Thoreau: On Civil Disobedience
I found Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience very convincing and well written. Even though this was written over 150 years ago, its ideas can still be applied today. It also tied in nicely with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s letter from Birmingham Jail. One of Thoreau's big points is that the government is best which governs least. This nonconsequentialist point of view that is centered around liberty is still followed today by many. He makes several points as to why governments should control as little as possible. If government becomes too involved, it is likely to be overused and used incorrectly by its citizens. People begin to think that the government thinks and acts for the people, and the citizens (in this case, Americans) are allowed to stop thinking and acting because the government can do it. We tend to think that we can just vote for somebody and then our job is done.
American citizens often also think that once they vote for somebody, that somebody begins to think for them. We surrender our beliefs and conscience to the elected person. If we do this, then we become useless and selfish.
Thoreau also discusses how so many people are "in opinion" opposed to things such as slavery, but in effect they do nothing to put an end to them. This still happens in today's societies, when people complain about the government or war but do nothing about it. "...but they do nothing in earnest and with effecst. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret." (p. 164)
Towards the end of the essay, he states once again: "The authority of government...is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property..." This is summed up and supported clearly throughout the essay.