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Do we really need a government? In the excerpt from the book Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau argues we do not. In his argumentative essay, Thoreau uses belittlement, examples and finally reason to push his anti government ideals onto the reader. Thoreau criticizes the US government for being “but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity” (15-16) He is arguing that mankind doesn’t need a big “man” to govern them.
He points out that “It (the government) does not keep the country free, It does not settle the west, It does not educate” (24-25) His point is that mankind is destined to do these things, the government simply gives a face to these actions and in some cases, gets in the way.
His tone toward the government is that of resentment and distain. He belittle’s it and offers reasoning for why it is in place, and why it shouldn’t be.
Beyond the big picture of the necessary eradication of the government, Thoreau gives some down to earth examples of why the government is a door jam in the gateway to true freedom.
“Trade and commerce, if they were not made of Indian rubber, would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their way. ” (30-33) He is using free trade as an example of what the government is blocking. He insults legislators for taxing and controlling trade with the United States.
Thoreau references the Mexican War as an example of the corruption of the government officials.
“Whiteness the present Mexican War, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure. ” (11-14) He points out that only a few people have manipulated the government into their tool to start a war that the general population would not have allowed. Nearing the end of his paper, Thoreau moves more toward reason. I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. ” (37-38) He realizes that he will get no where by simply ranting about the necessary abolition of the US government to millions of citizens. He knows he will be much more effective by simply making a reasonable request. His tone changes from angry and resentful to reasonable.
He ends his paper by saying “Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it. (38-39) He wants to improve the government to an institution that will make everyone happy, and in most ways the only way for that to happen is by voicing your personal opinions about it. Civil Disobedience is a book about political reform and anarchy. Thoreau belittles the US government and uses dramatized examples of how they have done wrong to argue that the government needs to be eliminated. These over the top statements make a more reasonable request like simply improving the government much more likely to be heard.
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