Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

Civil Disobedience book cover
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Note how Thoreau qualifies his argument in paragraph 40 of "Civil Disobedience"; how does using this rhetorical strategy serve his purpose?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In paragraph 40 of "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau is at pains to stress that, contrary to the impression he may have given, he is not a trouble-maker. He doesn't wish to quarrel with any man or nation; all he wants is a pretext for conformity. And every year, when the bothersome tax-gatherers come round to take their pound of flesh, Thoreau tries his damnedest to find an excuse for conforming to the laws of the land.

There is a tension here between two rival perspectives, battling it out in Thoreau's soul. On the one hand, the institutions of American government can appear perfectly good and worthy of admiration—at least from an imminent, worldly perspective. But from a higher, more objective standpoint, it can be seen that they are virtually worthless. It really all depends on which perspective we choose to adopt. In trying to present himself as a reasonable critic of the institutions of government,...

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annieb5 | Student

In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau argues for acts of civil disobedience: disobeying the government with the intent of changing an unjust law. In paragraph 40, Thoreau says that he doesn't want to "quarrel with any man or nation... or set [himself] up as better than [his] neighbor." By saying that he is not better than his neighbor, he creates a humble ethos. By saying that he does not want to argue, he sets up an ethos of agreableness and reasonableness. Perhaps most importantly, he associates not "wanting" to disobey, but having a duty to do so, with being patriotic. Essentially, this paragraph is an appeal to ethos: he presents himself as an unassuming, concerned patriot who wants to help his country.