What is Thoreau hinting at in "Civil Disobedience" when he says that the “remedy is worse than the evil”? Why does he condemn the men who do not take action because they are not part of a...

What is Thoreau hinting at in "Civil Disobedience" when he says that the “remedy is worse than the evil”? Why does he condemn the men who do not take action because they are not part of a majority?

 

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chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This phrase appears in the 16th paragraph of the essay:

Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority?

Take, for example, Thoreau’s personal experience of being put in jail for non-payment of the state poll tax. He wanted to protest not only the fugitive slave laws but also the beginnings of the war with Mexico. He never intended to vote in an election, so he felt he shouldn’t have to pay a tax in order to be allowed to go to the polls. He made a quiet one-person protest. He didn’t wait for a large group of people to join him so they could launch a large-scale rally and have relative safety in numbers. He didn’t think a group was necessary. He knew that non-payment of any tax could lead to arrest. “The remedy” would be the arrest and night spent in jail, following your principles. “The evil” would be to support with money those government activities that you don’t agree with. Is it better to just send in your money and be angry and frustrated about it, or to serve some time to prove your point? Thoreau is making the case that, in a so-called democracy, some other outlet should be provided for individuals to disagree and to protest without being subjected to jail time, merely for finding fault with the rules. He looks down on anyone who doesn’t stand up for himself in this fashion, especially if the person is afraid to protest on his own without other folks to back him up. He encourages individuals to act in line with their own beliefs.

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Civil Disobedience

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