How comfortably do Walden and “Civil Disobedience” sit together?
|Subject||Law and governance||Pages||4||Style||APA|
Historical happenings worldwide, mostly in the USA, have highlighted instances where individualism, society, and nature overlap. This sentiment is reiterated in most classical literature by philosophers and great thinkers, such as Hawthorne, Dickinson, Bradford, Morton, Emerson, and Thoreau. These authors’ works tend to either complement or contradict each other, while some present completely new ideologies depicting either a correlation or divergence between the topics of society, nature, and individualism. Henry David Thoreau documents one of the most influential literature that continues to impact modern activism against unjust conduct states. His work titled “Civil Disobedience” explicates the tight interconnectedness between individualism, nature, and society. His ideologies are grounded on the transcendentalist literal, philosophical, and religious movement. According to Livingston, transcendentalism is a school of American philosophical, theological thought that combines self-sufficiency, Unitarianism, and German romanticism with respect for nature (3). This movement was led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who mentored Thoreau’s philosophies and strong standing on just social reforms. Both Emerson and Thoreau believe that social reforms have to begin with deliberate and intentional individual decisions such as civil disobedience. It is upon this understanding that this paper provides a careful explication of the relationship of individualism, society, and nature, as seen by the way Walden and ‘Civil Disobedience’ sit together.
A critical look at the title of this paper equates Walden to society. At the same time, Thoreau’s behavior and advocacy for social reforms reiterate his belief that social reforms should be an individual endeavor. By this, Thoreau encourages people to practice individualism by prioritizing themselves and their needs over those of the government. He demonstrates individualism by failing to pay taxes to the local government in Walden. Instead, Thoreau focuses on living a self-sufficient life by isolating himself from the rest of the people and focusing on personal growth (Livingston, 4). Thoreau’s life further exhibits the relation between individualism, nature, and society by the way he lives a secluded life after building a hut in Walden. He lives a simple life in Walden Pond for a few years while meditating and appreciating the place of nature in human beings’ lives. In fact, during this period, he extensively wrote about society and nature. His other act of individualism is manifested when he engages in social reforms against the American government’s intention to declare war on Mexico. Backed by this explication, it is notable that Walden (the society) is uncomfortable with civil disobedience as it promotes individualism, which challenges allegiance to national governments. As a result, Thoreau’s refusing to pay taxes to the Walden Pond government shows that disobedience to the state is likely to attract punishment such as the imprisonment of the individuals challenging national and local governments’ authority.
As much as Walden fails to sit together comfortably with ‘civil disobedience,’ Thoreau insists that governments are an unnecessary burden to the individuals since their primary intension is to subdue its citizens and use the power given to them for individual gains. This sentiment is noted in how Thoreau writes against the government using quotes such as “a good government is that which governs least’. He also writes that ‘a good government is that which does not govern at all’ (Thoreau, 55). However, such governments cannot be realized unless the people being governed decide to fight for it through civil disobedience. Thoreau insists that governments are merely chosen as representatives of society. Instead, they gain power and use it against the very society they are supposed to work for. He insists that the government be an executor of the society’s will and not pursuers of personal interests that go against society and human nature. To avoid putting the government on a pedestal, Thoreau emphasizes that society embraces an individualistic culture. With such a culture, people will be openly rebellious to governments that subjugate both nature and society. In particular, Thoreau’s statements represent his anger and discontent with the government’s decision to declare war against Mexico and use it to capture slaves and expand slavery into the Southwestern parts of America.
The atrocities committed by governments against their citizens led Thoreau to conclude that governments are expedient. This term is used to reiterate the need for governments as a means of maintaining law and order. However, he acknowledges that their very foundation and intentions are possibly immoral, improper, and at worse, perverted. The power given to governments is liable to abuse by authority, such as legislators and politicians. Thoreau further slams the government and incites people into civil disobedience by encouraging them to be individualistic. He notes that if he denies the state’s authority, the country will retaliate by taking or destroying his property, harassing him and his children (Thoreau, 54). Because of these reasons, governments instill fear into people, denying them the opportunity to live comfortably and express themselves honestly. Thoreau further questions the need for human beings to have a conscience if they allow legislators to make decisions for them continuously. He, therefore, insists that individuals should first be men and afterward, subject to the government. By being men, Thoreau implies the need for individualism and living a life in line with personal conscience and not out of fear of reprimand by the government.
A careful explication of Thoreau’s ‘Civil Obedience’ literature reveals that he was against the enslavement of citizens by the government, and instead, he strongly vouched for individualism, natural coexistence, and harmonious living in the society. He emphasizes the need for just societies but laments that governments’ laws have never made human beings to be. Instead, the laws are used to promote injustices against individuals, nature, and society. Thoreau is skeptical that even the most conscientious people who disapprove of the government’s unjust actions, such as slavery, are forced to yield to its authority and feign support and allegiance. Thoreau notes that such blind loyalty compromises the relationship between the three items; individualism, nature, and society (Livingston, 9). Similarly, failure to revolt against oppressive and unjust governments is why there are no reforms even in countries and societies that are led unjustly. To avoid being part of the bandwagon supporting evil governments, Thoreau writes that he would rather face punishment for disobeying the government rather than become an agent of injustices he strongly condemns. He explains that civil disobedience from one person should incite the broader society into a revolt and rebellion since the government can only operate with the consent of the people it governs. In this case, mass revolts mean that the governments are against the government, forcing it to oblige and rule per the wills of society and nature.
Even as Thoreau encourages people into civil disobedience by promoting individualism, and the need to protect nature and society, he notes that most of his neighbors are afraid of the repercussion and consequences of civil disobedience, which might include losing the property. In his case, his acts of civil disobedience led to his eviction from Walden and subsequent arrest for tax evasion. Despite these events, he maintains that he is an individualistic person whose will cannot be bend by the government. He says that he cannot obey unjust laws, and if breaking unjust laws should send him to prison; it will be unfair imprisonment. Regardless, he asserts that prison is still a proper place for just and virtuous men. Governed by this careful explication of the three items, namely society, nature, and individualism, it is evident that the three things are extensively correlated concerning civil disobedience. For instance, individualism is the basis for conscientious thinking where only free thinkers understand the need to be self-sufficient and not to be cowed by the government. If the government continues to oppress the people through enslavement and unjust legislation, they should revolt and save society and nature from oppressive regimes. Thoreau speaks and writes about the need for individualism in promoting civil disobedience but practices what he preaches by failing to pay taxes to the Walden government. He is also on the frontline advocating against slavery and a proposed invasion of Mexico by the USA.
Livingston, Alexander. ““Tough Love”: The Political Theology of Civil Disobedience.” Perspectives on Politics (2020): 1-16.
Thoreau, Henry David. “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” Walden, or Life in the Woods and on the Duty of Civil Disobedience (New York: Signet, 1960) (2000).