Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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According to Thoreau, what should the role of conscience be in government?

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In his famous essay "Civil Disobedience," Henry David Thoreau does not so much argue that conscience should play a role in government but rather that people of conscience will more often find themselves in opposition to government. In fact, at the very beginning of the essay, Thoreau makes a radical assertion that "government is at best but an expedient" and that in an ideal society "that government is best that governs not at all." In other words, the consciences of the people will provide sufficient impetus to cause them to do the right thing, without the necessity of governmental intrusion. Realizing that people are not ready for such an idealist interpretation of individual intent, Thoreau adds, "I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."

However, the difficulty with forming a better government, says Thoreau, is that "the mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies." They do whatever the state demands of them, with...

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