American Lit./Comp. Period 4
November 20, 2014
The Essay: Civil Disobedience
In the essay by Henry David Thoreau, rightly named “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau goes against the government of the United States. He gives us the “proper” advice for being a good citizen. As all people have their own opinions on how to be a good citizen, Thoreau’s is very… drastic. Even so, many points that he makes are correct. He goes against the government, the military and the ruling of majority, and even goes as far as to advise us to break the law. They are fairly agreeable opinions, and there are three reasons why anyone should join his side, but there are also reasons to disagree with his criticisms.
In the first section of this essay, Thoreau talks about the government. He claims that
“That government is best which governs not at all.” (1) Simply put, he thinks that the government should only do what they MUST. The government should only be able to do what is imperatively necessary, and not whatever it pleases. I, for one, agree with this. The government seems to think that its power is an excuse for it to do whatever it wants. After all, America is a
Democracy, and it should reside within the decisions of the PEOPLE to choose what the government should be able to do. Though, it is true that sometimes the government may know what is better for the country than its citizens, we should still be able to have a weighty influence over the decisions that it makes that would affect us in the long run. But what of the conscience of man?
Most people would agree with the fact that majority rules. Thoreau, however, does not.
Thoreau states that “a government in which the majority rule in all cases can not be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.” (1) He speaks highly of the conscience of man, saying that it is what makes us human, and that we should be men first, and subjects later. He brings up the military in this, saying that they do not go with their conscience, and what they think is right, but that they “serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies.”
(Thoreau 2) In his opinion, the men of the military go against their own conscience just to serve the man in power. I agree with him, but not fully. I think that men should go with their conscience, as it is what stands us apart from the animals of the world. We should do and act in a way that we think is right, and not just because we are told to do so. We should follow the morals set for us by our common sense, and use that to decide if something is just or unjust, and not just follow the majority. Even though I feel he is correct on this, my agreement only goes so far. I think that if a man joins the army, he is doing it because he wants to fight for what he believes to be right. Yes, he follows the orders of those above him, but he does it because he is following his own conscience. Even so, if a man or woman in the military didn’t feel like what they were doing is right, they have every right and ability to leave the military to pursue their own conscience and idea