Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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What are a person's duties regarding injustice, according to Thoreau?

A person’s duties regarding injustice according to Thoreau in "Civil Disobedience" are to actively work against it if one can and to be sure not to unwittingly support injustice, financially or otherwise. For example, Thoreau suggests that paying one’s taxes when the government might use that money to fund an unjust war would be to inadvertently support that war. One’s duty, then, is to refuse to pay one’s taxes, even though it might result in jail time.

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Regarding injustice, Thoreau says, a person would do well to actively fight against it, but, at the very least, the individual must be sure that he or she does nothing which would support or further that injustice.

It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support,

Thoreau writes. It is possible, Thoreau concedes, that a person may have other concerns that occupy him and fill up his time rather than spotting injustice and actively working to stamp it out, but he must be sure not to unwittingly support that injustice. For example, if a person opposes the war in Mexico and believes, as Thoreau does, that this war is unjust, then that person has a duty to stop paying his taxes, as that tax money might go to support the war effort, buy weapons, or even pay the salary of soldiers who are deployed to fight.

Paying one’s taxes is actually a way of supporting whatever unjust activities the government will perform with that money. This is one reason why the average person needs to keep himself abreast of the kinds of activities in which the government is engaged: so that he can know whether or not he is supporting injustice.

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