On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

Henry David Thoreau is best known for On Walden Pond, his meditation on self-reliance, but my favorite of his works is On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. This essay is often published in a collection with Walden and is usually referred to as ‘Civil Disobedience.’ I don’t know why the title is shortened in that manner by publishers, but I wish it weren’t, because his message is that there is a civic duty to be disobedient. A DUTY. Frankly it’s amazing that this piece is still studied in schools, at least I hope it is. The beauty and clarity of On the Duty of Civil Disobedience lies in Thoreau’s curmudgeonly insistence on declaring his right, and ours, to our independence. Not just in body, but in thought. In deed. In belief. The individual declaration of independence. The acknowledgment of personal responsibility for putting civic duty into action. A civic duty to be disobedient when actions that your government takes are known to be wrong. That there is a clear moral standard and that it is important that we adhere to it.

Thoreau was a Transcendentalist but came out of strict Calvinist tradition, and lived in a sort of loose communion with Ralph Waldo Emerson (whose Divinity School Address to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School got him barred from entering the campus forever after. Why? Because he told the class to think for itself) and others. They were free thinkers and allowed themselves the full rein of their intellect while hewing to a strong moral code. They knew right from wrong and were not afraid to speak it.

We have a great tradition of thought in America. One not burdened by centuries of adherence to kings or churches, popes or dogma. Yet we’ve allowed ourselves to slip out of a deep sense of right and wrong. Why should issues of gay rights and gay marriage have confused and separated the country? Do we have such a tenuous attachment to right and wrong that we have to scourge those who would acknowledge and celebrate a state of being that has persisted since the beginning of man? Better to look at ourselves as a moral people in terms of our personal actions, and examine our desire to be part of a group to the detriment of our individual sense of what is right. I speak of the need to be part of the herd, to not raise our voice because our neighbor may hear, to cast a stone because the crowd surrounds us. To avoid asking the hard questions, such as: Why have I tolerated the restrictions of personal freedoms because of a perceived external threat? Why have I accepted that individual rights must be abridged for the overall ‘good’ of the nation? Why am I so afraid of not being liked that I will stand by when someone is being attacked for speaking the truth? Why am I willing to accept corruption in government if I see it in my own political party? Or my church? Or my social movement?

Thoreau’s most famously quoted statement that a man must keep pace with his own drummer, however measured or far away, is part of a deeply American tradition. A tradition that we are proud of for a reason. It takes courage, and we honor that. Today it’s just a little bit easier to be gay. Because the court has stood up for us and said “Marriage is a civil contract. Religious beliefs have no place in a contractual agreement unless the parties wish to include them.” Those opposed to gay marriage lost this case because they had no support for a vestigial, cruel exclusion of ten percent of America.

In keeping with Thoreau’s exhortation to stand boldly and to fearlessly assert civil disobedience we must turn our minds to larger issues. Yes, civil rights for gays are important. We shall have our rights. But now, turn your attention to UN Agenda 21. Let us educate ourselves, it’s easy. Just click and read. Say to yourself, and your world: I have researched what is happening in my country, and although I am afraid that I will be mocked or ignored for recognizing that a silent revolution has taken place, I will speak out. I embrace my duty as an American and I have the courage to pursue the truth.

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8 Responses

  1. Thank you R, for this post and let me be the first to echo your words :

    I have researched what is happening in my country, and although I am afraid that I will be mocked or ignored for recognizing that a silent revolution has taken place, I will speak out. I embrace my duty as an American and I have the courage to pursue the truth.
    BJ

  2. “When injustice becomes law, resistence becomes duty.” ~~~ Thomas Jefferson

  3. Great Piece!!
    Did anyone read about all the Billionaires “giving away”
    bucket loads of $$$…ugh I like Gates, Buffet seems better than Soros; but Bloomberg,,,ugh!!!

  4. Let’s say you start a business but do not have sufficient time to run it. If true then needless to say you need managers and accountants.

    Then the employees become corrupt and steal your money and also take bribes to do something special, like give them money or more power. Before you know it you have no business at all.

    You may be well within your rights to just walk into your building of thieves and kill them all simply because you no longer can afford an attorney.

    Or better yet….all those who steal from you ….just cut off their right hand. At least in the Muslim countries it works wonders. If they steal again they die.

    Many are not aware that if someone steals from you out of necessity to feed their family….you not only allow it…..you help them !

    I have also read of the Jewish persuasion that to walk onto a mans property , pick your corn and takes it off your property…is considered a thief.

    But you do have the permission to come onto the property and eat it there.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we had the same laws in this great country???

    Almost everyone that works for us in Government are richer than we are. However we ARE a generous people………..BUT ENOUGH IS ENOUGH !!!

  5. ps i HAVE OFTEN STATED THAT THE DAY CRIME BECAME ILLEGAL THEN CRIME WOULD END. AND ANY TIME YOU SAW WOMEONE WITH A MISSING HAND IS A SIGNAL AND I SERIOUS LY DOUBT THAT HE WOULD STEAL AGAIN…IT DOES NOT TAKE HIGH COURTS AND YEARS OF LAW STUDY TO KNOW JUST HOW EFFECTIVE IT CAN BE.

    AT LEAST IT IS WORTH CONSIDERING

  6. One more thing:

    Because of our government I I had to declare bankruptcy two years ago. We live on social security and we both are 76 years of age…..and now we are running low because my son who is 55 can’t find work. THANK YOU OBAMA BASTARD…I WOULD NOT ADVISE YOU TO KNOCK AT MY DOOR.

  7. While i seems clear that it was a mistake in hindsight to have involved government in rgw sanction of marriage, which has diminished marriage long before there was a question about gay marriage, this far down the road, it should be left to states to define marriage as they will.

    It is another manifestation of a misguided focus on and appeal to federal governmwent, that a federal judge should be presumed to have the authority to overrule the expressed will of a state’s voters when no constitutional principle is at issue, and no human right is being withheld.

  8. I used to absolutely fear gays when I was a child….but through the years and my spiritual insights I have come to believe that God makes gays when the population is over crowded.

    it has been proven that the size of the braqins pinial gland that causes a change in the child…in other words a child is born gay or straight. GAY is not decided on it is born into them..so logically it is for a purpose.

    After I went into the military I saw many gays and found they are not to be feared or hated and can be fun to be around. But if someone thinks that I am gay because I am friendly to them I just say step up and try me! I have learned to love all things under God.

    Muslims?? I love them and am impressed by their devotion and further I took a bit of arabic and been in the mosqe with outstretched arms to greet me. I gurantee that Muslims are more sensible than christians in their belief. Their entire life is dedicated to love and God.

    Yes I know there is more than one type of muslim. India too is another admirable race.

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