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What are some arguments that disagree with Thoreau's thoughts in Civil...

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crystolaa | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:58 AM via web

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What are some arguments that disagree with Thoreau's thoughts in Civil Disobedience?

Thoreau says that if our conscience doesn't agree with the law, we should go against it by breaking the law. What are some arguments that disagree with that?

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

Posted February 1, 2012 at 7:01 PM (Answer #1)

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Thoreau, himself, will not provide much in way of counter- arguments to his points in Civil Disobedience.  Instead, I think that you might have to consider the consequences of Thoreau's claims and extrapolate what might happen outside of Thoreau's work.  For example, on the most basic of levels, if we embrace the idea that if one disagrees with the laws then breaking them becomes a moral responsibility, one could literally shudder at such an idea.  It is not a major problem in the context of the work because Thoreau's moral compass is not threatening.  The reader understands that Thoreau's sensibilities embrace inclusive, participatory democracy and do not pose an immediate threat to anyone except those in the position of power, individuals that he has cast as someone who has lost their moral compass.  Yet, consider for a moment if someone who lacks Thoreau's moral compass follows his advice.  Consider those who kill doctors who perform abortions or those who bomb health clinics that are linked to abortions.  These individuals "follow their conscience."  Yet, I don't think that what these individuals do are in concert with "forming a more perfect union" or "securing the blessing of liberty" in the sense of the Constitution.  Everyone is threatened in a setting where individuals fore go the law by breaking it.  Thoreau operates under the perspective where individuals who have a conscience would share his own view of what that conscience might be like.  I think that this is a rather compelling argument in why his beliefs could be disastrous, if placed in the wrong hands.

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