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Civil Disobedience

There is a lot to understand and learn from this pamphlet-sized essay. Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’ is an abstract text with equally abstract concepts and best read with an open and critical mind.

“There will never be a really free and enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would think it consistent with its own repose, if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellowmen.” – Henry David Thoreau, ‘Civil Disobedience’

In the past two days, I have read and re-read Thoreau’s essay ‘Civil Disobedience’, written as a result of the night he spent in jail for refusing to pay his taxes, out of principle, since he declined to fund a government that encouraged slavery and the Mexican War.

Published in 1849, the main idea of Thoreau’s discourse is to let the individual be guided by their conscience as opposed to being guided by the state that governs them. Thus, one has a right to peacefully protest and resist against an unjust system. Thoreau also explores the idea of “majority”, how it merely implies strength in quantity; hence, one has to think for themselves and follow what is morally and conscientiously virtuous. From Mahatma Ghandi to Martin Luther King Jr. to Alice Paul, Thoreau’s idea has inspired social change over the course of history.

There is a lot to understand and learn from this pamphlet-sized essay. Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’ is an abstract text with equally abstract concepts and best read with an open and critical mind. At year 2020, it still continues to be relevant. It is worth reading.

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