Thoreau'S Essay On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience.

Thoreau then talks for a long time about rebellion and revolution. First, he discusses the difficulty of a minority rebelling against the majority."A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; …" (231) He goes on to state that voting is a ludicrous procedure, and calls it "gaming … But then, it seems, he contradicts himself, writing "I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name, — if ten honest men, — aye, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America." (230) It doesn't seem right that Thoreau mocks the plurality system and polling, remarking that though the majority always rules, it didn't mean that they were right, and then goes on to state that one man can change the government very easily, by just refusing to follow the majority.

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“Suppose blood should flow,” writes Thoreau, “Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded?

” As for the justness of disobedience, Thoreau makes a very logical case: “If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.” Thoreau goes on to introduce a good deal of nuance into the argument, writing that community taxes supporting highways and schools are ethical, but those supporting unjust war and enslavement are not. And he expected that the poor would undertake most of the resistance, because the burdens fell heaviest on them, and “because they who assert the purest right, and consequently are the most dangerous to a corrupt State, commonly have not spent much time in accumulating property.” This has generally, throughout history, been true.

A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.

There is no play in them, for this comes after work.

The best thing a person of means can do, he writes, is “to endeavor to carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor.” Or, presumably, if one has never been so, to follow the poors' lead.

The paradox of Thoreau’s assertion that the least powerful present the greatest threat to the State resolves in his recognition that the State’s power rests not in its appeal to “sense, intellectual or moral” but in its “superior physical strength.” By simply refusing to yield to threats, anyone---even ordinary, powerless people---can deny the government’s authority, “until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived.” Read Thoreau’s complete essay, “Civil Disobedience,” here.

On the Duty of Civil Disobedience In a concise essay, Thoreau proffers a challenge to all men, "not to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right." Over and over, almost redundantly, Thoreau stresses simplicity and individualism, as most transcendentalists (the new philosophical and literary movement of Thoreau's time) did.

Thoreau clearly states, in his On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, that the government is unjust and doesn't represent the will of the people, that one man can't change the government, and that people succumb unconsciously to the will of the government.

History is rife with examples of oppressive governments. But I see no moral reason to condemn people for fighting injustice, provided their cause itself is just.

The present is rife with examples of oppressive governments. The question that presents itself to any opposition is what is to be done? Neither, of course, did Henry David Thoreau, author of the 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience,” a document that every student of Political Philosophy 101 knows as an ur-text of modern democratic protest movements.


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