Civil Disobedience

By Henry David Thoreau

Civil Disobedience is Thoreau’s manifesto against the government and the evils of man, institutions, and all other such vague categories that a man rages against when he can’t be bothered to outline detailed and fixable grievances. Specifically, Thoreau is decrying slavery and the Mexican War. More generally, Thoreau’s literary rage is directed at the government, and the idea of government, that he is an unwilling participant of.

But does Thoreau offer answers to his self-raised problems? Of course not. He permits that there have been few gifted in the ways of legislature and does not presume himself one with such a gift. His anger is, therefore, a swing in the dark that hits nothing, for his decision to not pay his taxes rectifies no ill but his own ill conscience, which cannot be that ill, for it still partakes of the parts of the government that it enjoys.

Interestingly, the essay has a decidedly masculine ring to it, with the word “man” being used so often that it is difficult to dissociate the disenfranchised anger of the narrator with his gender. Comparable works by female abolitionists would be interesting to look at or look for. In the meantime, Civil Disobedience is a plausible theory of the justification of revolution, but not in of itself revolutionary.