Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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According to "Civil Disobedience," what does Thoreau feel about majority rule?

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Thoreau feels that majority rule is incompatible with the rule of indvidual conscience. He writes:

the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.

Thoreau's thinking is similar to what John Stuart Mill would a few years later call the tyranny of democracy. Just because most people think an idea or path of action is right does not make it right.

Thoreau, who was an abolitionist, had no faith in democracy—majority rule—as a means to rid the country of slavery because he didn't think the majority of people would vote to abolish slavery until slavery had more or less died out anyway. He urged abolitionists in his home state of...

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