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Transcript of Civil Disobedience
Henry David Thoreau
Section Four: Politicians and the People
1) Although he has great respect and admiration for the American government, he believes that the "parts" of the "machinery" have failed to recognize the faults of the government and have failed to learn lessons from the only two purest sources - The Bible and The Constitution, and only the people outside the government can see the Truth.
2) Democracy is not the last step of the American government; there is always room for improvements, where the government interferes the least, and this is only possible when the State begins to recognize the rights and supremacy of an individual.
"Statesmen and legislators, standing so completely within the institution, never distinctly and nakedly behold it... They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand and wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humanity; but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, grid up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage towards its fountainhead. For eighteen hundred years I have no right to say it, the New Testament has been written; yet where is the legislator who has wisdom and practical talent enough to avail himself of the light which it sheds on the science of legislation" (Paragraphs 40-43).
Analysis of the Quote
Thoreau begins by praising the parts of the American government "machinery" - the legislators, politicians, and statesmen, but then he goes on by saying that these people are unable to criticize the government because they are so closely linked to it. Only the people outside the government, as in the citizens, would be truthfully able to see its faults. He cites effective references from the Bible, portraying strong romantic and naturalist imagery. His usage of metaphorical language emphasizing that all wise men "drink" from the source of truth, which is a "stream [that] comes trickling into this lake or pool" depicts a strong transcendentalist belief that God can be found in nature.
a system used to control and make decisions for a country, state, etc.
Section One : Government and Democracy
1) Thoreau states his distrust for the government although the democratic government is the voice of “the people” the power is abused before people can benefit from it. He presents the theory of majority rule, on which democracy is theoretically founded, also speaking of majority not always choosing what is morally right.
2)The government lends itself to corrupt uses since it only allows a few select of men to impose their will on the majority and gain economically from their position of authority.
“That government is best which governs least…. The government itself, which is only the mode which people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the Mexican War…. When the power is once in the hands of the people , a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue to rule not because they are most likely to be in the right, but because they are physically stronger.” (Paragraphs 1-5)
Thoreau begins with irony using it as a motto throughout the essay. The government is the only way we as regular citizens can get our problems and points in society out to the world. He then uses a current event during the time period the, Mexican war. Presenting an example in which the government forces our nation into the war due to the desire for land. This war is not supported by many Americans due abuse of the morality of other human beings. Then he speaks of the majority , saying that one is more concerned with social rank rather than moral rights of the humans in our nation.
Do we as Americans still have a problem with majority and minority in our government?
Is a democracy, such we know it, the last improvement possible in the government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of men? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as higher and independent power and authority are arrived, and treats him accordingly... A State which bore this kind of fruit and suffered it to drop off as fast as it repined, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious state, which I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen." (Paragraph 44).
Analysis of the Quote
Thoreau utilizes rhetorical questions to fabricate a sense of urgency amongst his readers and to guide them to agree to his rejection of the authority. The usage of these questions indicates that he is not expecting a response from his readers, but he is only seeking to assist them vision the same "perfect" government that he idealizes. Furthermore, his usage of a metaphor implies that he believes that the state will only flourish if it is able to be respectful towards every citizen and their individual rights. Thoreau concludes his essay on an utopian note, indicating that his vision of a "perfect" political system is not yet witnessed in the American government.
Section Two: The Resistance to Civil Government
Section Three: A Night in Prison
“All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable” (Paragraph 9).
Analysis of Quote
Transcendental ideologies emerge from experiments showing the power of nature and the importance of non-conformity. Thoreau was dissatisfied with the society at this time, and he didn’t believe that it has the right to be oppressed. He says that every man recognizes the rights of revolution because he believed that a man disgraces himself by associating with a government that treats its people unfairly. He was a non-conformist; therefore, he did not subject himself to regulations.
“I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best as they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to nature, it dies; and so a man” (Paragraph 24).
Thoreau compares an acorn and a chestnut falling to the ground and doing what their nature does, obeying its own laws with that of man vs. nature. He used the acorn and the chestnut to substitute the government and man. His idea is to show that if man does not live according to what man was born for, then he will not survive, just like a plant can’t survive if it cannot adapt. This is exactly what Transcendental beliefs are, non-conformity and living by nature. He uses antithesis to make a connection between men vs. government and a chestnut vs. an acorn, to show that men should not live under corrupt authorities but make liberty for themselves.
Analysis of the Quote
“I ask for, not once no government, but at once for a better government….. But a government in which the majority rules in all cases can’t be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience.” (Paragraph 4-5)
Thoreau speaks of the power of the people, presenting the theory of majority. When the power is in the hands of the people, majority rules, although most times their decisions aren’t always best for our nation as a whole. Most of our “Majority” are persuaded, threatened, or scared into this party. Some even chose the majority class to increase social rank, not listening to their own thoughts. Then Thoreau ends with a rhetorical question wondering when the opposite party can also decide right from wrong.
Since you are a citizen who is "outside" the American institution, what are your opinions about the American government? Do you think that our government can be changed into the one that Thoreau had imagined?
*This question has no right or wrong answers; it is just merely an opinion based question.
The Ideological criticism method looks to beliefs, values, attitudes, and visions of particular aspects of the world. It points to the way the civilization views certain topics and often challenges it status quo. In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau's sole purpose is to emphasize the need to prioritize one's conscience over the dictates of law. His essay is intended to motivate and encourage the citizens to institute a better government and the state to respect an individual. He uses transcendentalist ideologies of criticism of conformity and rejection of authority of the government.
Moral responsibility is the status of morally deserving praise, blame, reward, or punishment for an act or omission, in accordance with one's moral obligations.
Moral responsibility is one of the main attributes Thoreau believes the government is missing. He mentions that we as people “should be men first and subjects later.” Civil disobedience is an expression of individual conscience and morality. Thoreau does not believe in settling questions of fundamental moral importance by majority opinion. Instead we should not be scared to have the right to assume.
Justice and Law
Justice creates a sense of innocence in the essay which is what Thoreau is seeking. He asks “But a government in which majority rule in all cases can’t be based on justice.” As citizens we should want just treatment of all in our society. But “it is not desirable to cultivate a respect law.”
1) Thoreau realizes that the incarceration he receives is useless since his thoughts are more threatening to the state. The government's only advantage is "superior physical strength" which avoids moral and intellectual authority.
2) Thoreau acknowledges that it is unattainable to deprive the government of tax dollars for the specific policies that one wishes to oppose.
"[The State] did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it.
Thus the state never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior with or honesty, but with superior physical strength" (Paragraph 23-24).
1) Thoreau rejected authority because he refused to disgrace himself by submitting to regulations and authority.
2) He declares that his statesmen are hypocritical because they say they do not support slavery yet they help trade them. Also, He believes that if man does not connect himself with nature, he will die, like a plant not connected with nature.
Thoreau starts out by using an evident tone to clarify his positions towards the authority. Not only did he express his civil disobedience but identified much of the government's desire to reject the conscience of society. He then points out that a man's ethics is also an importance to the American government, which then opposes authorities regulation of incarceration of man's truth and body.
Analysis of the Quote
Analysis of the Quote
Thoreau begins be presenting his refusal of paying poll taxes from the Mexican war. This directly shows a sense of acceptance of the government's flaws. Although Thoreau did exclude himself from government oppression, he then spent a night in prison for punishment which later on stimulates an intimate view of his town and it's institutions.
"I have paid no poll tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night" (Paragraph 23).
He insists the citizens to agree with him that voting is not the the proper solution to obtain justice; they must take an action and follow their own conscience instead of going by the majority. He further asserts that each individual must "wash off his hands" from injustice and not follow what is wrong.