The Main Concepts of Civil Disobedience Expressed by Thoreau

Categories: Walden

"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves". Henry Thereau wrote this statement in his essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" that corresponds to his book "Walden". The disobedience he refers to in this quote is civil disobedience that he has talked about in both, his book and essay. Civil disobedience is violating the law ethically. It is an act of refusal to follow the laws, rules, or a person in authority but in a peaceful approach to achieve specific demands.

Nonviolent ways that are used in civil disobedience are picketing, protesting peacefully, boycotting, and refusal to pay taxes (Thoreau, 1849). Civil disobedience and protesting are a right in every country that its society has the freedom of speech. I believe that civil disobedience is the ultimate civilized way to express the rejection of injustice laws and rejection of the people in power.

Thoreau opens his essay with "That government is best which governs least" believing that government should be expedient for the citizens to reach their needs and rights and the minimum number of governments means the most freedom.

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This justifies the moral need for civil disobedience because the government has no right to impose on the citizens' laws that are against their principles, beliefs, morals, and values. He also sees that there is a moral difference between practicing injustice and failing to prevent injustice explained by the Mexican war. The Mexican war was created by eminent individuals that have manipulated the government to their benefit against the citizens' will.

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According to Thoreau, this is an oppressed and corrupted act by the government since a moral will that was imposed on all citizens whether they are with or against it. He also believes that people that are against the war in Mexico but pay taxes are part of this injustice and have a hand in the war but instead, they should boycott the taxes that the government has put. Citizens can express and protest against their government's will for war by refusing to pay taxes the same way soldiers refuse to fight an unjust war. Thoreau believes in three types of men in every country, those who serve with their body such as soldiers and martyrs, those who serve with their brains and heads, and finally those who serve with their conscious which is the best way to serve because they do with their mind and are aware of the injustice acts and stand against it (Thoreau, 1849). He also ensures that a responsible man does not avoid punishment or prison for his mistakes but instead he breaks the law and gets imprisoned for breaking the law that supports unjust decisions or actions by the government. He advocates for the need of prioritizing your personal ethics and values over the dictated laws by the government (Thoreau, 1849).

Like Thoreau, I believe that civil disobedience is acceptable since it is our duty as citizens to stand up and accept only what we believe in (Thoreau, 1849). Just like Rosa Parks as a citizen refused to give up her bus seat due to her skin color and how Martin Luther King Junior leads protests and marches that advocate for civil rights, all these events caused social change through civil disobedience acts (Bedau, 2002). Civil disobedience is a duty of every citizen to fight for what is right and fight against what is wrong even if it was an unjust law. Right or wrong acts are not justified by-laws, not every law prohibits what is wrong and promotes what is right. It is every person's duty to break the law if it is believed by that person that the law is unjust, it is standing up for your values and for what you believe in (Thoreau, 2009). Thoreau refers to civil disobedience in his essay as a duty and not a right because he believes that it is the citizen's right to consent that their taxes are waged for war. He also believed that individual liberty surpasses the state's liberty (Thoreau, 1849).

Henry Thoreau, a canonical American literary figure, questioned in his essay what an honest citizen should do about a president that s/he wholeheartedly oppose but they won a majority. Should those who are against him remain silent? This is the case that Lebanon is currently experiencing. On November 17th, after thirty years of remaining silent on unjust acts that the government has been participating in starting from prohibiting the Lebanese from their basic rights to the money embezzlements that have been going on between the parliament members, the Lebanese citizens decided to revolt against all political parties and every member in the parliament peacefully. This act by the Lebanese citizens is a form of civil disobedience since it is composed of peaceful protests to ask for their rights even after the government tried multiple times to distort or politicize the revolution.

The Lebanese finally decided to fight the passive democracy that they have been living in through civil disobedience. The protests and actions that have been taking place in the last month all over Lebanon had a very positive take off change in our country compared to the 30 years of oppression that the citizens were living in. In the past month, all citizens that are part of the revolution decided to their political hats and leave their religious shawl at home by just going down to the streets asking for freedom and government's resignation. The Lebanese have been depending on the government for the past thirty years to fulfill their promises, but then they got fed up with their lies and decided to act up and ask for their basic rights as citizens. The Lebanese decided to be noble citizens not by respectfully subordinating to their government but they have thought for themselves for an administration's life and this is how they started thinking independently, independent from religion and independent from political parties. They have become patriots, not the kind that blindly follows their government but those who follow their consciences and their principles of reason. They've come to the realization that they were serving the devil without intending it by paying their taxes and following them even to death. It is true that the government is the one who they elected a couple of years ago but this does not determine that all that the government does is righteous and just and we shouldn't do anything but wait until the next elections. The people of Lebanon decided to do something, they decided to revolt and advocate because it is not a crime to be an individual and ask for your basic rights.

Peaceful protests, such as the ones that are currently going on in Lebanon exist or have existed previously all over the world with some being successful and others failing. The current peaceful protests, peaceful from the citizens' side, taking place all over Lebanon are socio-economical revolt acts and not geopolitical zones. We are used to witnessing political protests in Lebanon for the sake of one political party against another, but this time it was different. It was for all citizens to come together for the sake of raising their voice under one goal that the government all must come down as it has failed for the past thirty years in general, and the past three years in specific to guarantee their basic rights. The government has not only failed to give the citizens their basic rights, but they have also increased their taxes, and for what in return? For nothing, literally nothing.

This form of protesting is on the edge of being viable in a country like Lebanon. It has achieved a lot in a little time but the doubts of the complete success of the revolution remain undetermined and even mostly null. It does not look like a success every time a political party talks to the citizens as if he has not been listening to them. Every time they talk to the citizens, they question the reasons for their presence on the streets. It also doesn't look so promising when the government tries to fight the people on the street, and definitely does not look so promising when the army and some politicians try to use violence on the citizens that are protesting peacefully.

Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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The Main Concepts of Civil Disobedience Expressed by Thoreau. (2024, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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