Importance of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau: Empowering Citizens for Just Governance

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Henry's essay on civil disobedience was established in 1849 as a form of resistance to poor governance. It is one of the most important works in American history as it deals with the rights as well as the responsibilities of citizens in view of the government. The essay has been used to legalize efforts to peaceful protests and resistance so as to cause a government change in the government policies that are found to be unjust and are at times used to completely change the government. He argues that the first duty of each and every citizen is to do what they identify as right and not to pursue what is stated by the law of the common. In cases where the government is unjust, the citizens should refuse to follow the law and isolate themselves from the government. A person is thus not responsible for eliminating evil in the society, but rather the citizens are compelled refute from taking place in these evils. This involves one not being a member of an unfair organization such as the government. He goes on ahead to argue that the United States fits into this category of having an unfair control, given its participation in slavery and in its practice of the violent war. He, therefore, demands civil disobedience from his fellow citizens so as to correct the errors of the government in relation to the war of his time. This disobedience remains to be important to the present day. Civil disobedience is therefore crucial in ensuring that the government does not surpass border in its role.

Civil disobedience is important as it supports the various concerns within the state's government. It is therefore carried out as a response to some of the breakdown in the system for the citizen's involvement in the decision-making process. This breakdown is viewed as a democratic deficit and with such deficit in the state; it may be inevitable to have a dialogue on real democracies. The disobedience carried out to correct these deficits may be viewed as reflectors to the varying degrees of the citizen's sensitivity to democratic models. Civil disobedience thus remains to be a very vibrant portion of the liberal democracies. Civil disobedience is therefore always a matter of disparity of wellbeing in the society. it is always caused by an infringement of the moral principles by the government and defends these standards by undertaking the acts of disobedience. The only way to prevent these acts of disobedience is through making the laws of the people to support not only the wellbeing of the majority but rather it takes into consideration the importance of other people's well being too.

In support of Henry's view, the true nobility is attained from civil disobedience, according to the validation of the individual, to government's unfair policy rather than the scheme disagreement, attached to social obedience. One of the key reasons as to Henry's reach for this conclusion, it is connected with the occurrences of slavery and the Mexican war which is coupled with United States of America (Thoreau 3).

His view of civil disobedience was just a means of creating awareness on the people of the main reasons as to why they ought not to settle for less than an ideal government. His work is a reminder that it is the responsibility of the citizens to throw away a substandard government. His view thus touches on the subject of the many reasons why citizens should choose to do nothing about a government that they are not satisfied with. It is thus an important and well known political action to American citizens in fighting against slavery as well as segregation. The people are given the freedom to rule themselves in the manner pleasing to them. According to Henry, a man who works hard at any ruling organization's bidding merely because it requires him to do so, gives up his individual services as a man. This kind of man, therefore, becomes nothing more than just a mere man who commands no respect than other common men (Bankston 6).

He strongly believes that the government should not be solely ruled by the minority simply because they are physically strong, but rather they should be governed by conscience. This is quite true in the contemporary world as people have allowed the government to be ruled by people who have no conscience. This is clearly evident in the manner through which the government cares about money rather than the citizens (Bankston 10). With this kind of government, it is important to not govern at all. Hence for a society to be free from the poor form of governance they also have a part to play. All members of the society should be willing and capable of doing the right thing considering that they are doing it for the well being of the community. However, Henry asserts s that the government is important in resolving conflicts and matters of the state but people ought to submit only to the government which has the consent and sanction of its citizens (Bankston 6).

According to Henry, citizens who have a good sense of right and wrong should actively go up against unfair government policies. He thus advocates for the use of non-violent resistance such as refusing to pay taxes as Henry did (Carton 108). They should also be ready to go to jail rather than give way to dissolute and disreputable government laws as well as activities. Slavery is one of the evil institutions that ought to be abolished in a country. The Mexican war was an unfair conflict since it is being fought so as to get hold of new territory in which to create slavery. Talk is considered not important as far as the unjust government is concerned. It is thus important for actions to be used so as to back up the talks. It is of little importance to just say that one is against an unfair government policy and totally does nothing so as to get rid of that policy. However, supporting one's words with actions that inflict hardship on the intended institution will yield the intended results. Citizens must, therefore, oppose efforts through groups that encourage personal selfish interests at the expense of fairness, moral values, and individual rights (St. Jean 341).

Nevertheless, it is quite important to note that Henry is not advocating for the citizens to simply deny the existence of unfair laws. Henry identifies that the people must be willing to pay for the cost of their actions. Though Thoreau's view is unsafe if universalized, it is much more benevolent if people are only opposing unfair laws. For unfair laws are usually themselves autocratic. Henry thus does not distinguish the moral authority of the unjust government and hence goes on ahead to advocate for the citizens to disobey them. However, he does recognize their legal authority and thus accepts his consequences through going to jail (Thoreau 1).

To sum it up, the best government is one that has rigorously limited powers. It should thus use powers not only to undertake ethical and fair activities for their citizens. Unluckily, divisions of controlling self-interest groups sometimes control the government into undertaking out actions that upset the sense of right and wrong for decent citizens. Henry believes that each and every man has an inborn knowledge that allows him or her to distinguish and identify with the moral truth without the benefit of awareness attained from the physical intellect. The moral principle used in his view on civil disobedience, therefore, has influenced human rights defenders across the globe. People can thus abide by the laws of the state only if they are just and when the leaders are at the forefront to uphold the moral principles and values of citizen guided by their consciences. With this kind of attitude, the country will be a good place for all of the people to live in as equality and fairness will be the order of the day.

Work cited

Thoreau, Henry David. ""Walden, and On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience."" (2009).

Bankston, III, Carl L. ""Thoreau's Case for Political Disengagement."" Modern Age, vol. 52, no. 1, Winter2010, pp. 6-13. EBSCOhost,

Carton, Evan. ""The Price of Privilege."" American Scholar, vol. 67, no. 4, Sept. 1998, p. 105. EBSCOhost,

Thoreau, Henry D. ""Civil Disobedience."" Civil Disobedience, 06 Jan. 2009, p. 1. EBSCOhost,

St. Jean, Shawn. ""Thoreau's Radical Consistency."" Massachusetts Review, vol. 39, no. 3, Sept. 1998, p. 341. EBSCOhost,

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Importance of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau: Empowering Citizens for Just Governance. (2018, Dec 29). Retrieved May 30, 2024 , from

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