Civil disobedience

Civil disobedience is the intentional refusal to abide to certain commands, demands and unfair laws of a government or the laws of other international powers. Civil disobedience is one of the basic methods that are used in resistance without violence; it is viewed as compassion that is in the form of disagreement but done in a respectful manner. In an essay by Henry Thoreau, civil disobedience, he proposed that people should resist atrophy or overrule by the governments on their consciences. He argues that the public have a duty to prevent acquiescence like these to permit government to convert them into agents of injustice.

Thoreau claimed that as governments are naturally more harmful rather than helpful, they cannot be vindicated. The use of democratic processes cannot justify the actions of governments; this is because the fact of majority does not mean that the government automatically has justice and wisdom as its virtues. A person’s judgment is not in any way inferior to the judgment of the majority or a political body. Therefore there is no way that the government can seek to cultivate or impose respect for the law, a person is only obligated to do what he/she thinks is right as law has never made an individual more just. In fact, even well disposed individuals on a daily basis made agents of injustice in observing the law. In Thoreau’s view the government is not just a little unjust or corrupt in the course of performing its duties, but it is in itself the primary agent of injustice and corruption. (Thoreau, 1849)

Philosophers of politics asked people to exercise caution in issues to do with revolution because it has the possibility of causing a lot of suffering and expense. In retaliation, Thoreau proposed that analyzing revolution in such way is inappropriate when the government facilitates injustices such as slavery actively. Injustice is by all means wrong and immoral regardless of it being expensive and difficult to stop. From this views it therefore justifiable to use civil disobedience as an appropriate political strategy which can result in productive changes in particularly oppressive legislation or social conditions. It does not matter what the government or the majority of the people think, if an act is morally wrong it must be stopped at whatever cost.

Civil Disobedience

Thoreau also argued that in republic that is constitutional like the US, the public think that the appropriate response to a law that is unjust is to depend on the political process to amend the law, and to abide to such laws until they are amended. However if the law is clearly unjust and the process of making the law is not planned to eradicate the laws that are unjust, then the law should be broken as it deserves no respect. He also proposed that because the government is made by man and not an act of God, he hoped that the makers of the government can be reasoned with. He was of the idea the government of US though with many faults, it wasn’t the worst; in fact it had qualities that could be admired. However he still insisted that the public should always pressure the government to better. In light of this facts there are instances that civil disobedience is justifiable, they include when the government is too corrupt, when the government imposed unjust laws and when the government intends to use the public as agents of injustice. However as government is man-made, the public should first of all seek to solve contentious issues amicably before deciding to use civil disobedience.

Civil Disobedience


Buber, M. (1962): Man’s duty as Man from Thoreau in Our Season. Pg. 19 University of Massachusetts Press.

Cain, W., E. (2000): A historical guide to Henry David Thoreau. Oxford university press.