“Sometimes people need to get together to make things happen. A government is one way to do that, if you need to build a road, or keep people safe. But sometimes governments also murder millions of people, keep entire segments of the population in slavery, and bring the earth to the brink of nuclear holocaust. But those roads though…”
by Joe Jarvis, The Daily Bell:
I won’t pretend Henry David Thoreau’s writing thoroughly interests me, as much as I admire him. Truth be told, I find much of his work boring and wordy.
His ideas on government however, are quite interesting, especially coming from someone of his time period. He is among the ranks of abolitionist thinkers, like Josiah Warren, who correctly see in direct slavery the same basic injustices a subject suffers under a government.
Civil Disobedience, or Resisting Civil Government as it was originally titled, was published in 1849 after being first delivered as a lecture. Thoreau was 32 years old, living in Massachusetts. He was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, and had tutored his children. At this point Thoreau had already spent his time at Walden Pond.
Thoreau had also spent a night in jail years earlier after refusing to pay a poll tax, which he discusses in Civil Disobedience.
Although the essay was written 168 years ago, it can still spark a lively debate about contemporary tactics for resisting oppressive government.
Here are the ten best quotes from that essay, if you do not have the patience to read the entire 25 pages.
“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 also I 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.”
This is how Thoreau begins the essay. The point is that government is only required when things need to be forced, and someday, we will live in a world where everything worth being done at all is done with consent of all involved.