Thoreau and Civil Disobedience

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A wind blows…wind fans the spark…the spark ignites the grass…burning grasses cause sticks to burn and the increasing flames ignite the forest. Thoreau’s revolutionary ideas about Civil Disobedience had a similar effect throughout the following decades on the thoughts and minds of the oppressed.

Civil disobedience has evolved from a sense of right and wrong and from the consciousness of doing something for the greater good. Thoreau did not invent the concept civil disobedience, for we can see myriad examples throughout history. Transcendent law appeared in the writing of Socrates as well as in many of the Greek Tragedies. It is a concept which bases its morality on the premise that there are “higher laws” which transcend the laws of the state. Should the higher law and the laws of the state come into conflict, the individual had not only the right, but had the OBLIGATION to disobey the laws of the state and to adhere to the “higher authority”. However, Thoreau’s thoughts on the subject of civil disobedience popularized the concept of rebellion during times of unrest, dissatisfaction and of war. At the same time, the increase in the population, in technology (especially communication) and with a more educated general public, Thoreau’s ignited rebellion like that wind-blown spark.

Thoreau’s ideas had two basic premises. The first was based upon the concept that the authority of the government depends on the consent of the governed, the second centered are the concept and definition of “justice”. Justice is superior to the laws enacted by the government, and the individual has the right to judge whether a given law reflects or flouts justice. Beyond these two bases for his ideas, Thoreau proposed that the populace has an obligation, not merely a right, to disobey the law and accept the consequences of the disobedience nonviolently. Thoreau demonstrated his own convictions by being arrested and spending time in jail rather than to abide by unjust...
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