Why does Thoreau believe "a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it"?  

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Essentially, Thoreau believes that a government based on majority rule will not be a just one because the majority is simply the strongest group, not necessarily the right group. It is not fair to the minority, whose opinion in any and all matters of legality is basically rendered completely irrelevant...

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Essentially, Thoreau believes that a government based on majority rule will not be a just one because the majority is simply the strongest group, not necessarily the right group. It is not fair to the minority, whose opinion in any and all matters of legality is basically rendered completely irrelevant even if the minority is in the moral right.

Thoreau argues that conscience should dictate our decisions as individuals and that the citizen ought not to be required to "resign his conscience to the legislator." He argues that we should be individuals first and citizens second; our own consciences should rule our decisions, and we should not by ruled by the laws, which are determined by the majority vote of our legislators, who are elected by majority vote. Thoreau says,

Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

Majority rule leads to a society in which unjust laws are created, and these lead to unjust practices in society; for example, slavery was legal once and we can all agree with Thoreau that slavery was unjust, barbaric, and unconscionable.

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As a Transcendentalist, Henry Thoreau believed in the power of the individual; and that everyone has an internal “higher law” that successfully guides them through life. In the fourth paragraph of “Civil Disobedience” then, he questions the authority and tradition of “majority rule” specifically because it does not take into consideration any additional valid points made by individuals. Government does not honor and respect individual differences of thought or action. It expects conformity, whereas the Transcendentalists expect all voices to be heard and considered. He continues:

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? … Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subject afterward. … The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

Admittedly, this could be a challenging way to govern millions of people. Much trust and respect would have to be present on all sides. By the end of the essay, in its final paragraph, Thoreau even wonders if democracy is the best managing system available to us. (We could still debate this issue.)

Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.

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