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Henry David Thoreau 1849 [on the Duty of Civil Disobedience]

Henry David Thoreau 1849 [on the Duty of Civil Disobedience]

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Published by: Groveboy on Apr 15, 2011
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On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
Thoreau, Henry David
Non-Fiction, Political science
About Thoreau:
Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862; born David HenryThoreau) was an American author, naturalist, transcendentalist, tax res-ister, development critic, and philosopher who is best known forWalden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and hisessay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civilgovernment in moral opposition to an unjust state. Thoreau’s books, art-icles, essays, journals, and poetry total over 20 volumes. Among his last-ing contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy,where he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environ-mental history, two sources of modern day environmentalism. He was alifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive SlaveLaw while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending theabolitionist John Brown. Thoreau’s philosophy of nonviolent resistanceinfluenced the political thoughts and actions of such later figures as LeoTolstoy, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Some anarch-ists claim Thoreau as an inspiration. Though Civil Disobedience calls forimproving rather than abolishing government — “I ask for, not at onceno government, but at once a better government” — the direction of thisimprovement aims at anarchism: “‘That government is best which gov-erns not at all;’ and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” Source: Wikipedia
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I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governsleast"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematic-ally. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe— "Thatgovernment is best which governs not at all"; and when men are pre-pared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usu-ally, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objectionswhich have been brought against a standing army, and they are manyand weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought againsta standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the stand-ing government. The government itself, which is only the mode whichthe people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be ab-used and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness thepresent Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals usingthe standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the peoplewould not have consented to this measure.This American government— what is it but a tradition, though a re-cent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but eachinstant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of asingle living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves. But it is not the less necessary forthis; for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, andhear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have. Govern-ments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even imposeon themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow.Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by thealacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the countryfree. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inher-ent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; andit would have done somewhat more, if the government had not some-times got in its way. For government is an expedient by which menwould fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said,when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it. Tradeand commerce, if they were not made of india-rubber, would never man-age to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually put-ting in their way; and, if one were to judge these men wholly by the ef-fects of their actions and not partly by their intentions, they would de-serve to be classed and punished with those mischievous persons whoput obstructions on the railroads.

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