Above you see an
image of Walden Pond,
in 2010, and today my subject is Thoreau's Civil Disobedience.
This time, I am quoting from (1) THOREAU - People, Principles, and
Politics , Edited by Milton
the American Century Series by Hill and Wang, New York, 1963, third
printing April 1968, bought by me on 1.VIII.1982.
Otherwise, it's the same as yesterday, and I start with the quotes. I
might have given all of it, except that the way I use is shorter, and
in some ways also clearer. Also, I should add that Thoreau published
himself in 1849 under the title "Resistance
to Civil Government". The
title "Civil Disobedience" was given to it after his
have used that last title here because it got known under that title.
Finally, I also reproduce three notes from 1982 and
add a few words, though both sections are small.
From Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience"
36. I heartily accept the motto,—"That government
is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to
more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to
this, which also I believe,—"That government is best which governs not
at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of
government which they will have. Government is at best but an
expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are
sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against
a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail,
may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing
army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself,
which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their
will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people
can act through it. 
38a. After all, the practical
reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a
majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, is not
because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems
fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest.
38b. Can there not be a government in which
majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?—in
which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of
expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the
least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator?
38c. I think that we should be men first, and
subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the
law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right
to assume is to do at any time what I think right.
38d. (..) a corporation has no conscience (..)
38e. 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
39a. The mass of men serve the state thus, not as
men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing
army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In
most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the
moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and
stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the
purpose as well.
39b.Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed
good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers,
ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their
heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as
likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very
few (..) serve the state with their consciences also, and so
necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated
as enemies by it.
40a. All men recognize the right of revolution;
that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the
government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and
unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now.
40b. But when the friction comes to have its
machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not
have such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the
population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty
are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a
foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too
soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.
41a. I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with
those who, near at home, co-operate with, and do the bidding of those
far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless.
41b. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine
patrons of virtue to one virtuous man. 
42a. All voting is a sort of gaming, like
checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it (..)
42b. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right;
but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am
willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never
exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing
nothing for it.
42c. A wise man will not leave the right to the
mercy of chance (..)
42d. There is but little virtue in the action of
masses of men.
42e. Oh for a man who is a man, and, as my
neighbor says, has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand
through! Our statistics are at fault: the population has been returned
too large. How many men are there to a square thousand miles in
this country? Hardly one.
43a. The American has dwindled into an Odd
Fellow—one who may be known by the development of his organ of
gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful
43b. (..) who, in short ventures to live only by the
aid of the Mutual Insurance company, which has promised to bury him
43c. It is not a man's duty, as a matter of
course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most
enormous wrong (..)
43d. (..) but it is his duty, at least, to wash his
hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it
practically his support.
44a. Those who, while they disapprove of the
character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance
and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters (..)
44b. How can a man be satisfied to entertain an
opinion merely, and enjoy it?
44c. Action from principle—the perception and the
performance of right—changes things and relations; it is essentially
revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was.
44d. Unjust laws exist (..)
44e. Men generally, under such a government as
this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the
majority to alter them.
45a. If a man who has no property refuses but once
to earn nine shillings for the State, he is put in prison for a period
unlimited by any law that I know, and determined only by the discretion
of those who placed him there (..)
45b. (..) if it is of such a nature that it requires
you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.
45c. What I have to do is to see, at any rate,
that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
45d. I came into this world, not chiefly to make
this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad.
45e. I do not hesitate to say, that those who
call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their
support, both in person and property, from the government of
Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one,
before they suffer the right to prevail through them.
46a. Moreover, any man more right than his
neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.
46b. I know this well, that if one thousand, if
one hundred, if ten men whom I could name—if ten honest men
only—ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing
to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership,
and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition
of slavery in America.
46c. (..) what is once well done is done forever.
47a. Under a government which imprisons any
unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. 
47b. (..) the only house in a slave State in which a
free man can abide with honor.
47c. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper
merely, but your whole influence.
47d. If a thousand men were not to pay their
tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as
it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and
shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable
revolution, if any such is possible.
47e. But even suppose blood should flow. Is there
not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded?
48a. (..) they who assert the purest right, and
consequently are most dangerous to a corrupt State, commonly have not
spent much time in accumulating property.
48b. But the rich man—not to make any invidious
comparison—is always sold to the institution which makes him rich.
Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue (..)
48c. The opportunities of living are diminished in
proportion as what are called the "means" are increased.
48d. When I converse with the freest of my
neighbors, I perceive that (..) the long and the short of the matter
is, that they cannot spare the protection of the existing government,
and they dread the consequences to their property and families of
disobedience to it.
48e. (..) I should not like to think that I ever rely
on the protection of the State.
49a. This makes it impossible for a man to live
honestly, and at the same time comfortably in outward respects.
49b. You must live within yourself, and depend
upon yourself always tucked up and ready for a start, and not have many
49c. Confucius said, "If a state is governed by
the principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame; if
a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches and honors
are the subjects of shame."
49d. (..) I condescended to make some such statement as
this in writing:—"Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry
Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated
society which I have not joined."
50a. I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was
put into a jail once on this account, for one night (..)
50b. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had
paid my tax.
50c. (..) I lost all my remaining respect for it, and
50d. (..) the State never intentionally confronts a
man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It
is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical
strength. I was not born to be forced.
51a. When I meet a government which says to me,
"Your money or your life," why should I be in haste to give it my money?
51b. It must help itself; do as I do.
51c. I am not responsible for the successful
working of the machinery of society.
52a. When I came out of prison—for some one
interfered, and paid that tax—I did not perceive that great changes had
taken place on the common (..)
53a. (..) yet a change had to my eyes come over the
scene—the town, and State, and country—greater than any that mere time
could effect. I saw yet more distinctly the State in which I lived. I
saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as
good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for summer
weather only; that they did not greatly propose to do right; that they
were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions (..)
53b. (..) that in their sacrifices to humanity, they
ran no risks, not even to their property (..)
53c. It is for no particular item in the tax-bill
that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the
State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually.
54a. In fact, I quietly declare war with the
State, after my fashion, though I will still make what use and get what
advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases.
54b. Let him see that he does only what belongs
to himself and to the hour.
54c. I think sometimes, Why, this people mean
well; they are only ignorant; they would do better if they knew how:
why give your neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined
to? But I think, again, This is no reason why I should do as they do,
or permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind.
55a. there is this difference between resisting
this and a purely brute or natural force, that I can resist this with
some effect; but I cannot expect, like Orpheus, to change the nature of
the rocks and trees and beasts.
55b. I do not wish to quarrel with any man or
nation. I do not wish to split hairs, to make fine distinctions, or set
myself up as better than my neighbors.
55c. Seen from a lower point of view, the
Constitution, with all its faults, is very good; the law and the courts
are very respectable; even this State and this American government are,
in many respects, very admirable (..)
55d. (..) but seen from a point of view a little
higher, they are what I have described them; seen from a higher still,
and the highest, who shall say what they are (..)
56a. I know that most men think differently from
myself; but those whose lives are by profession devoted to the study of
these or kindred subjects, content me as little as any.
56b. Statesmen and legislators (..) have no doubt
invented ingenious and even useful systems (..) but all their wit and
usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits. They are wont to
forget that the world is not governed by policy and expediency.
56c. The lawyer's truth is not truth, but
consistency or a consistent expediency.
56d. Still thinking of the sanction which the
Constitution gives to slavery, he says, "Because it was a part of the
original compact—let it stand."
57a. No man with a genius for legislation has
appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world.
57b. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not
for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our
legislators (..) have no genius or talent for comparatively humble
questions of taxation and finance, commerce and manufacturers and
57c. For eighteen hundred years, though perchance
I have no right to say it, the New Testament has been written; yet
where is the legislator who has wisdom and practical talent enough to
avail himself of the light which it sheds on the science of
58a. (..) I will cheerfully obey those who know and can
do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor
can do so well (..)
58b. The progress from an absolute to a limited
monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward
a true respect for the individual.
58c. 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 (..)
58d.. I please myself with imagining a State at
least which can afford to be just to all men (..)
58e. (..) which even would not think it inconsistent
with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling
with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors
2 Three notes from 1982
These are just three notes
from 1982. I could have added quite a few more, but most of the above
is quite clear as it is, and it is also long enough, Even so, I add a
few words on Thoreau in the next section.
A couple of points: 1. Society needs organization for its purposes. 2.
It needs civic order (individual protection of body, property and
rights.) 3. The State is the supreme power & 4. tends to start a
life of itself, so the people who man it become rulers.
That is a basic human problem:Most men know what is right &
how to appraise their own opinions, but they do not do
what is right nor what is sensible, nor are their judgements sound or
free of their own interests, values and feelings.
that's useless or dangerous.
3. What I think about Thoreau
I'll say something about
Thoreau, namely this:
I really like him. I like living simply; I like his
general attitudes, though I am not a transcendentalist, nor an ordinary
anarchist (but neither was Thoreau); I like his inegalitarianism
combined with equal rights; and I also like his Civil
Disobedience, which I extracted above.
Also, I have now in tthe last three successive days, including the present one, extracted Thoreau's main writings, and
I should like to insist that the problem these days are the same
as or considerably greater than they
were in Thoreau's time: There are very few who are truly fair and
who can think truly. And this is and always was the main human
problem. For everybody.
In any case... here are the main works of Thoreau as extracted by me
I will probably copy
these later into my philosophy