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On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

Henry David Thoreau

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    Henry David Thoreau was a prolific writer, born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817, and died at the way-too-early age of 44 in 1862. Though he is best known for his book Walden and this present volume, he actually wrote more than twenty volumes collectively. But it is not just his writings, it is his being that has carried his name and great respect down through the ages. I say this very infrequently, but he is one of the few authors I would have truly liked as a person, simply because he was such an inherently good person. All he stood for, his life philosophy, resonates with mine and those like me, such as Dane Wigington, who have devoted their lives to service, simplicity and are deeply connected to Nature. Here is a quote from Wikipedia.

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 - May 6, 1862) was an American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher. A leading transcendentalist, he is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay "Civil Disobedience" (originally published as "Resistance to Civil Government"), an argument in favor of peaceful disobedience against an unjust state.

    Thoreau's ideas and philosophies are unquestionably those whose time has come, even more so, perhaps, than in his pre-civil war era. In fact, those who do not opt to live as he prescribed will find themselves unable to survive, if anyone survives what is coming. I strongly suggest reading Walden. Thoreau's works are available from Project Gutenberg for free. Here is his general page. Thoreau also influenced other great spiritual/philosophical leaders, such as Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. And certainly as with Gandhi, he was known for his profound humility. His philosophy of "voluntary poverty" is indeed one to which I adhere. Those who continue to believe that money and material wealth will save them from what's coming are in for a massive shock. Here is another quote from Wikipedia that illustrates these comments.

Thoreau's books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry amount to more than 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions are his writings on natural history and philosophy, in which he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern-day environmentalism. His literary style interweaves close observation of nature, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings, and historical lore, while displaying a poetic sensibility, philosophical austerity, and attention to practical detail. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay; at the same time he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life's true essential needs.

    And another quote, which is the situation we are in now, but sadly, since our government is not capable of being better, it will continue its degeneration until it no longer exists. People or institutions that resort to bullying are revealing their underlying impotence. As societal collapse continues at blinding speed, we will soon, without a doubt, find ourselves living in an anarchy.

Thoreau is sometimes referred to as an anarchist. In "Civil Disobedience", Thoreau wrote: "I heartily accept the motto,—'That government is best which governs least;' and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—'That government is best which governs not at all;' and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. . . . But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."

    He also had little regard for voting. Today, many of us have NO regard for voting at all. Corporations and the CIA decide who will be president, and corporations and the Global Elite make (or rather, pay for) all policies and decisions passed into law by our "elected" officials. Wikipedia says:

He exhorts people not to just wait passively for an opportunity to vote for justice, because voting for justice is as ineffective as wishing for justice; what you need to do is to actually be just. This is not to say that you have an obligation to devote your life to fighting for justice, but you do have an obligation not to commit injustice and not to give injustice your practical support.

    And here's a quote from the essay, even more true today.

I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore, or elsewhere, for the selection of a candidate for the Presidency, made up chiefly of editors, and men who are politicians by profession; but I think, what is it to any independent, intelligent, and respectable man what decision they may come to, shall we not have the advantage of his wisdom and honesty, nevertheless? Can we not count upon some independent votes? Are there not many individuals in the country who do not attend conventions? But no: I find that the respectable man, so called, has immediately drifted from his position, and despairs of his country, when his country has more reasons to despair of him. He forthwith adopts one of the candidates thus selected as the only available one, thus proving that he is himself available for any purposes of the demagogue. His vote is of no more worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native, who may have been bought. Oh for a man who is a man, and, as my neighbor says, has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand through! Our statistics are at fault: the population has been returned too large. How many men are there to a square thousand miles in the country? Hardly one.

    Just a few more points concerning Thoreau (pronounced correctly as "Thó-row"). Similar to myself, Thoreau began his "refusal to cooperate" with unjust or ridiculous rules at an early age, such as his unwillingness to pay the five-dollar fee (approximately equivalent to $147 now), to receive a copy of his diploma, along with an acerbic comment as to why. He had no interest in the traditional professions usually open to Harvard graduates, so he returned to Concord and took a teaching position at a public school. He quit after a few weeks, refusing to administer corporal punishment. He and his elder brother, John opened the Concord Academy, a grammar school which "introduced several progressive concepts, including nature walks and visits to local shops and businesses." It closed when his brother died of tetanus (what a horrible death), after cutting himself shaving. Henry (whose given name was actually David Henry) and his two sisters all died of tuberculosis, which took way too many worthy souls from us, way too early.
    Thoreau kept good company with some well-known names of the era, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, who introduced him to Ellery Channing, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and his son Julian Hawthorne. Bronson Alcott was Louisa May Alcott's father. They also introduced him to Transcendentalism, "a loose and eclectic idealist philosophy advocated by Emerson, Fuller, and Alcott. They held that an ideal spiritual state transcends, or goes beyond, the physical and empirical, and that one achieves that insight via personal intuition rather than religious doctrine. In their view, Nature is the outward sign of inward spirit, expressing the "radical correspondence of visible things and human thoughts", as Emerson wrote in Nature (1836)." There is a great deal of this philosophy, also, that corresponds to mine, and at some point I will delve into it. It is closely related to Unitarianism and Hinduism.
    I could go on and on with wonderful quotes and comments concerning this great man, but I will instead get to the point of this review. Thoreau and this work are also featured in my first article on Spiritual Activism.
    On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, originally Resistance to Civil Government, and also known simply as Civil Disobedience, although I prefer the "On the Duty" one, because people need to realize that it IS our duty to disobey not only unjust, but illegal laws. These past few years, since the plandemic was orchestrated, have been a blatant example of the need for this type of civil action, and indeed, a great many of our citizens, and citizens all over the world refused to comply with all the tyrannical mandates. Particularly courageous have been the doctors who refused to administer the toxic bioweapons masquerading as vaccines, and spoke out about their lethal effects on people. Many lost their jobs, or even worse, but also many of them found better positions where they were able to speak the truth and follow their conscience. I have read that during the Nuremberg Trials, those who tried to use as their defense, that they were "just following orders," were also punished because it is illegal to follow illegal orders. Thousands of people have called for a Nuremberg 2, but as yet, it's fallen on deaf ears. I believe that will be forced to change as the truth is oozing out all over the place.
    And that's what inspired me to read this essay at this moment in time. Because Thoreau's philosophy is badly needed if we are to have any hope of putting a stop to the corruption and illegal activities of our government and governments all over the world. Here in the U.S. we have a Constitution that protects us from this brand of tyranny. Unless we exercise our rights, we will become nothing but slaves. And worse yet, we will become nothing, as societal and biosphere collapse accelerates into the Sixth Mass Extinction, at a rate never experienced on this planet. Wake up, people!
    Here's a bit about the background of this essay from its Wikipedia page. Then I will share some more quotes. Remember, the article linked above contains more about the man and his work. Here is the first paragraph.

Resistance to Civil Government, also called On the Duty of Civil Disobedience or Civil Disobedience for short, is an essay by American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau that was first published in 1849. In it, Thoreau argues that individuals should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that they have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. Thoreau was motivated in part by his repulsion of slavery and the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

    They also point out that "civil" refers to "relating to citizens and their interrelations with one another or with the state", not "behaving civilly," as in polite or with acceptable decorum, and I admit I never even considered that other meaning. Gandhi, however, did use that definition to mean "non-violent resistance" or pacifism. The essay is taken from "lectures at the Concord Lyceum entitled 'The Rights and Duties of the Individual in relation to Government'. This formed the basis for his essay, which was first published under the title Resistance to Civil Government in an 1849 anthology by Elizabeth Peabody called Æsthetic Papers," according to Wikipedia. Also, in 1848, Thoreau "delivered an impassioned speech which would later become Civil Disobedience in 1848, just months after leaving Walden Pond. The speech dealt with slavery and at the same time excoriated American imperialism, particularly the Mexican-American War. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed.

The Fugitive Slave Act or Fugitive Slave Law was a law passed by the 31st United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern interests in slavery and Northern Free-Soilers.

The Act was one of the most controversial elements of the 1850 compromise and heightened Northern fears of a slave power conspiracy. It required that all escaped slaves, upon capture, be returned to the enslaver and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate. The Act contributed to the growing polarization of the country over the issue of slavery. It was one of the factors that led to the American Civil War.

    One element of the work had me confused, as he seemed to be rebuking Massachusetts concerning slavery, since, of course, the Northern States wanted an end to slavery. (Supposedly.) But as with all governments, then and now, money and greed takes precedence over moral integrity. Wikipedia states:

Thoreau tells his audience that they cannot blame this problem solely on pro-slavery Southern politicians, but must put the blame on those in, for instance, Massachusetts, "who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may . . . . There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them."

    Here's a quote from the essay.

Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may. I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, co-operate with, and do the bidding of those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless.

    These are just a couple other points which I will expand upon in quotes from the essay in this review and the article or articles linked to it. These are from the Wikipedia article. Thoreau believed that voting, taxes, and "democracies" were all agents of corruption. In fact, he went to jail because he refused to pay an unjust tax to support a government that used the money to support slavery and war. But someone—a relative it is believed—paid the tax and he was released the next day, which greatly angered him. He supported refusing to cooperate, or boycotting that which was morally unjust, or led to corruption, and advocated simplicity and voluntary poverty, all of which I agree. Incidentally, he embraced the same attitude as Gandhi while in jail—as an opportunity to meditate, to notice things he had not noticed before, and to strengthen his spiritual and moral growth, separated from a public in which he disagreed in so many ways. Here is a quote from the essay, right after Thoreau was released from jail.

I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly purpose to do right; that they were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions, as the Chinamen and Malays are; that, in their sacrifices to humanity they ran no risks, not even to their property; that, after all, they were not so noble but they treated the thief as he had treated them, and hoped, by a certain outward observance and a few prayers, and by walking in a particular straight though useless path from time to time, to save their souls.

    For anyone that thinks the United States of America was founded on freedom, justice and integrity, think again. It was founded on invasion, theft, slaughter, lies, and lust for power and greed. And, for anyone still thinking we are a "Great Nation," it is time to give up the illusion. Being "Patriotic" does NOT mean shutting up and doing what you are told and turning a blind eye to evil and corruption. Being Patriotic means putting justice first, and not allowing anyone to take that away. We are, one by one, seeing all our freedoms—everything which is guaranteed us in our Constitution—being obliterated, and the majority of the population not even noticing. That is all about to come to an end in a very shocking way.
    We have become an object of hatred to an increasing number of countries across the globe. How can anyone be proud of that? I am ashamed of our behavior, which is nothing short of bullying and tyranny. Dane Wigington, linked above, points that out constantly in his weekly Global Alert News broadcasts, which can be heard for free on his website and YouTube channel. A "Great Nation" is beloved by others as one that acts out of benevolence to promote global peace and harmony, and puts the welfare of its people and all people ahead of greed and power. All Empires eventually fall, no matter how mighty they believe they are. Our time is coming soon.
    And now here are some quotes from the essay.

After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases can not be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?—in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, &c. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw, or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the State with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated by it as enemies.

Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?

The opportunities of living are diminished in proportion as what are called the 'means" are increased. The best thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor.

Confucius said,—"If a State is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame; if a State is not governed by the principles of reason, riches and honors are the subjects of shame."

Thus the state never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.

    And finally, here is one last quote, appearing in the final paragraph of the essay.

Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? 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 not think it inconsistent 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 fellow-men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

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