In "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau says that "any man more right than his neighbors constitues a majority of one already." What does he mean by this? 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Thoreau describes the majority of one, he is registering his disapproval of a system where the majority rules. Just because a person is in the majority does not mean that the person believes what is just or moral or right. The majority can absolutely be unjust and morally wrong. For him, the one person not included in the 99% majority might still be in the right, and thus counts for more than all the people who are in the wrong. If one is correct in one's belief, one's belief is more important and is a majority of one over however many people are against that one. He says, "I think that it is enough if [resistors] have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already." Thoreau is wary of the tyranny of the majority, and he advises the minority that it "is powerless while it conforms to the majority; […] but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight." If the minority works together, it can absolutely disrupt the workings of the majority in order to achieve its aims.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Thoreau is expressing his belief in the importance of the individual. He had some big problems with the concept of majority rule. According to him, majority rule has nothing to do with right vs. wrong because 99% can be wrong. It also has nothing to do with fairness because it is not truly a fair society where 49% of the population is unhappy. Thoreau said that the only reason majority rule is in place is because of physical strength...which is no reason to make major decisions. Literally, if it came down to it, the majority could beat up the minority. The "majority of one" you refer to is Thoreau's way of saying it is the thoughts and beliefs of you that truly matter. He is expressing the idea of Individualism defeating conformity.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial