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Civil Disobedience, Solitude & Life Without Principle (Literary Classics)

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Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) championed the belief that people of conscience were at liberty to follow their own opinion. In these selections from his writings, we see Thoreau the individualist and opponent of injustice. "Civil Disobedience" (1849), composed following Thoreau's imprisonment for refusing to pay his taxes in protest against slavery and the Mexican War, is Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) championed the belief that people of conscience were at liberty to follow their own opinion. In these selections from his writings, we see Thoreau the individualist and opponent of injustice. "Civil Disobedience" (1849), composed following Thoreau's imprisonment for refusing to pay his taxes in protest against slavery and the Mexican War, is an eloquent declaration of the principles that make revolution inevitable in times of political dishonor. "Solitude," from his masterpiece, Walden (1854), poetically describes Thoreau's oneness with nature and the companionship solitude offers to those who want to be rid of the travails of the world to discover themselves. "Life without Principle" (posthumously published 1863) decries the way in which excessive devotion to business and money coarsens the fabric of society: in merely making a living, the meaning of life gets lost.


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Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) championed the belief that people of conscience were at liberty to follow their own opinion. In these selections from his writings, we see Thoreau the individualist and opponent of injustice. "Civil Disobedience" (1849), composed following Thoreau's imprisonment for refusing to pay his taxes in protest against slavery and the Mexican War, is Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) championed the belief that people of conscience were at liberty to follow their own opinion. In these selections from his writings, we see Thoreau the individualist and opponent of injustice. "Civil Disobedience" (1849), composed following Thoreau's imprisonment for refusing to pay his taxes in protest against slavery and the Mexican War, is an eloquent declaration of the principles that make revolution inevitable in times of political dishonor. "Solitude," from his masterpiece, Walden (1854), poetically describes Thoreau's oneness with nature and the companionship solitude offers to those who want to be rid of the travails of the world to discover themselves. "Life without Principle" (posthumously published 1863) decries the way in which excessive devotion to business and money coarsens the fabric of society: in merely making a living, the meaning of life gets lost.

30 review for Civil Disobedience, Solitude & Life Without Principle (Literary Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jowayria Rahal

    I have always felt that my mind was an inevitable labyrinth of shattered thoughts and inexplicable perceptions of the world around me until this afternoon when I read Thoreau's Civil Disobedience for the very first time. To be honest, although I had to re-read some passages more than twice to actually be able to grasp them, I am very content to have read this because I -at least- know now that in the course of history, there existed people who-just like me- found it hard to trust the society I have always felt that my mind was an inevitable labyrinth of shattered thoughts and inexplicable perceptions of the world around me until this afternoon when I read Thoreau's Civil Disobedience for the very first time. To be honest, although I had to re-read some passages more than twice to actually be able to grasp them, I am very content to have read this because I -at least- know now that in the course of history, there existed people who-just like me- found it hard to trust the society wherein they lived. Unlike some philosophers of the Age of Reason who believed that ' Man is a wolf to Man' and thus, governments should be established to secure individuals' rights, Henry David Thoreau argued in his essay " Civil Disobedience" that governments very rarely prove to be useful because their powers are directly derived from the majority that is often regarded as 'the strongest party'. For a man like Thoreau, Men shouldn't necessarily devote their entire life trying to fight whatever it is evil, they are-however-not to take part in such evils. This is certainly the reason why he refused to pay taxes and was arrested and imprisoned for one night in Concord where he pondered, considered himself ' the freest man ' of all of his townspeople and "did not for a moment feel confined" . Throughout his essay, Thoreau insists on the fact that "Government is best which governs least". Indeed, governments often abuse their powers that they no longer represent the will of the governed. For the US citizen Thoreau, governments never achieve what they are accredited for : providing national security, settling the West and educating the people. It is rather the individuals who should be given credits for all of these achievements which would have been even greater if governments hadn't "been". Rather than trying so desperately to abide by the laws that governments set as the basics of ruling any given country, individuals-according to Thoreau- should orient their respect towards what it is right and not towards that which is regarded as 'legal'. In a world where people where accustomed with oppression, political frustration and subjugation, I think it was very revolutionary of Thoreau to have written such an essay that introduced the notion of " individualism" that was alien to people at that time. Thoreau wholeheartedly rejects the idea that one must sacrifice one's values out of loyalty to the government. A person should stay true to her/his principles even if they contradict those of the government. This is because he believed that a government that is not based on conscience must be nothing but an unjust ruling body with which people shouldn't associate themselves. Thoreau's essay which was published in about 1854 reminded me a lot of Orwell's 1984 with its political skepticism, social criticism and dark-ish vision regarding governmental reforms.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    A fine and influential piece of writing. This is a good essay for me to read when I get too comfortable, too utilitarian, too focused on expediency and economy. When I feel like my opinions are noble by simply being expressed, it is nice to be reminded how disingenuous I am actually being to what I purport to believe and even feel.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Some beautifully constructed arguments, and the writing is just as good as the philosophy. Still, there are several points with which I adamantly disagree. Worth the time for anyone with a social conscience and to examine the origins of Ghandi's and Dr. King's political, social, and philosophical ideals.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Some interesting and salient points on humanity, civility, morality, conscience, and doing what's right. There are also some interesting aspects on life, right and wrong, and personal purpose of life. Worth a read and more deserving of time and thought than what I was able to give it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kirtida Gautam

    What clarity of thought! What beautiful writing. I loved the book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Monty

    One of the classics of American Philosophy and political science. Thoreau with one essay places himself in the ranks of Tolstoy and the philosophers of the enlightenment. Government is a human fabrication and is given power by the majority, even when they are unethical and inhumane. His argument arises from his unwillingness to pay taxes to the U.S. government which is waging war against Mexico for the purpose of expanding slavery into the SW. He refuses to pay the tax and spends a night in One of the classics of American Philosophy and political science. Thoreau with one essay places himself in the ranks of Tolstoy and the philosophers of the enlightenment. Government is a human fabrication and is given power by the majority, even when they are unethical and inhumane. His argument arises from his unwillingness to pay taxes to the U.S. government which is waging war against Mexico for the purpose of expanding slavery into the SW. He refuses to pay the tax and spends a night in jail, and wrote: "any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already." But he uses harsher language yet :" I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know it friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it." He also echoes the fable of the trees, remarking that if the Oak overshadows the Chestnut, that is its nature, and should not be made equal by use of the axe or the saw. The Essays on Solitude and Life Without Principle are just as powerful, and explain his philosophy completely. This is a marvelous work of American philosophy which, like other Libertarian writings, leans toward the sovereignty of the Individual, especially when the thinking of the group or masses is completely WRONG. Each person must be true to his or her conscience.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Thoreau wrote this before the American civil war and therefore his topical concerns were slavery and the Mexican-American war. His ideas are applicable also to the 20th and 21st century, and fit just as well to our particular set of concerns. The whole of his paper can, in my opinion, be expressed by this quote from it: "There will never be a really free and enlightened State until that State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and Thoreau wrote this before the American civil war and therefore his topical concerns were slavery and the Mexican-American war. His ideas are applicable also to the 20th and 21st century, and fit just as well to our particular set of concerns. The whole of his paper can, in my opinion, be expressed by this quote from it: "There will never be a really free and enlightened State until that State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly." A method he advocated and employed to protest and civilly disobey was to not pay taxes. Of course we can't get away with that!! Not even Al Capone could dodge the tax man. Thoreau got his butt thrown in jail too. I have a phrase I live by: "Don't mess with the IRS." Thoreau said: "That government is best that governs least." That seems to be a common theme of Tea Party candidates and most of the people who want to become politicians: "I'm not a career politician." That is until they get elected, then they all become career politicians! I think it all comes back to the love of money. As long as the system allows people to profit from their corruption, nothing will change.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey Bateman

    Just finished re-reading "Civil Disobedience" as I was prepping for one of my classes this weekend. What a powerful reminder of what an important, and still relevant, essay this is. My favorite passages, at least this time around: "Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?" And ... "If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of government, let it go; let it go: Just finished re-reading "Civil Disobedience" as I was prepping for one of my classes this weekend. What a powerful reminder of what an important, and still relevant, essay this is. My favorite passages, at least this time around: "Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?" And ... "If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of government, let it go; let it go: perchance it will wear smooth ... but 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. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn." Let's just say I can't wait to discuss this text with students on Monday.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Gu

    So we read part of this in English class, and I think that it was pretty good. Thoreau takes a stance and makes some very strong points about our government, and why it wasn't functioning as it should. I agreed with many of his points, and could understand why he wasn't proud with society back then, because of slavery and all. You have to understand that Thoreau was a Trascendentalist, whom believed way out of the box, in things like nature and stuff, and supernatural things that are kind of So we read part of this in English class, and I think that it was pretty good. Thoreau takes a stance and makes some very strong points about our government, and why it wasn't functioning as it should. I agreed with many of his points, and could understand why he wasn't proud with society back then, because of slavery and all. You have to understand that Thoreau was a Trascendentalist, whom believed way out of the box, in things like nature and stuff, and supernatural things that are kind of obscure to me. But I admire his strong beliefs and point of view.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Juni

    The historical references and language can make this a bit cumbersome to read at times. That being said, if you make your way through it and actually think about the point of view and how it applies not only to that time but to today and the general ideas involved then you will find a book that remarks on our duty to not only support our country but to stand up for what you believe in. It is easy to complain about the problems in our government. This reminds us that talk is not enough.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Angie Libert

    I don't think I am going to stop paying my taxes to make a political statement, but if I lived a simple life, with no kids or personal wealth, I think his method could prove quite effective. You would also need a group to support your radical actions, to bring it out into the media. What I appreciated from his essay though, was that he was thinking outside of the box, and searching his own heart and intellect for ways to make a change in areas that he disagreed with.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    Henry Thoreau's essay on Civil Disobedience is a powerful reminder of the duties, limits and if any- the authority legitimate governments should exercise towards it's citizens. Thoreau's outcry on the war with Mexico and American slavery copulates to this powerful narrative which exalts the law of conscious over civil law.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cristin

    I remember reading this while I studied Americana--I think it's quite an essential read--and felt very pleased that it was a part of my high school curriculum. This is one that I feel compelled to revisit, as I think it would be enhanced by the experiences that have altered my perspective since my first reading.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Derek Walsh

    This is an eloquent argument for quietly refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of corrupt governments. It doesn't advocate violent revolution, merely that men of conscience act according to that conscience in their daily lives. Still very relevant 160 years after it was written.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Curtis Jensen

    Fun to read during an election year. Full of good one or two liners. Many have supporting comments, but does lack some depth on other topics.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    I really enjoyed reading this. It put into words what I had sort of abstractly thought.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fadhli Rahim

    inpiring read. Some of the ideas are still relevant today.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Horn

    Thoreau poses some interesting questions on how tightly you actually hold your political beliefs. But his misunderstandings on things like the jurisdiction of the government doom his conclusions.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jessy

    Radical.

  20. 4 out of 5

    A.J.

    Interesting to read about Thoreau's very brief time in prison and the effect it had on him.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sebouh

    Amazing thoughts, explanation and vision!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Schutt

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aundrea

  25. 4 out of 5

    Frankx99

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matt Nichols

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joeskin Thaweesut

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anna Lin

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amit P

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