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Civil Disobedience Essay

918 words - 4 pages

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was a philosopher and writer who is well known for his criticism of the American government during the time. During Thoreau’s life, there were two major issues being debated in the United States: slavery and the Mexican-American War. Both issues greatly influenced his essay, as he actually practiced civil disobedience in his own life by refusing to pay taxes in protest of the Mexican War. He states that the government should be based on conscience and that citizens should refuse to follow the law and has the duty not to participate and stay as a member of an unjust institution like the government. I argue that the notion of individualism and skepticism toward government is essential in the basis of many important reform movements in the modern society.

Thoreau espouses that the democratic party listens to and answers the majority, which are the desires of the most powerful group. The problem with this is that the most virtuous or thoughtful group is left aside because the government only pays attention to what the strongest group says. A government functioning on this principle cannot be based on justice, because the ideas of what is right and wrong is decided by the majority, not 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. (p.178 para. 4)" He claims that it is more important for people to develop a respect for the right, instead of having a respect for the law, for it is people’s duty to do what is right.

The notion of individualism is extremely important in exercising the duty people have to cease from the unjust government, because people need to develop the idea that moral values is what should be considered the most important at all times. Being able to criticize and be skeptical of the government is necessary to realize the unjust way it functions by only thinking of profits and advantages, based on what the strongest group desires. Furthermore, if an individual is in agreement in the government, such as by respecting its authority because it is the government, this means that he is in favor of the injustices practiced by the government. This is similar to the limits of “Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place. (Lao-Tzu, verse 3)” If people do not rebel towards the government, this can be taken as an act of respect and agreement for how the government functions, which means that these unjust actions are in favor among the people.

I argue that people have the duty refuse a government that is corrupt, and distance themselves from these...

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