Self-Reliance and Good Citizenship in Henry David Thoreau's Essay, Civil Disobedience

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Self-Reliance and Good Citizenship

Civil Disobedience is an essay by Henry David Thoreau on the place of civil disobedience in society. It analyzes men in society, the folly of majority and most importantly of all, it analyzes good citizenship. It looks at what it means to be a good citizenship and the most recurring theme is self-reliance. He discusses obedience to principle, independence from the government, and intolerance of injustice, which are all just kinds of self-reliance. Self-Reliance produces good citizenship.

Obedience to principle produces good citizenship. Throughout Civil Disobedience, this idea is a recurring theme and one of the first that Thoreau addresses. When discussing the idea of surrendering the conscience to the legislature he says, “Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward”(Thoreau 387). He makes the distinction between subjects, those who surrender their consciences, and men, who heed their consciences and judge for themselves. Essentially, he states that our consciences are what define our manhood and that the individual must take it into their own hands instead of leaving it to an unjust government. He reinforces this point by likening those who submit without regard for their own consciences to “movable forts or magazines”. He further elaborates by saying, “ The only obligation, which I have the right to assume is to do at anytime what I think is right”(Thoreau 387). Thoreau places critical thinking and principle over blindly following what is dictated by the government. By taking control of their will, men make it impossible to be governed unjustly and can bring about a more just society. This reliance on themselves to know what is righ...

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...action. These are the men who prevent society from progressing because they refuse to take a stand. Being unable to put up with injustice is important to good citizenship because without men taking action, nothing would change or get better.

Individualism composes good citizenship. All of the points in Civil Disobedience boil down to that one argument. In order to be a good citizen, one must be independent and rely on themselves for decision-making, support, and carrying out justice. Although this is a radical claim, it rings true for ours and many other modern societies. Men are all too willing to submit without thought or consideration, and their actions are feebly and half-hearted. Men are no longer men. Thoreau's words are words that should be held close in the hearts of everyone, because as long as there are governments, there are men who need to hear them.

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