Questions about thoreau!!?
1. What are Thoreau’s views on government?
2. What does Thoreau mean when he writes, “Witness the present Mexican War, the work of . . . a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would have not consented to this measure . . .?”
3. Under what conditions does Thoreau support breaking the law?
4. Do you agree with Thoreau that it is acceptable to peacefully break a law? Justify your answer.
5. How should a society balance rule by the majority with individual conscience?
6. What were the eight points of Lincoln’s resolutions?
if you guys know the answers to any of these that would be a fantastic help thanks!
Thoreau was an activist involved in the abolitionist movement on many fronts: he participated in the Underground Railroad, protested against the Fugitive Slave Law, and gave support to John Brown and his party. Most importantly, he provides a justification for principled revolt and a method of nonviolent resistance, both of which would have a considerable influence on revolutionary movements in the twentieth century. In his essay on “Civil Disobedience,” originally published as “Resistance to Civil Government,” he defends the validity of conscientious objection to unjust laws, which ought to be transgressed at once. Although at times it sounds as if Thoreau is advocating anarchy, what he demands is a better government, and what he refuses to acknowledge is the authority of one that has become so morally corrupt as to lose the consent of those governed. “There will never be a really free and enlightened State,” he argues, “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” (“Civil Disobedience”). There are simply more sacred laws to obey than the laws of society, and a just government—should there ever be such a thing, he says—would not be in conflict with the individual conscience.
Political institutions as such are regarded by Thoreau with distrust, and although he probably overestimates the extent to which it is possible to disassociate oneself from them, he convincingly insists that social consensus is not a guarantee of rectitude or truth. One of the most valuable points he makes against the critics of John Brown is that a person should not be dismissed as “insane” by virtue of dissenting from the majority: his anger is grounded upon an awareness of the fact that slavery is a violation of human rights, and the law-abiding citizens of Massachusetts are not excused for turning away from this reality (“A Plea for Captain John Brown”). Passively allowing an unjust practice to go on is tantamount to collaborating with evil. Unfortunately, Thoreau seems to assume that all of Brown’s actions were justified because he was an inspired reformer with a sacred vocation. But he does succeed at pointing out the stupidity of certain knee-jerk responses to Brown’s raid, and in this respect his essay has a more general pertinence to debates about the individual’s relation to community norms. It also raises the issue of whether political violence can be justified as the lesser of evils, or in cases where it may be the only way of instigating reform.
Ever so gradually, contemporary philosophers are discovering how much Thoreau has to teach—especially, in the areas of knowledge and perception, and in ethical debates about the value of land and life. His affinities with the pragmatic and phenomenological traditions, and the enormous resources he offers for environmental philosophy, have also started to receive more attention. Still, it remains true that the political aspect of Thoreau’s philosophy has come closer to receiving its due than any of these others: whether or not this is because such prominent figures as Gandhi and Martin Luther King cited Thoreau as an inspiration, it has resulted in a disproportionate focus on what is only one part of an integral philosophy, a part that can hardly be understood in isolation from the others. Even if it is a sign of Thoreau’s peculiar greatness that subsequent American philosophy has not known what to make of him, it is a shame if his exclusion from the mainstream philosophical canon has kept his voice from being heard by some of those who might be in a position to appreciate it. Then again, it is never too late to give up our prejudices. Recent and forthcoming work seems to indicate that Thoreau’s influence is starting to show up more noticeably on the American philosophical landscape.