‘One Step Forward’ + ‘A Step Further’: Revisiting Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” By Richard D. Vogel

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By Richard D. Vogel
Feb 23, 2010

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This is the second installment of Axis of Logic’s new mission, calling for a Civic Revolution in the United States, led by Richard D. Vogel. The direction is clear. The time is now.

February 23, 2010, Axis of Logic – Most educated Americans know Henry David Thoreau through Walden, the classic account of his experiment to simplify his life by living in a primitive cabin that he built at Walden Pond and reporting what he discovered through his philosophical investigations.

Fewer Americans are familiar with Thoreau’s profound political writings that have helped shape the modern world. The list of political activists influenced by his most famous essay, “Civil Disobedience”, includes: Mahatma Gandhi; the resistance movements in Nazi-occupied Europe; US freedom riders and sit-downers from New York to Mississippi, including Martin Luther King, Jr.; anti-apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela; and a multitude of anti-war and anti-globalization protestors worldwide.

The central thesis of “Civil Disobedience” is compelling for people who hate injustice:

    If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly, the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; 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 counterfriction 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.

To appreciate the relevance of “Civil Disobedience” today, it is important to recall that Thoreau wrote the essay after having been jailed for refusing to pay his taxes as a protest not only against the institution of slavery but also against the 1846 invasion of Mexico, the first military campaign aimed at a sovereign nation in the long history of US imperialism.

A reread of this seminal essay by Thoreau is certainly in order.

For citizens interested in promoting a civic revolution in the USA today, a careful rereading of “Civil Disobedience” offers a double bonus — Thoreau’s first step toward obtaining better government in his own time and his ultimate vision of government — a vision that is as valid today as it was when he presented it the mid-19th century.

‘One Step Forward’

Thoreau prefaced his thesis of civil disobedience by offering his personal theories of government and practical observations on how government actually works and decided:

    But to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man1 make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

‘A Step Further’

Like all classical essayists, Thoreau saved the climax of his argument for the closing paragraph of his essay. After summarizing the evolution of political rule from absolute to limited monarchy, and from limited monarchy to democracy, he presented his vision in the form of a question:

    Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?

Revisit “Civil Disobedience” today, published on Axis of Logic. Thoreau was clearly looking in the same direction that the civic revolution must take today. The first step is the same step: we must all make known to politicians at every level of government — from union halls, city councils, and local school boards on up to whoever is sitting in the office of the President of the USA — that only a government that is willing to recognize and secure the rights and responsibilities of all people will command our respect — and receive our support.


Initiate or support a civic action today!

Read his bio and Richard Vogel’s introduction to Civic Revolution:

CIVIC REVOLUTION: Securing Human Rights
and Responsibilities in the USA

© Copyright 2010 by AxisofLogic.com


Civic Revolution: Securing Human Rights and Responsibilities in the USA By Richard D. Vogel

2 thoughts on “‘One Step Forward’ + ‘A Step Further’: Revisiting Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” By Richard D. Vogel

  1. Pingback: UCubed — An Opening Salvo in the Civic Revolution By Richard D. Vogel « Dandelion Salad

  2. Yes, we need a world-wide social revolution and we need it NOW! Pacifism might have been great years ago, but in today’s world of instant capabilities of killing, maiming, destroying…We don’t have time and need to stop ‘being nice’ and stop turning the other cheek, again and again. Either we start acting fast or we’ll end up like docile sheep being led to slaughter. “They” have the money to buy all kinds of WMDs, we don’t.

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