Critical Paper 1.
March 6th, 2019
In the essay “Civil Disobedience”, philosopher David Thoreau voices his opinions on what he thinks is wrong with the American government and the roles its citizens need to play to see the change they desire. Being viewed as a “radical individual” and a “transcendentalist”, Thoreau prided himself on idealism over materialism, meaning that he believed in the practice of forming and pursuing ideas which could sometimes be unrealistic in opposition to material possessions and physical comfort, which points to fact that he urges citizens to be resistant to government laws. In addition, his response was that “government is best which governs least” (Thoreau 1) meaning that the true test and strength of the government lies in the people which they govern. He believes that the government should not intervene in the lives of its citizens. He believes that the government is only responsible for doing what is necessary which is to serve and to protect us, not to invade our personal lives. He believes that if the government deviates from creating laws that are not connected to our well-being and safety, then it is not the right kind of government.
Thoreau, who did not believe in ignoring society’s crime, spoke out about slavery. In his book Walden ,Thoreau argues that man was meant to find his own destiny and spiritual meaning without having to conform to the pressure of society. This means that he found slavery to be innately unethical stating how cruel it was that one man could be owned by another. He writes “worst of all; slavery when you are the slave driver of yourself look at the team master son the highway… see how he cowers and sneaks, how vaguely all day he fears, not being immortal nor divine, but the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself…” (Thoreau, Walden). What he means by this statement is that society feared the public opinions of men rather than slavery itself. He believed that slavery was very cruel and evil but was still viewed and accepted as normal. He helped by smuggling people who escaped from slavery to freedom through the underground railroad which led him to be disgusted with the way the government was still involved in slavery. He stated that “I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also” (Thoreau 4) meaning he showed contempt toward those who proclaimed to be against slavery but in the same fashion participate in the trade that supports it. He also advises in his regard to anti-slavery that those who want to end slavery should withdraw their support both “in person and in property from the government”.
In addition to being anti-slavery, Thoreau also discusses what the duty of a citizen should be. He states that “let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect” (Thoreau 2) meaning each individual citizen is responsible...