Thoreau, King, & Goldman On Unjust Laws

1074 words - 4 pages

A well founded government is one which has the consent of the people it governs. This system is used to protect its people and provide them with the necessities to prosper. But, many individuals have believed that majority of the time government should not interfere in economic and political affairs. This type of government is known as an active government which can be referred to as a “large government.” Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and political anarchist Emma Goldman argue the right to break unjust laws that the government up holds for the public. Although some are more radical than others, each thinker asses their idea in a different way. Thoreau and King both believe that the best way to rid an unjust law is by performing acts of civil disobedience. Goldman on the other hand, believes in complete obliteration of the government thus becoming a state of anarchism. All three thinkers have made it clear in their arguments that it is justified to break an unjust law.
In his essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau starts off by saying, “Government is best which governs least” (Thoreau 98). Thoreau clearly states that he is not an anarchist and does not believe that government should be abolished. Rather, he believes that we are entitled to a better government that is based upon morality and justice. Thoreau explores the idea of civil disobedience and challenges the role of government by describing his own incarceration for refusing to pay taxes during the Mexican-American War to expand slavery. When the government ceases to act morally, Thoreau argues that it is up to the individual to disobey and withdraw him or herself from the government. Thoreau’s motto on government describes how government is more of a burden on society and the individual. A lost of freedom exist when the government is too involved.
“Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once” (Thoreau..)? Thoreau explains that there are unfair laws that exist and sometimes individuals choose to oblige to them although they do not agree with them. And sometimes individuals choose to agree with these unjust laws and wait until it is eventually changed. This then makes Thoreau believe that the people are “…not as men mainly, but as machines with their bodies” (Thoreau 99). As the essay proceeds, Thoreau answers his argument by saying, “…but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine” (Thoreau..). Thoreau believes it is essential to break unjust laws when in fact the unjust law makes you an instrument of injustice.
Ideals of civil disobedience have highly influenced individuals such as Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr....

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