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Civil Disobedience [Paperback]

Henry David Thoreau
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

13 Jun 2010
Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience was originally published in 1849 as Resistance to Civil Government. Thoreau wrote this classic essay to advocate public resistance to the laws and acts of government that he considered unjust. The practical application of Civil Disobedience was largely ignored until the twentieth century when, at different times, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and anti-Vietnam War activists applied Thoreau's principles.

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Civil Disobedience + Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions) + Where I Lived, and What I Lived For (Penguin Great Ideas)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 50 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (13 Jun 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1453621709
  • ISBN-13: 978-1453621707
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 13.1 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 77,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Henry David Thoreau (born David Henry Thoreau; July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American author, poet, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, philosopher, and leading transcendentalist. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state. Thoreau's books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry total over 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, where he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern day environmentalism. His literary style interweaves close natural observation, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings, and historical lore; while displaying a poetic sensibility, philosophical austerity, and "Yankee" love of practical detail. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay; at the same time imploring one to abandon waste and illusion in order to discover life's true essential needs. He was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending abolitionist John Brown. Thoreau's philosophy of civil disobedience influenced the political thoughts and actions of such later figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Thoreau is sometimes cited as an individualist anarchist. Though Civil Disobedience seems to call for improving rather than abolishing government – "I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government" – the direction of this improvement aims at anarchism: "'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." Richard Drinnon partly blames Thoreau for the ambiguity, noting that Thoreau's "sly satire, his liking for wide margins for his writing, and his fondness for paradox provided ammunition for widely divergent interpretations of 'Civil Disobedience.'" He further points out that although Thoreau writes that he only wants "at once" a better government, that does not rule out the possibility that a little later he might favor no government. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars SHORT AND SWEET 26 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a short essay, rather dated, but no less valuable for all that being a snapshot of a free man's opinion a century ago.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  93 reviews
124 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of individualism and the fight for justice. 25 Nov 2004
By Ragnarok Books - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Civil Disobedience is one of the most importance works of philosophy ever written. Like all great works of philosophy, it is as relevant today as it has ever been, as it transcends space and time. Don't let the abolitionist nature mislead you: this book is not merely about abolition and slavery. Rather, it is about Man Against the State, individuality, and Thoreau's philosophy of how one man can stand up to government and society, driven by his own convictions of right and wrong, as summarized by the timeless quote "Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already".

Thoreau's main point is that the best - and many times, the only - method for fighting injustice is through passive disobedience. By refusing to cooperate with the machinery of injustice, the individual can become the friction that stops the machine. Active resistance is bound for failure, as the machine (the State, society, etc.) is too formidable for the individual to fight. But, by refusing to cooperate, justice can be achieved and injustice toppled.

If you are looking for a marvelous primer on individuality and the fight for justice, start with this book.
49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It is not so desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right."-Henry David Thoreau 27 Feb 2009
By Medusa - Published on Amazon.com
In "Civil Disobedience" Thoreau presents political theories in which he dissects democracy and the interaction between citizens and their government.
Understandably, Thoreau was deeply concerned about injustices he witnessed during his life, such as enslavement of one sixth of the population and the invasion of Mexico by the United States.
Thoreau does not oppose the institution of government; he believes that when a government becomes "abused and perverted", it ceases to represent the will of the people. When a government makes decisions that promulgate harm and injustice, it is the duty of its citizens to rebel and break those chains of injustices.

Arguably, the strongest idea Thoreau presents, is the notion of individualism. Thoreau encourages skepticism of the government and rejects blind loyalty to it. Thoreau perceives citizens, who give blind loyalty to their government's decisions without questioning them, as participants in every injustice committed by that government. Whether this point of view is correct or not, it is worth debating, especially in view of the horrific injustices that are extant in today's world and the way the masses so easily accept them without considering the negative impact on others.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A testament to American Individualism 31 Dec 2009
By Bagels - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a thoroughly American view on political theory given the emphasis on the individual coupled with the call for civil disobedience. Definitely not for the faint hearted, go into this with a grasp of the events of the day and a willingness to read the entire essay at least twice to fully appreciate Thoreau's points.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Solution to Where America has Gone Wrong 5 May 2011
By Mark Ledbetter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
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 nave 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.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoreau would be shocked by today's government 19 Aug 2010
By Jeffrey Van Wagoner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It seems to be a great truth that the most profound points are made in very short works. This is a very influential work by Thoreau that is the foundation of civil disobedience. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were greatly influenced by this work.

A famous quote from this work is "That government is best which governs least". Today's bloated government would literally drive him mad. I've also read "Walden" and it expresses similar sentiments.

This short pamphlet should be read by everyone. I would personally love to see less government and agree that civil disobedience is a very good way to encourage change. It sounds like politicians back then were similar to what we have today. Some things never change.

These kindle freebies have given me a great and easy way to review several items I have wanted to read for years.
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