Summary of Civil Disobedience

In his work Civil Disobedience Henry David Thoreau asks the question “how can a man behave toward the government?” He answers it through a series of examples that progressively make the case for a more enlightened form of government: one that would actually serve the needs of its citizens and truly work toward liberty and justice for all, instead of just mouthing platitudes.

Thoreau was against a strong form of government, believing “the government is best which governs least.” He felt that men of conscience needed to make their priority to be men first and subjects later: that all persons should have as their only obligation “ to do what they think is right.” He theorized that law never created a more just man.

Although men served the state with their bodies through military and policing activities, they also served with their heads through the law and politics. What Thoreau desired was something more: men who would serve with their consciences.

When a government acts as a tyrant, such as subjecting 1/6 of a free nation to slavery,

Thoreau said that men should revolt and create justice no matter what the personal cost may be. He despaired of men sitting around to wait for something to happen to pacify the evil: “O, for a man who is a man who has a bone in his back you cannot pass your hand through.”

Since there is injustice in laws, Thoreau posited that men must make a stand. They must obey the injustice or they should amend the laws. “Let your whole life be a counter friction to stop the machine.” Only by having citizens who defy existing and unjust statutes can government evolve and become a more effective device.

If  men dare to go beyond the status quo and stand up for what they really believe, the world could be turned on its head. Such abominations as slavery would no longer exist in the land of liberty and injustices would be corrected. Civil disobedience could start an entire revolution because no one would be content with mediocrity. Changes, even if slow, would begin to occur, and people would have dwell in  a place that truly listened to its citizens.