On the Duty of Civil Disobedience


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A government founded on this principle cannot be based on justice. Why can't there be a government where right and wrong are not decided by the majority but by conscience? Thoreau writes, "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?

I think we should be men first, and subjects afterward. Too much respect for law leads people to do many unjust things, as war illustrates: Soldiers become only a shadow of their humanity; the government shapes them into machines. Soldiers have no opportunity to exercise moral sense, reduced to the existence comparable to that of a horse or dog. Yet these men are often called good citizens. Similarly, most legislators and politicians do not put moral sense first, and those few who do are persecuted as enemies.

The question then becomes how to behave toward the American government. Thoreau's answer is to avoid associating with it altogether. Although Thoreau asserts that a man has other, higher duties than eradicating institutional wrong, he must at least not be guilty through compliance. The individual must not support the structure of government, must act with principle, must break the law if necessary. Abolition can be achieved by withdrawing support from the government, which may be accomplished practically through the nonpayment of taxes.

If imprisonment is the result, there is no shame in it — prison is the best place for a just man in an unjust society. In the current state of affairs, payment of taxes is violent and bloody. Nonpayment constitutes a "peaceable revolution. He describes his experience in the Concord Jail in some detail, commenting upon the folly of the state's treatment of a man as if he were a physical entity only, rather than an intellectual and moral one.

A man can be compelled only by one who possesses greater morality. In Civil Disobedience as throughout his other writings, Thoreau focuses on the individual's ultimate responsibility to live deliberately and to extract meaning from his own life; overseeing the machinery of society is secondary.

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On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau asserts that he does not want to quarrel or to feel superior to others. He wants to conform to the laws of the land, but current laws are not honorable from a higher point of view. Politics and politicians act as though the universe were ruled by expediency. In the progression from absolute monarchy to limited monarchy to democracy, Thoreau observes an evolution in government toward greater expression of the consent of the governed. He notes that democracy may not be the final stage in the process. His emphasis at the end of the essay is firmly on respect for the individual.

Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Walden, is an account of his stay in the woods and his experience. Shedding the trivial ties that he felt bound much of humanity, he pursued truth in the quiet of nature. Thoreau believes that such an experience enables one to gain true e In , Henry David Thoreau left Concord Massachusetts and moved to a cabin that he built by himself near Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

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Thoreau believes that such an experience enables one to gain true enlightenment. Even as Thoreau disentangled himself from worldly matters, his musings were often disturbed by his social conscience. His writings have inspired many to embrace his philosophy of individualism, and has influenced non-violent resistance movements worldwide. Originally given as part of a lecture in , "Walking" was later published posthumously as an essay. Now being a chief text in the environmental movement. Thoreau's essay describes the ever beckoning call that draws us to explore and find ourselves lost in the beauty of the forests, rivers, and fields.

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Thoreau, Emerson, and Transcendentalism

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Affirmative Case : Civil Disobedience

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  • Shelves: essay. I don't know how many times I've read "Civil Disobedience" and each time, I enjoy it. The same thing can be said for "Walden Pond". This is my first time to read "Walking". Thoreau can expound his points with a thoroughness that makes me wish I could just skip, but then I'd miss out on so many points. I'm not giving this 5 stars because I liked it, but because the selections chosen are ones that demonstrate why Thoreau's writings last.

    On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

    Jan 10, Adam Georgiou rated it really liked it. This took me forever to finish, it ending up as my in between book, the one I'd pick up and read a few pages of when I wasn't focused on something more interesting. As a pretty common rule I try not to put down a book until I've finished it, but every now and again one slips through, barring me not also damning it as worthless which is rare.

    Is this a weird habit? To be in one way principled, to the point of dogma, about finishing what I've started, but then also to have a stack of books, mo This took me forever to finish, it ending up as my in between book, the one I'd pick up and read a few pages of when I wasn't focused on something more interesting. To be in one way principled, to the point of dogma, about finishing what I've started, but then also to have a stack of books, months untouched, that I've convinced myself I'm still reading?

    What's that say about me? A little tidbit. Also, I treat these reviews like journal entries. Anyway, I finished the second half or so in one big gulp, and now I don't know why I ever put it down. Walden is canon among the vagabond hippy types. I first heard about it in Sean Penn's Into the Wild where the main character quits life after graduating college to go stomp around America.

    I heard it again in various interviews with people involved in the VanLife crowd. Funny how books and ideas tend to form these clusters of relevance. You start following a branch of thought and all the sudden your in what seemed like obscure territory when looked at from the surface, but after having dived deep you realize it's all familiar and connected. I hear two different sources recommend the same thing, and I realize it's my perception that's got them marked as different, and that personal dissonance is what lights my fire to learn more.

    Here's a connection I have yet to make but is apparently substantial.

    Civil Disobedience Audiobook by Henry David Thoreau

    So I read the book. The sentiment of Walden is all about personal exploration. Get rid of the status quo, go down to the minimums, and see what you find.


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