Saturday, September 17, 2011

Civil Disobedience: Thoreau

This will be the second time I have read Civil Disobedience by Thoreau. I think that this time I have a better understanding of what he was saying. Question: Was Thoreau the guy that went in the woods and out of society for a year or so to write? I believe it was him and if so it made sense because he did talk a LOT about nature. So I realized I could just Google this and I did and yes it was him, thank you Google.

In this text, I get the idea that he (Thoreau) greatly dislikes the government. In the first line he says: "That government is best which governs least." I could stop right here and say that is all that needs to be said because it does pretty much sum up the text, but if you take a closer look I think that Thoreau is calling out to be people to take action rather than just talk about what you want to do. For example in Part 1 in section 10 towards the end ("There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery...") he says basically that if you say you disagree with slavery, that's cool and all, but you have to take an action against it so that people will hear you.

One thing that I'd like to point out is that the title of this work is called "Civil Disobedience" and Thoreau definitely tells people to go out and break the law. I found that rather humorous, but of course he said if the law caused you to cause harm on someone else then don't do it, but if you look outside the context clues, it's kinda like hmm.. really? He goes on these tan-gits in the text that are strictly in question form normally towards the end of a section. These questions are quite thought-provoking elements that enhance the overall tone created by the author for the reader. 

While reading this, I pictured this guy in my head that was standing around smoking a cigarette just rambling on and on about the government and how they are behind all the bad things happening in the world. I got this sense of "smart-ass" (excuse my French) from him, especially in Part 2 page 8 and 9, "..The State, having thus learned that I did not wish to be regarded as a member of that church, have neer made a like demand on me since; though it said that it must adhere to its original presumption that time. If I had known how to name them, I should then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I never signed on to; but I did not know where to find a complete list." How funny is that? At least I giggled while I read that. 

Lastly, there is one thing in here that reminds me of Emerson, in Part 2 towards the end he says, "I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society." That just sounded so much like Emerson when he was talking about giving a dollar to the poor. 

Lastly, #2: At the end he says "If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies: and so a man." Now my question is what is a man's nature?


  1. My only comment for your blog is about the last paragraph where you mention the nature of a plant and a man. I think in that sentence he is pointing out that a man needs to live reasonably in a state of nature (the theme that Mrs. Freeman said would be recurring throughout romanticism.) The main theme of the paper, particularly in the beginning is that the best government is one that does not govern at all, a statement about how man should be somewhat in a state of nature, without the government interfering. If the government interferes with man, like a foreign ecosystem can interfere with a plant, they will both die.

  2. Huzzah for Google! : ) I enjoy the part about the list of societies, too. And the question remains...what is the nature of man?

  3. Well I think the nature of man is still a mystery, but little by little we are slowly uncovering that man in nature is not so good. Maybe another piece of literature will change my mind again, but as of right now.. man=bad, haha.