civil disobedience summary
I should feel as if I were worth less in that case. But I think, again, this is no reason why I should do as they do, or permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind. Summary. "[66] During the Vietnam War, courts typically refused to excuse the perpetrators of illegal protests from punishment on the basis of their challenging the legality of the Vietnam War; the courts ruled it was a political question. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. [31] It has been argued that, while both civil disobedience and civil rebellion are justified by appeal to constitutional defects, rebellion is much more destructive; therefore, the defects justifying rebellion must be much more serious than those justifying disobedience, and if one cannot justify civil rebellion, then one cannot justify a civil disobedient's use of force and violence and refusal to submit to arrest. Even a good form of government is "liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it." Thoreau notes, however, that while jail was a critical experience for him, the rest of the world continues to operate as it had before he was imprisoned. In seeking an active form of civil disobedience, one may choose to deliberately break certain laws, such as by forming a peaceful blockade or occupying a facility illegally,[23] though sometimes violence has been known to occur. Pro Public and typically peaceful resistance to political power would remain an integral tactic in modern American minority rights politics. No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. Thoreau admits that, while this state would not be perfect, it would be a good and promising beginning of what’s to come. Thoreau does not believe well-spoken politicians make good legislators because, while there is an abundance of eloquent men in the nation, American laws currently lack truth and heroism. In other words, it is a way for the government to convince the people that its laws must be followed at all times, which has effectively made it hard for the people to question the ethics of the laws they follow. Thoreau spends time learning about the man and adjusting to the nuances of life in jail, a life that seems to exist apart from the world and society they live in. Thus, prison time is the state’s way of hiding its fragility. Other civil disobedients who favour the existence of government still do not believe in the legitimacy of their particular government, or do not believe in the legitimacy of a particular law it has enacted. In the morning, our breakfasts were put through the hole in the door, in small oblong-square tin pans, made to fit, and holding a pint of chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron spoon. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy. Because America revived the ancient Greek ideology of... Henry Thoreau- Civil Disobedience Pre-reading Questions Thoreau thinks that the most ethical and moral government is one that does not exist. This is Thoreau’s ultimate hope for the nation in advocating for civil disobedience. However, it can be seen as a starting act for an individual. Instant downloads of all 1368 LitChart PDFs If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man. "[74] Hoffman also asserted that while the "rules of the game" for protesters were to remain non-violent while breaking the law, the authorities must recognize that demonstrators are acting out of their conscience in pursuit of democracy. Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the church, and commanded me to pay a certain sum toward the support of a clergyman whose preaching my father attended, but never I myself. Civil disobedience is usually defined as pertaining to a citizen's relation to the state and its laws, as distinguished from a constitutional impasse, in which two public agencies, especially two equally sovereign branches of government, conflict. 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. Therefore, they must reclaim this right and act on it. After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. Soon after, he was let out to work at haying in a neighboring field, whither he went every day, and would not be back till noon; so he bade me good-day, saying that he doubted if he should see me again. This was focused on the illegitimacy of laws claimed to be "divine" in origin, both the "divine rights of kings" and "divine rights of man", and the legitimacy of laws acknowledged to be made by human beings. Thoreau suggests that the people of Massachusetts should not consider themselves related to revolutionary icons like Washington and Franklin if they rank issues of commerce over issues of freedom. He wasn't justifying breaking laws just because, but instead, meant that the law is broken in hopes that people... Selfish Disobedience? Thoreau portrays the American people sympathetically, arguing that because the American government makes it hard for them to criticize its actions, they know no better. To Thoreau, a “wise man” must take deliberate action to make freedom uncontestable. "[33] In his best-selling Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order,[34] Howard Zinn takes a similar position; Zinn states that while the goals of civil disobedience are generally non-violent, in the inevitable tension accompanying the transition from a violent world to a non-violent one, the choice of means will almost never be pure, and will involve such complexities that the simple distinction between violence and non-violence does not suffice as a guide ... the very acts with which we seek to do good cannot escape the imperfections of the world we are trying to change. I saw yet more distinctly the State in which I lived. SparkNotes is brought to you by Barnes & Noble. The forefathers of America fought incessantly against British tyranny to start anew in a land of freedom and opportunity. Once again, he suggests that this is an inacceptable way to be a good citizen in a nation as unjust as America. [58], Tim DeChristopher gave an allocution statement to the court describing the US as "a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience" and arguing, "Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice."[59]. This further illuminates his earlier point that the government’s actions are the result of a handful of powerful men in society and not the people at large. This forces Thoreau to conclude that, in the end, eloquent words won’t save America. On the Duty of CIVIL Disobedience I heartily accept the motto,—"That government is best which governs least;" and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. When I came out of prison,—for some one interfered, and paid the tax,—I did not perceive that great changes had taken place on the common, such as he observed who went in a youth, and emerged a gray-headed man; and yet a change had to my eyes come over the scene,—the town, and State, and country,—greater than any that mere time could effect. When the door was locked, he showed me where to hang my hat, and how he managed matters there. In other words, the laws fail to adequately make the nation a more just and fair place. If I could convince myself that I have any right to be satisfied with men as they are, and to treat them accordingly, and not according, in some respects, to my requisitions and expectations of what they and I ought to be, then, like a good Mussulman and fatalist, I should endeavor to be satisfied with things as they are, and say it is the will of God. I feel I did the right thing by violating this particular law; I am guilty as charged," but that pleading not guilty sends a message of, "Guilt implies wrong-doing. Thus, if the People’s actions are in line with God, it does not matter if they go against the government. Despite the short-term economic hardship to those undertaking this action, Boycott soon found himself isolated – his workers stopped work in the fields and stables, as well as in his house. The slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur. Posted by Nicole Smith, Dec 6, 2011 Non-Fiction Comments Closed Print. [35], Zinn rejects any "easy and righteous dismissal of violence", noting that Thoreau, the popularizer of the term civil disobedience, approved of the armed insurrection of John Brown. He makes this case to incite the people act, to convince them that their transgressions against the government are worth it so long as they are for justice. Consequently, Thoreau suggests that stopping the American Government’s practice of slavery and War is also a fight for the independence of his fellow citizens to be able to think, act, and decide for themselves what is right. Analysis and Summary of “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau. I think sometimes, Why, this people mean well; they are only ignorant; they would do better if they knew how: why give your neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to? Using this phrase as a metaphor in order to discuss the foundations of government, one can allude to the... America has long been recognized as a democratic nation, a nation operating under the will of the people. I may have violated some specific laws, but I am guilty of doing no wrong. Yet, compared with the cheap professions of most reformers, and the still cheaper wisdom and eloquence of politicians in general, his are almost the only sensible and valuable words, and we thank Heaven for him. "[29] By this definition, civil disobedience could be traced back to the Book of Exodus, where Shiphrah and Puah refused a direct order of Pharaoh but misrepresented how they did it. One theory is that, while disobedience may be helpful, any great amount of it would undermine the law by encouraging general disobedience which is neither conscientious nor of social benefit. His words are wisdom to those legislators who contemplate no essential reform in the existing government; but for thinkers, and those who legislate for all time, he never once glances at the subject. Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue; for money comes between a man and his objects, and obtains them for him; it was certainly no great virtue to obtain it. No: until I want the protection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant southern port, where my liberty is endangered, or until I am bent solely on building up an estate at home by peaceful enterprise, I can afford to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts, and her right to my property and life. Others advocate falling limp or resisting arrest, especially when it will hinder the police from effectively responding to a mass protest. But he that would save his life, in such a case, shall lose it. Some civil disobedients feel it is incumbent upon them to accept punishment because of their belief in the validity of the social contract, which is held to bind all to obey the laws that a government meeting certain standards of legitimacy has established, or else suffer the penalties set out in the law. And, above all, there is this difference between resisting this and a purely brute or natural force, that I can resist this with some effect; but I cannot expect, like Orpheus, to change the nature of the rocks and trees and beasts. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Summary: “Civil Disobedience” Henry David Thoreau’s “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” more commonly known as “Civil Disobedience,” originated as a Concord Lyceum lecture given in January 1848 as the Mexican-American War was winding down.


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