Thoughts on the essay “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau


I read an essay by Henry David Thoreau on my fathers suggestion. He has urged me to read Thoreau for a while now and after first reading Walden (because he told me too) it decided to read the essay on civil disobedience. After I had finished Walden, it was apparent that though he encouraged me to read Walden, what he was in fact referring to was this essay.

The essay was about the public’s right/responsibility to resist injustice. Thoreau felt that slavery and the Mexican American war were blights on the conscience of the country and felt that supporting the US government in any way was immoral. Thoreau goes on further to say that If you participate in the government in any way, including paying taxes (he states explicitly) or voting (implied), you are complicit in the injustice. His method of protest was far too indirect.

Thoreau, a naturalist, had a passion for the simple life and felt large organizations of men (such as a society formed around a government) brought out the evil in man. I think his refusal to participate more actively in society led to his only remaining form or protest being to refuse the taxman. The system may work very slowly sometimes but even in the times that you need to be forceful with a system that is too slow to correct injustice, it is easier to do that from within.

If you resist the government in a way that is too broad, you call into question the rule of law altogether, which leads to anarchy, and greater injustice. We must oppose unjust laws in as direct a manner while respecting authority as a whole to emphasize that it is not the rule of law that you reject but any unjust laws that do not live up to the more important standard of common morality which is the basis of modern society.

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