, Immanuel Kant has observed that Reason, independent of all experience, knows everything either a priori, and as necessary, or not at all. He concluded that its judgment is never an opinion, but either an abstaining from all judgments, or an apodictic certainty (KrV A777/B805). Yet even on these grounds of pure reason, Kant recognized an advantage on the side of him who maintains something as a practically necessary supposition, pointing out that in pari delicto melior est conditio possidentis, whereby he is clearly entitled, as it were in self-defense (Notwehr), to use the same hypothetical weapons in support of his own good cause, which the opponent uses against it. In other words, the acolyte of pure reason can and should take up the polemical cudgel of heuristic arguments apt at best to produce judgments, whose empirical or theoretical validity is problematic, against the empirically minded adversary unconstrained by demonstrative rigor and unconcerned with apodictic certainty. All the more so this moral entitlement to the choice and use of arms holds in encounters that engage our vital interests, facing aggression by a public or a private adversary, be he a πολέμιος or an ἐχθρός.