Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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What is the one thing that Thoreau feels obligated to follow?

One thing that Thoreau feels obliged to follow in "Civil Disobedience" is his conscience, whatever the circumstances. He regards this as his one clear guide to the right course of action.

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In "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau writes that his one obligation is to follow his conscience. He is not bound to obey the law, since laws are often unjust. This is the problem that leads to their so frequently conflicting with the individual conscience.

There are references throughout "Civil Disobedience" to the primacy of the conscience and the folly of abdicating responsibility for one's behavior to the law rather than doing what one knows to be right. Thoreau asks why anyone has a conscience at all if their duty is to disobey it. He also complains that those who use their consciences to serve the state by attempting to guide it along the right path are generally dismissed as selfish. Those who subordinate their consciences to the state in order to fight for it, however, are seen as heroes.

Thoreau thinks it imperative to act according to conscience, whatever the consequences. Those who serve the state with violence in any capacity should give up their offices. Even if such a principled action leads to bloodshed, Thoreau says, following one's conscience remains imperative. He asks if it is not also a kind of violence when the conscience is wounded, claiming that "a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out" when the conscience is harmed, and that this leads to an everlasting death.

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