Skip Nav

Civil Disobedience and Other Essays Quotes

Popular Topics

❶Why We Can't Wait.

From the SparkNotes Blog

By Henry David Thoreau
Navigation menu
Welcome to the new SparkNotes!

What, then, is the proper relationship between the individual and the government? Ronald Dworkin held that there are three types of civil disobedience:. Some theories of civil disobedience hold that civil disobedience is only justified against governmental entities.

Brownlee argues that disobedience in opposition to the decisions of non-governmental agencies such as trade unions , banks , and private universities can be justified if it reflects "a larger challenge to the legal system that permits those decisions to be taken".

The same principle, she argues, applies to breaches of law in protest against international organizations and foreign governments. It is usually recognized that lawbreaking, if it is not done publicly, at least must be publicly announced in order to constitute civil disobedience.

But Stephen Eilmann argues that if it is necessary to disobey rules that conflict with morality, we might ask why disobedience should take the form of public civil disobedience rather than simply covert lawbreaking. If a lawyer wishes to help a client overcome legal obstacles to securing her or his natural rights , he might, for instance, find that assisting in fabricating evidence or committing perjury is more effective than open disobedience.

This assumes that common morality does not have a prohibition on deceit in such situations. There have been debates as to whether civil disobedience must necessarily be non-violent. Black's Law Dictionary includes non-violence in its definition of civil disobedience. Christian Bay's encyclopedia article states that civil disobedience requires "carefully chosen and legitimate means," but holds that they do not have to be non-violent.

Civil disobedients' refraining from violence is also said to help preserve society's tolerance of civil disobedience. McCloskey argues that "if violent, intimidatory, coercive disobedience is more effective, it is, other things being equal, more justified than less effective, nonviolent disobedience.

Nine Fallacies on Law and Order , [30] Howard Zinn takes a similar position; Zinn states that while the goals of civil disobedience are generally non-violent,. Zinn rejects any "easy and righteous dismissal of violence", noting that Thoreau, the popularizer of the term civil disobedience, approved of the armed insurrection of John Brown. He also notes that some major civil disobedience campaigns which have been classified as non-violent, such as the Birmingham campaign , have actually included elements of violence.

Non-revolutionary civil disobedience is a simple disobedience of laws on the grounds that they are judged "wrong" by an individual conscience, or as part of an effort to render certain laws ineffective, to cause their repeal, or to exert pressure to get one's political wishes on some other issue.

Revolutionary civil disobedience is more of an active attempt to overthrow a government or to change cultural traditions, social customs, religious beliefs, etc The earliest recorded incidents of collective civil disobedience took place during the Roman Empire [ citation needed ].

Unarmed Jews gathered in the streets to prevent the installation of pagan images in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is a form of jail solidarity. Thoreau, at the time of his arrest, was not yet a well-known author, and his arrest was not covered in any newspapers in the days, weeks and months after it happened. The tax collector who arrested him rose to higher political office, and Thoreau's essay was not published until after the end of the Mexican War. There is a whole class of acts, undertaken in the name of civil disobedience, which, even if they were widely practiced, would in themselves constitute hardly more than a nuisance e.

Such acts are often just a harassment and, at least to the bystander, somewhat inane The remoteness of the connection between the disobedient act and the objectionable law lays such acts open to the charge of ineffectiveness and absurdity. Bedau also notes, though, that the very harmlessness of such entirely symbolic illegal protests toward public policy goals may serve a propaganda purpose.

In cases where the criminalized behaviour is pure speech , civil disobedience can consist simply of engaging in the forbidden speech. Threatening government officials is another classic way of expressing defiance toward the government and unwillingness to stand for its policies. For example, Joseph Haas was arrested for allegedly sending an email to the Lebanon, New Hampshire , city councillors stating, "Wise up or die.

More generally, protesters of particular victimless crimes often see fit to openly commit that crime. Laws against public nudity , for instance, have been protested by going naked in public , and laws against cannabis consumption have been protested by openly possessing it and using it at cannabis rallies.

Some forms of civil disobedience, such as illegal boycotts , refusals to pay taxes , draft dodging , distributed denial-of-service attacks , and sit-ins , make it more difficult for a system to function. In this way, they might be considered coercive. Brownlee notes that "although civil disobedients are constrained in their use of coercion by their conscientious aim to engage in moral dialogue, nevertheless they may find it necessary to employ limited coercion in order to get their issue onto the table.

Electronic civil disobedience can include web site defacements , redirects , denial-of-service attacks , information theft and data leaks , illegal web site parodies , virtual sit-ins , and virtual sabotage. It is distinct from other kinds of hacktivism in that the perpetrator openly reveals his identity. Virtual actions rarely succeed in completely shutting down their targets, but they often generate significant media attention. Dilemma actions are designed to create a "response dilemma" for public authorities "by forcing them to either concede some public space to protesters or make themselves look absurd or heavy-handed by acting against the protest.

Some disciplines of civil disobedience hold that the protestor must submit to arrest and cooperate with the authorities. Others advocate falling limp or resisting arrest , especially when it will hinder the police from effectively responding to a mass protest.

Many of the same decisions and principles that apply in other criminal investigations and arrests arise also in civil disobedience cases. For example, the suspect may need to decide whether or not to grant a consent search of his property, and whether or not to talk to police officers. It is generally agreed within the legal community, [44] and is often believed within the activist community, that a suspect's talking to criminal investigators can serve no useful purpose, and may be harmful.

However, some civil disobedients have nonetheless found it hard to resist responding to investigators' questions, sometimes due to a lack of understanding of the legal ramifications, or due to a fear of seeming rude. My civil neighbor, the tax-gatherer, is the very man I have to deal with—for it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel—and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the government. How shall he ever know well that he is and does as an officer of the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether he will treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor and well-disposed man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace, and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding with his action.

Some civil disobedients feel it is incumbent upon them to accept punishment because of their belief in the validity of the social contract , which is held to bind all to obey the laws that a government meeting certain standards of legitimacy has established, or else suffer the penalties set out in the law.

Other civil disobedients who favour the existence of government still don't believe in the legitimacy of their particular government, or don't believe in the legitimacy of a particular law it has enacted.

And still other civil disobedients, being anarchists, don't believe in the legitimacy of any government, and therefore see no need to accept punishment for a violation of criminal law that does not infringe the rights of others. An important decision for civil disobedients is whether or not to plead guilty. There is much debate on this point, as some believe that it is a civil disobedient's duty to submit to the punishment prescribed by law, while others believe that defending oneself in court will increase the possibility of changing the unjust law.

ACT UP 's Civil Disobedience Training handbook states that a civil disobedient who pleads guilty is essentially stating, "Yes, I committed the act of which you accuse me. I don't deny it; in fact, I am proud of it. I feel I did the right thing by violating this particular law; I am guilty as charged," but that pleading not guilty sends a message of, "Guilt implies wrong-doing.

I feel I have done no wrong. I may have violated some specific laws, but I am guilty of doing no wrong. I therefore plead not guilty.

When the Committee for Non-Violent Action sponsored a protest in August , at the Camp Mercury nuclear test site near Las Vegas, Nevada, 13 of the protesters attempted to enter the test site knowing that they faced arrest. At a pre-arranged announced time, one at a time they stepped across the "line" and were immediately arrested.

They were put on a bus and taken to the Nye County seat of Tonopah, Nevada, and arraigned for trial before the local Justice of the Peace, that afternoon. A well known civil rights attorney, Francis Heisler, had volunteered to defend the arrested persons, advising them to plead nolo contendere , as an alternative to pleading either guilty or not-guilty. In a constitutional republic like the United States, people often think that the proper response to an unjust law is to try to use the political process to change the law, but to obey and respect the law until it is changed.

But if the law is itself clearly unjust, and the lawmaking process is not designed to quickly obliterate such unjust laws, then Thoreau says the law deserves no respect and it should be broken. In the case of the United States, the Constitution itself enshrines the institution of slavery, and therefore falls under this condemnation.

Abolitionists , in Thoreau's opinion, should completely withdraw their support of the government and stop paying taxes , even if this means courting imprisonment. Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.

A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose.

If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible.

Because the government will retaliate, Thoreau says he prefers living simply because he therefore has less to lose. It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey.

I should feel as if I were worth less in that case. He was briefly imprisoned for refusing to pay the poll tax , but even in jail felt freer than the people outside. He considered it an interesting experience and came out of it with a new perspective on his relationship to the government and its citizens. He was released the next day when "someone interfered, and paid that tax". Thoreau said he was willing to pay the highway tax, which went to pay for something of benefit to his neighbors, but that he was opposed to taxes that went to support the government itself—even if he could not tell if his particular contribution would eventually be spent on an unjust project or a beneficial one.

Because government is man-made, not an element of nature or an act of God , Thoreau hoped that its makers could be reasoned with. As governments go, he felt, the U. But he felt we could and should insist on better. 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.

An aphorism often erroneously attributed to Thomas Jefferson , [16] "That government is best which governs least 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 I also 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. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.

Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi a. Mahatma Gandhi was impressed by Thoreau's arguments. In , about one year into his first satyagraha campaign in South Africa , he wrote a translated synopsis of Thoreau's argument for Indian Opinion , credited Thoreau's essay with being "the chief cause of the abolition of slavery in America", and wrote that "Both his example and writings are at present exactly applicable to the Indians in the Transvaal.

Thoreau was a great writer, philosopher, poet, and withal a most practical man, that is, he taught nothing he was not prepared to practice in himself.

He was one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced. At the time of the abolition of slavery movement, he wrote his famous essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. He went to gaol for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. His essay has, therefore, been sanctified by suffering. Moreover, it is written for all time.

Its incisive logic is unanswerable. American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his autobiography, he wrote:. Here, in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery's territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance.

Refresh and try again. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Civil Disobedience and Other Essays Quotes showing of What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work.

But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

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?

Client testimonials

Main Topics

Privacy Policy

- Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau Thoreau's essay entitled "Civil Disobedience" i was an excellent way of educating the public on why people should not settle for a less than perfect government.

Privacy FAQs

The term civil disobedience means "refusal to obey civil laws in an effort to induce change in governmental policy or legislation, characterized by nonviolent.

About Our Ads

Civil Disobedience. By Henry David Thoreau. My civil neighbor, the tax-gatherer, is the very man I have to deal with- for it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel- and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the government. How shall he ever know well what he is and does as an officer of the government, or. When should civil disobedience be condoned? Should it be condoned? Civil disobedience is defined as the refusal to obey government laws, in an effort to bring upon a .

Cookie Info

That is the sentence missing from the 45th (final) paragraph of Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience." Here I am, reading aloud in class, when suddenly I am interrupted with the report that I /5(K). 42 quotes from Civil Disobedience and Other Essays: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.