Essay about Citizenship and Government in Henry Thoreau's Civil Disobedience

Essay about Citizenship and Government in Henry Thoreau's Civil Disobedience

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Citizenship and Government in Henry Thoreau's Civil Disobedience


Philosophers, historians, authors, and politicians have spent centuries pondering the relationship between citizens and their government. It is a question that has as many considerations as there are forms of government and it is rarely answered satisfactorily. A relatively modern theorist, author Henry Thoreau, introduced an idea of man as an individual, rather than a subject, by thoroughly describing the way a citizen should live many of his works. He indirectly supplements the arguments he presents in his essay Civil Disobedience through a comprehensive selection of adages found in his other works. In particular, the phrases "A simple and independent mind does not toil at the bidding of any prince" and "To be awake is to be alive. I have never met a man who is quite awake" support many of the arguments in Civil Disobedience because they help to explicate the complex ideas Thoreau presents.

The phrase "A simple and independent mind does not toil at the bidding of any prince" regards the responsibilities of a man to his own consciousness—it is a duty that can not be revoked by any form of tyrant.

Rather than hinting at a type of anarchy, this statement merely describes each man’s duty to performing justice in all his actions. This does not refer to any "man’s duty... to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support" (681). The term "simple" does not refer to an underdeveloped sense of morality; it describes a state of mind in which the conc...


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...efly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad" (683). Although this concept is not a particularly unique one, it is nearly impossible to fulfill completely—but to fulfill it partially is useless. As a living being, one must "cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence" (684). To truly be alive, one must be consciously satisfied with every passing moment. Through his conscientious support of every facet of his philosophy, Thoreau effectively proves his statements regarding citizenship and government. He remains consistent to nearly every idea he presents and therefore surrounds them with a seriousness that cannot be ignored.

Bibliography

Thoreau, Henry. "Civil Disobedience." Elements of Argument: A text and Reader. Ed. Annette T. Rottenberg. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. 463-466.

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