What influences of Emerson can you find in Thoreau's resistance to civil government?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of Emerson's fundamental claims is the idea that the individual must listen to their own voice and respond to it.  Silencing it in the name of the conformist social order is something that Emerson rejects.  It is in hearing the individual voice, causing the individual to do what resides in their sense of self, that Emerson validates and extols the individual.  In this, Thoreau takes Emerson's primacy on the individual to a logical and political extension in "Civil Disobedience."  Thoreau argues that the political consequences of the Emersonian philosophy is to reject a political demand when one knows it is wrong. For Thoreau, his own protest against slavery drove him to stand his position and even go to prison instead of complying with a law that he felt was wrong.  The Emersonian notion of the self is validated in this example.  Throughout the essay, there is a clear appeal to Emerson's idea that if the individual knows and can clearly identify where there is a disconnect between their own sense of self and the laws or practices in which an individual lives, they must heed their subjectivity.  The Emerson idea of activating this as opposed to repressing it becomes the basis of Thoreau's writing.


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