Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau is like a strange throwback to the Rationalist writings of Revolutionary period. Unlike most Romanticism writers, he does not focus on emotion and nature, but rather on reason to make his writing sensible and interesting. Of course, on closer inspection his writing does share many characteristics with other writings of the Romanticism period. Even so his work bears the distinctive mark of the Transcendentalist style. The philosophy in Civil Disobedience is really interesting as well, and it sort of makes a person feel a little bit better about humanity to read it. It reminds them that they are not the only ones who think in such a manner.

Civil Disobedience is a rationalization of when and why people should defy their governments. Thoreau writes that "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." This is meaning that by following unjust laws people are made to act unjustly. The question then becomes whether or not it is better to break the law for justice or follow it for safety. Thoreau makes a compelling argument that a good person would break the law in such cases. This is an appeal to reason where in other Romanticism works there would be an appeal to emotion.

One of the characteristics of Romanticism that it does have is a value for purity and innocence. One of the reasons Romanticists tend to focus so much on nature is because they see society as a great corrupter of the soul. Civil Disobedience is about seperating one's self from one of the most important parts of a society, its government. In this Thoreau is very much in step with Romanticism style writers even though he does not write about nature specifically.

Transcendentalists had great respect for the individual and thought that people were best before corrupted by society. This is typical Transcendentalism because it is entirely about the rights of an individual to step out from under the rule of a government and allow them to rule themselves. Thoreau writes about how a man is best governed by his own conscience, and that government only comes in the way of that by passing laws contrary to it and claiming money that does not belong to it.

The philosophy in Civil Disobedience is about as wonderful as it can get. It places the focus not on what would be the best for the most people in a society, but on what would be best for each individual. It would be wonderful for the rights of individuals not to be subject to the tyranny of the majority. In some instances government is necessary, as in the case of criminals with no care for morality, but with most good people it would be far better if the government would leave them to themselves. Imagine the freedom and liberty that would be possible to people if the government worked that way. Is it not a wonderful thought?

Graves, Roy Neil. "Individual and Society in 'Civil Disobedience'." McClinton-Temple, Jennifer ed. Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2011. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 24 Jan. 2012. ETL1130&SingleRecord=True.

Krueger, Christine, ed. "Romanticism." Encyclopedia of British
Writers,19thCentury, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2002.
Bloom'sLiteraryReference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 16 Jan. 2012.

Thoreau, Henry. "Thoreau's Civil Disobedience - 1." The Thoreau Reader. Web. 25 Jan. 2012.

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