Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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What is the purpose of "Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau?

The purpose of "Civil Disobedience" is to argue that people should disobey rules, laws, government, and so on when those things prove to be unjust.

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Henry David Thoreau adheres to Transcendentalism, which is an extension of sorts of Romanticism. There are various key characteristics of Romanticism, but for the purpose of this question, a key trait is that Romanticism and Transcendentalism both strongly emphasize the importance of the individual, the individual's thoughts, and the individual's feelings.

Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" is his 1849 essay that makes the argument that citizens of a country have a duty to disobey rules and laws of a government when those rules and laws are unjust. To be clear, Thoreau is not an anarchist. He is not arguing for a complete rebellion against government itself and the throwing away of such institutions. He is simply arguing that government and governmental systems are flawed in key ways.

For example, Thoreau points out early on in the essay that governments typically get power from the majority. Thoreau understands that there is strength in numbers. The majority is the strongest group because their numbers are greatest and not because their thoughts are right, noble, or even legitimate. Thoreau has a problem with that, and being someone that adheres to supporting the beliefs of the individual, he argues that a person's primary obligation is to do what he or she believes is right rather than what a government ruled by the majority says is right.

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