Henry Thoreau -- Civil Disobedience

Topics: Civil disobedience, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr. Pages: 2 (692 words) Published: May 23, 2008
Henry Thoreau -- Civil Disobedience

Historians, philosophers, and authors have spent decades contemplating the relation between government and citizens. Though the question sparks many thought s, it is rarely met with sufficient answers. However, a theorist known as Henry Thoreau has offered many works that have shown deep insight on viewing man as an individual instead of a subject, through analyzing the ways citizens should live out their lives. Thoreau ‘s most famous work Civil Disobedience expresses many ideas on what citizens must do in a government that is unjust. Most noticably, the phrases "A simple and independent mind does not toil at the bidding of any prince" (Thoreau, p. 368) and "To be awake is to be alive. I have never met a man who is quite awake"(Thoreau, p. 394) convey his idea that citizens must stand up in times of injustice. Rather than suggesting a type of anarchy, his statements merely describe each man’s duty of enacting justice in his action. However, this is not to say that this does not refer to any "man’s duty... to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support" (Thoreau, p. 681). The term “simple” should in no way be thought of as describing an underdeveloped sense of morality instead it is the exact opposite. Rather, the term describes a mental state in which the idea of justice is so well defined that incongruity cannot exist. The phrase “To toil”, as it is expressed in this quotation, means to surrender ideals for the sake of law or orthodoxy. Thoreau realizes that the only true power that the government holds over any individual is the promise of brute force; the State "never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses" (Thoreau, p. 687). Consequently, numerous acts...
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