Do you agree or disagree with Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience"?

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In theory, I agree with Thoreau's ideas. The claim that we ought to always follow our conscience and never do anything that will, in any way, go against our sense of what is just and right seems to make a great deal of sense to me. Further, Thoreau's claim that...

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In theory, I agree with Thoreau's ideas. The claim that we ought to always follow our conscience and never do anything that will, in any way, go against our sense of what is just and right seems to make a great deal of sense to me. Further, Thoreau's claim that the majority is not always right seems true as well; rather than follow the majority, or even the law, it seems incumbent on each of us to behave in accordance with our own consciences. For example, Thoreau opted not to pay his poll tax because he did not want to contribute money to a government that might use it to support the unjust institution of slavery or an unjust war with Mexico. He accepted the consequence that he would go to jail, even arguing that jail is the proper place for a just man in an unjust society to be. Likewise, if I choose not to pay my taxes because I disagree with something our government does, I will also go to jail. If I go to jail, though, who will help to support my family and take care of my children? This consequence may not be acceptable to me because I have obligations to people other than myself. So, while I agree with his ideas in theory, I think most people would want to find some other way of registering their dissatisfaction with government policy and practice.

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This answer is completely dependent on the individual reader.  Some readers are absolutely going to agree with every word that Thoreau puts forth in "Civil Disobedience," but other readers are going to think that Thoreau is crazy.  

Thoreau's main point in this essay is that a person's first and most important obligation is to do what he/she believes is right.  A person doesn't have to follow the law that is dictated by the majority.  Thoreau also says that people should refuse to follow an unjust government.  Furthermore, Thoreau believes that people should remain distant from government in general.  

I can't say that I agree or disagree with Thoreau 100% either way.  If a government is truly unjust, then I agree that people should refuse to follow it; however, Thoreau introduces a problem to his own argument. If every person is supposed to do what they believe is right, then a society is governed by individual moralism.  Different individuals are going to see different government acts as just or unjust.  With extreme individualism ruling, there is no standard or benchmark that determines what is right or wrong.  Everybody is determining that for himself/herself.  There's no centralized leadership or vision, and I see more potential problems with that than good.  This is where I disagree with Thoreau.  He is absolutely allowed to go live on a pond by himself and do his own thing, but if an entire city does that on a day-to-day basis, then law enforcement serves no purpose and can't administer any kind of realistic judgment.  

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I would like to agree with Thoreau in terms of the idea that we ought not to support practices that are legal if they go against our conscience and personal sense of what is right, and, conversely, that we might break the law if our conscience dictates. However, because people have such different ideas about what is right or wrong, I fear that such a stance would be ultimately untenable. Thoreau is clear that what is right is that which does not infringe on someone else's right to be free and independent, but even this kind of a stance becomes problematic. Take the issue of abortion, for example. Some would say that we infringe on a woman's right to make her own choices when abortion is illegal. Others would say that we infringe on the fetus's right to live when abortion is legal. People's consciences tell them different things. Take the issue of religious freedom: some interpret this as their right to freely and without prejudice practice their religion (or not practice any religion); others interpret this as giving them the right to deny goods or services to those whose behavior is considered objectionable or sinful by their religion. At the end of the day, one has to act in such a way that one can live with oneself and one's choices; however, the standard will be so different for everyone. We have laws in place to help make sure that people are treated fairly, but our voters and lawmakers are certainly fallible, and that means the laws will be too.

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I think many readers are likely to agree that a person should not blindly follow the majority. Thoreau is encouraging independence and individual thought. I think that is a positive thing. I also think that many readers would agree that people should resist and fight against a truly unjust government.

The problem is that Thoreau encourages everybody to define his or her own standard of justice. This is a problem because people are different, and therefore will have conflicting standards. What is good and just for one person might not be for another person. Ultimately, this leads to a society ruled by individual moralism. There is no set standard to rule and govern a population, and there is no benchmark standard by which people should be trying to live up to. Individuality is great, and I think Thoreau is correct in encouraging it; however, I think Thoreau takes it too far.

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