In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like.
Resistance also served as part of Thoreau's metaphor comparing the government to a machine: On Civil Disobedience is another common title. The word civil has several definitions. The one that is intended in this case is "relating to citizens and their interrelations with one another or with the state", and so civil disobedience means "disobedience to the state".
Sometimes people assume that civil in this case means "observing accepted social forms; polite" which would make civil disobedience something like polite, orderly disobedience.
Although this is an acceptable dictionary definition of the word civil, it is not what is intended here. This misinterpretation is one reason the essay is sometimes considered to be an argument for pacifism or for exclusively nonviolent resistance. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi used this interpretation to suggest an equivalence between Thoreau's civil disobedience and his own satyagraha.
The environment became especially tense after the Fugitive Slave Act of A lifelong abolitionistThoreau delivered an impassioned speech which would later become Civil Disobedience injust months after leaving Walden Pond.
The speech dealt with slavery, but at the same time excoriated American imperialismparticularly the Mexican—American War. Democracy is no cure for this, as majorities simply by virtue of being majorities do not also gain the virtues of wisdom and justice. The judgment of an individual's conscience is not necessarily inferior to the decisions of a political body or majority, and so "[i]t is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.
The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.
Because of this, it is "not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize". Such a fundamental immorality justifies any difficulty or expense to bring it to an end. There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them.
Thoreau's Slavery in Massachusetts which also advances this argument. He exhorts people not to just wait passively for an opportunity to vote for justice, because voting for justice is as ineffective as wishing for justice; what you need to do is to actually be just.
This is not to say that you have an obligation to devote your life to fighting for justice, but you do have an obligation not to commit injustice and not to give injustice your practical support. Paying taxes is one way in which otherwise well-meaning people collaborate in injustice.
People who proclaim that the war in Mexico is wrong and that it is wrong to enforce slavery contradict themselves if they fund both things by paying taxes. Thoreau points out that the same people who applaud soldiers for refusing to fight an unjust war are not themselves willing to refuse to fund the government that started the war.
In a constitutional republic like the United States, people often think that the proper response to an unjust law is to try to use the political process to change the law, but to obey and respect the law until it is changed.
But if the law is itself clearly unjust, and the lawmaking process is not designed to quickly obliterate such unjust laws, then Thoreau says the law deserves no respect and it should be broken.
In the case of the United States, the Constitution itself enshrines the institution of slavery, and therefore falls under this condemnation.Walden and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras.
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Try Our Friends At: The Essay Store. Free English School Essays. We have lots of essays in our essay database, so please check back here frequently to see the newest additions. Resistance to Civil Government (Civil Disobedience) is an essay by American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau that was first published in In it, Thoreau argues that individuals should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that they have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable .
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