Civilian Disobedience

High School ・Political Science ・MLA ・1 Sources

Argument for Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience

 Thoreau argues that the government of the day derives legitimacy and power through the majority vote, but this does not make it legitimate in its practices. He affirms that in most cases, the government misuses the power gained from the masses for its selfish gains and interest. According to Thoreau, the sole responsibility of the state is to represent the wishes of the electorates. In light of the above argument, I agree with Thoreau that sometimes the government misuses its power to initiate laws and legislation that only favor it but not the people (Thoreau 11). The examples given by the activist such as the government support on the slavery and Mexican war provides a clear picture that the state was only serving its self-interest. In most cases, the legislators and the government have not been seen to seek the opinion of the subjects or initiating a referendum to pass particular laws that are essential to the people. Thoreau is, therefore, right to assert that the government may misuse it powers for selfish gains (Thoreau 11).

 Henry Thoreau also argues that the people have no business with the unjust government and they have no obligation to cooperate with it. He further noted that a citizen is not obligated or indebted to dedicate his/her life to eliminate evils that exist in the world but he/she has a duty of not participating in such evils. With this argument, he urges his opponents not to cooperate with the unjust process, in doing so, they would be part of the unfair system (Thoreau 7). I fully agree with Thoreau in the sense that when a citizen feels that actions of government do not represent his/her interest, then they should not support such a state. The citizen should only dine with a clean government, and if the unjust government is assisted by the people through cooperation such as paying taxes; then the government will not heed to their demand but will continue to be unreasonable. A point to note is that by refusing to cooperate with the discussed government, the citizen is counted as righteous, and they are set free from the government evils (Thoreau 7).

 Henry Thoreau affirms that civil disobedience is the best and the practical way of making the unjust government efficient and responsible. He further points out that the only language that the government listens to is the civil disobedience. He dismisses the role of voting and petitions in initiating the reforms in the government (Thoreau 17). I concur with the above sentiments in the sense that the voting and petitions are gradual and bureaucratic processes; thereby making them lack immediate solutions to the citizen’s challenges. On the same note, if the government is unjust then it will compromise the two mentioned legal methods in bringing reforms. The use of civil disobedience would have a profound effect on the state and compel it to respond to the demands of the subjects (Thoreau 7). For instance, if a large number of citizens refuse to pay tax for about a week, the government would be unable to function, and this will force them to respond to the people’s grievances and agitations.  From this argument, it is clear that Thoreau was right to claim that the civil disobedience is the best means of forcing the unjust government to allow the reforms and radicalizations to take place.

Argument against Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience

 The arguments of the Henry Thoreau of imploring citizens to refuse to pay tax as a way of compelling the unjust government to undergo reforms is not appropriate. In fact, it portrays the activist as an anarchist. According to the constitution of each democratic nation, all subjects are obligated by the law to pay tax and failure to comply would lead to criminal and legal charges. With this regards, Thoreau was urging his supports to embrace and engage in an unlawful act (Thoreau 7). In a confirmation that the action of Thoreau was illegal, he was arrested and spent the night in prison for refusing to pay government taxes, and if his friend did not pay for him the tax, he would have rotten in jail. All citizens have an obligation of respecting and obeying the constitution which is the supreme law. The same document provides a clear guideline to be followed by those who are not satisfied with the actions and performances of the government. Notably, failure to pay tax is not among the solutions provided by the constitution to be utilized when a country is faced with the unjust government. In light of this argument, Thoreau was right to argue that people should not cooperate with the unjust government but he fails to provide legal ways to be used by his supporters to make the government of the day more responsible (Thoreau 6). From this argument, I, therefore, find Henry Thoreau to be an anarchist and differ with his idea of misleading the public.

 Another area that makes me differ with Thoreau is when he argues that the abolition of unjust government can be achieved through civil disobedience. He further noted that the citizen has an obligation of rebelling and carrying out a revolution against the government that does not represent the will of the people (Thoreau 4). I do not agree with the above opinion of the activist in the sense that it is needless to rebel and abolition the unjust government through the use of the civil disobedience and yet there are other recommended and legal means of abolishing the government. The citizen that are not satisfied with the state performances or actions can carry out a referendum by signing the required number of the petitions. As such, provides them with a legal means of sending the unjust government out of leadership. Besides, the electorate can use the ballot to vote against the unreasonable government (Thoreau 23). A point to note is that in the most democratic nations, the voting has been one of the effective and efficient ways of registering the voices of the people against the unjust government. Instead for people to engage in the abolition of the state through use the civil disobedience, they should focus their energy on advocating for a just and fair electoral process to ensure that their voices have been heard through the election (Thoreau 18). Furthermore, the subjects can use their elected legislators such as Congress to air and vent their views to the government. And if the government is adamant to listen to their grievances through Congress, they can still push their representative in parliament to pass a vote of no confidence to the unjust regime. It is, therefore, inappropriate to use the civil disobedience in abolishing the unfair government when there are other better ways.

Work Cited

Thoreau, Henry D. Civil Disobedience and Other Essays. Dover Publication, INC., 2012.

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