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Transcript of Civil Disobedience
"I cannot for an instant recognize that ... government which is the
Men recognize right of revolution, but rarely when need to use it.
Situational irony, 'friction in the machine', 'great evil'
Paragraphs Five and Six
The second half of the fourth paragraph uses both logic and allusions to various wars to show that government in general is not just.
Law does not make men more just, it simply gives them incentive to obey the conscience of the powerful.
Therefore, if (and when) the conscience of those in power suggests injustice, the public is provided incentive to act unjustly.
Allusions to war and death of the common man
Presents the idea that government dehumanizes man
The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna
Paragraph Four Continued
The fourth paragraph is an extensive and logical approach to the justice of democracy.
Democracy states that a majority will always rule because it is the strongest, not because it is the most just.
Government creates its own system of right and wrong
Therefore, in a government of the majority, conscience of the strong presides over the actions and conscience of the weak and unfavored. Democracy is unjust.
Thoreau then continues to explain that all of the previously mentioned injustice is not necessary
Rule of expediency
"Why has every man a conscience, then?"
"It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right."
The third paragraph is a short and direct call to action
"I ask for, not at once no government, but
a better government."
"Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect..."
Supports conversion of government to true democracy, as opposed to representative democracy
By Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau uses deductive logic, allusion, and metaphor to emphasize the importance of conscience in government.
with vague opinionated statements which are gradually explained throughout the essay
"Government is best which governs least" / "That government is best which governs not at all"
"Government is at best but an expedient ... and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient."
Allusion to Mexican War
General themes presented:
Conscience and lack of conscience in government
Power of majority
The futility of overgrown government
Thoreau begins his case for the inefficiency and futility of modern government in the second paragraph
Characterizes American government as an ever-deteriorating tradition
Wooden gun / government comparison
Presents the idea that some people must 'satisfy that idea of government which they have'.
Government does not do anything, it only impacts progress by how quickly it can 'move out of the way'
Trade / rubber comparison
Extended metaphor and government official / railroad criminal comparison
Thoreau continues logical discussion on dehumanization and lack of conscience in government.
People serve the government as machines, not as people
Repeated comparison between man and objects
Biblical allusion concerning immorality of officials
Few men serve the state with their conscience, and are often deemed as enemies. (reformers, martyrs, patriots)
Thoreau states that government's and society's expectation of the people is skewed.
Paragraphs Seven and Eight
Paragraphs Nine and Ten
The ninth paragraph is an extended allusion that references Paley, another social philosopher who suggested the rule of expediency.
"cost what it may"
The Revenger's Tragedy
The tenth paragraph begins speculation on the ineffectiveness of voting and lack of action in society.
Slavery and Mexican war allusions / cost what it may
"I quarrel not with far-off foes..."
Paragraphs Eleven and Twelve
These paragraphs emphasize the need for action, as opposed to following the system for change.
for the right
nothing for it."
Thoreau implies that people will only vote to do away with injustices (slavery is used as an example) that they benefit from, because they know voting will do little to change the system. He states that a wise man would rise and act against injustice, but a virtuous man would not.
Thoreau comes to the unspoken conclusion that in order to be moral in government, one must obey immoral laws. But in order to be free of immoral laws, one must act immorally.
Paragraph Thirteen and Concluding Thoughts
Thoreau concludes by discussing some illogical circumstances that were brought about by government in his time.
A man states that he would defy orders to join the draft, but he pays for his 'replacement' in taxes
Soldiers who refuse to serve in unjust wars are celebrated by those who put up with the very government that makes the war
The state that wages war accepts this disobedience, almost as though it acknowledges its wrongs
Thoreau's final sentence embodies the underlying theme of lack of conscience in government.
"After the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made."
Following Thoreau's logic, because it is not possible to have a conscientious government, there should be no government.