Civil Disobedience sits quietly in the national psyche as one of the founding documents of modern American liberalism. It's well known to liberals but not well read. It is worth the reading and would likely surprise liberals and non-liberals alike - as it did me. Sure, it's anti-war and anti-slavery, but it's also a lot more. The confused hodgepodge of modern isms that dominate current political thought could use the purity, consistency, and clarity that were second nature to thinkers nearer the American Revolution.
Consider, for example, Thoreau's political philosophy:
"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."
Or his take on government aid to societal improvement:
"Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of the way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way."
Thoreau on economic policy:
"Trade and commerce, if they were not made of India-rubber, would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their way."
1848 was also the year of another seminal work, the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. Where Thoreau looked back to the 18th century, Marx looked forward to the 20th . Where Thoreau recognized that the power of the state will not easily be compartmentalized, that power to do one thing will infect all things, Marx looked to the state to solve every problem. Where Thoreau knew that state power does not peacefully or voluntarily diminish, Marx justified his appeal for total state power - the dictatorship of the proletariat - with the naïve expectation that government would dissolve away into a stateless utopian paradise.
Thoreau, I expect, would have no trouble explaining why Americans who protest wars but advocate government intervention in the economy, get wars; or why Americans who advocate nonintervention in the economy, small taxes, and small government but support a worldwide military presence, get controlled markets, high taxes, and large government.
It has been pointed out that the structural deficits which have finally brought U.S. governmental finances to the point of crisis, got their start in the Vietnam War and Great Society. Us moderns tend to blame/praise conservatives for the wars and liberals for the social programs, but Thoreau knew wars and social programs are joined at the hip. We can have both or neither but not one or the other. Conservatives and liberals share equal responsibility. Civil Disobedience points to the solution.