Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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What does Thoreau mean when he says "Let your life be the counter-friction to stop the machine"?

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In his famous essay "Civil Disobedience," Henry David Thoreau argues that people are accountable to their consciences first and their governments afterwards. According to Thoreau, the best forms of government perform the least amounts of governing and relegate ethical decision-making to the populace. Although he states that ideally free-thinking and morally-minded people should not need governments, he qualifies this by stating that "I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."

Thoreau's view is that only when citizens obey the dictates of their consciences, even when these are opposed to laws of the land, will governments become better. However, most people blindly serve the government with their bodies or their minds and give no thought to the ethics of what they are doing.

A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are...

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