Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

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The stricter the parent, the more disobedient his child will behave. This is a known phenomenon and can be exhibited in numerous scenarios throughout a child’s life. David Thoreau’s view of the government and their policies is very similar to this belief and he firmly establishes that the lesser the involvement, the less disobedience in society. There have been many instances in time where humans have done wrong despite knowing that their actions are unethical and are extremely harmful towards others.

It is human right and responsibility, however, to speak out against the wrongdoings of others, because to a certain extent, the fate of one is in his hands. In Civil Disobedience by David Thoreau, he explores the involvement of government in society and utilizes human nature, emotion, irony and struggle during ethical dilemmas to explain that humans will and can never be truly in structure.

Slavery is a mark on American history that can never be erased despite the heaviest scrubbing. As an American, it is almost shameful to look back and notice that such a heinous act was done towards innocent people that could have been avoided completely. Domestic conflict broke out separating the north and the south when both knew what the true and ethical answer was, despite this, both remained quiet for an extensive period of time solely because they were expected to. Sympathizing with those of dark skin was seen as a sign of weakness and this is something that upper-class Americans could not live with.

Common citizens did not speak out against this horrid activity and members of authority continued to let it happen because ultimately, “a very few reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their conscience also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it” (Thoreau 14).

The so called “leaders” of society operate with no sense of empathy and only see cold facts; because society was functioning better from slaves doing all the labor, it was assumed that it was profitable to allow their forced labor and with that, it was also possible to verbally and physically abuse them because they were inferior. This is the perfect example of how ruthless humans can be when their profit is in question. Thoreau points out that, “what is once well done, is done forever” and this sad truth about the mindset of Americans will taint them forever. Although slavery is a past event, it will always remain a significant event in society in which humans forgot the true meaning of empathy.

American greed has been a prevalent issue and people have proved time and time again that their hunger for material goods is unquenchable. Manifest destiny and the American dream have been a huge driving force behind mass destruction and homicide. So many unnecessary acts of aggression resulted from Americans moving west and stealing land from Indigenous groups and American Indians. The appeal to pathos is the additional determining factor that establishes that Thoreau believes that humans do whatever they can to achieve what they want, but this is rarely seen in a positive light and that is extremely ironic.

If this dedication and thirst towards a positive movement was seen, it is possible that one day, all injustice would be removed from the world. Instead, people use this determination and drive to sabotage, ruin and end lives. In the end, “action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine” (Thoreau 18). Greed and the desire to obtain more brings out the wicked nature in humans and this has continued to be a recurring occurrence over time.

The government is set in place so that citizens are kept in structure and so crime is avoided. The sad reality, however, is that crime increases with more force and control. Thoreau believes that, “government is best which governs least’ and that is counterintuitive and almost ironic (Thoreau 16). What is the point of having a government if it does more harm than good? It is argued that government is necessary because ‘the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have” (Thoreau 15).

However, the only times when the government has proven to be useful is when it did not extend its reach and invade in the personal lives of others. It is the respect for law that keeps its citizens away from doing things that are unlawful, but when there is no respect, all that is done is wrong. The fear of citizens knowing that there is nothing that the government can do to protect them is what instigates out lash. According to Thoreau, “governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage” (Thoreau 12). Humans were born selfish and will do whatever they can to steal and rob for name and power, the government is a perfect example of that.

It is the responsibility of a citizen to stand up for their rights; the whole purpose and reasoning behind a democracy is to have all voices heard. Because of the often “impure” intentions of the government, it important for all citizens to remain well informed and to take a stand. Thoreau utilizes his personal experiences from being in jail to express the amount of importance of speaking out and taking a stand. The reasons people are in jail are not always justified and do not make them who they are. Activists and others fighting for positive change often face the negative consequences of the law despite spending years waiting and fighting for change. Thoreau utilizes the emotion and drive behind speaking out in response to injustice to express that although there is wrong in the world, the drive of a single person can fix all the damage.

Civil disobedience is a result of the pressure to be obedient. Thoreau believes that humans act out because of greed and social pressure. Heinous acts are committed because of the expectations of others. Thoreau explains the level of pain and suffering that people put others through using the mentality that all humans possess to own and expand. The irony behind the establishment of law enforcement and government is what causes citizens to fight and lash out. Multiple instances in history have hinted towards the lack of control that humans pose over their actions and Thoreau utilizes this phenomenon to explain why people can truly never be estimated and controlled.

Cite this paper

Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. (2022, Feb 10). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/civil-disobedience-by-henry-david-thoreau/

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