Originally published as "Resistance to Civil Government"
By Henry David Thoreau - 1849 - with annotated text
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Desobediencia Civil - Spanish translation by Hernando Jiménez
While Walden can be applied to almost anyone's life, "Civil Disobedience" is like a venerated architectural landmark: it is preserved and admired, and sometimes visited, but for most of us there are not many occasions when it can actually be used. Still, although seldom mentioned without references to Gandhi and King, "Civil Disobedience" has more history than many suspect. In the 1940's it was read by the Danish resistance, in the 1950's it was cherished by those who opposed McCarthyism, in the 1960's it was influential in the struggle against South African apartheid, and in the 1970's it was discovered by a new generation of anti-war activists. The lesson learned from all this experience is that Thoreau's ideas really do work, just as he imagined they would.
"Civil Disobedience" in three parts: One - Two - Three
Henry Thoreau and 'Civil Disobedience' - by Wendy McElroy - "Americans know Thoreau primarily as the author of Walden, but it is 'Civil Disobedience' that established his reputation in the wider political world. It is one of the most influential political tracts ever written by an American."
The Theory, Practice, and Influence of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience - by Lawrence Rosenwald - "The essay is individualist, secular, anarchist, elitist and anti-democratic; but it has influenced persons of great religious devotion, leaders of collective campaigns, and members of resistance movements."
Did Thoreau change his mind? Because this essay is often associated with passive civil disobedience, some have assumed that Thoreau's support of John Brown was a change from his earlier position. But Michael J. Frederick, in "Transcendental Ethos: Thoreau’s Philosophy & Antebellum Reform," explains why this was not the case.
"Thoreau was a great writer, philosopher, poet, and withal a most practical man, that is, he taught nothing he was not prepared to practise in himself. ... He went to gaol for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. His essay has, therefore, been sanctified by suffering. Moreover, it is written for all time. Its incisive logic is unanswerable." - Mohandas Gandhi
"... when, in the mid-1950's, the United States Information Service included as a standard book in all their libraries around the world a textbook ... which reprinted Thoreau's 'Civil Disobedience,' the late Senator Joseph McCarthy succeeded in having that book removed from the shelves — specifically because of the Thoreau essay." - Walter Harding, in The Variorum Civil Disobedience
"I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest." - Martin Luther King, Jr, Autobiography, Chapter 2
More information: Other "Civil Disobedience" sites
"Civil Disobedience" originated as a Concord Lyceum lecture delivered on January 26, 1848. It was published as "Resistance to Civil Government," in May of 1849, in Elizabeth Peabody's Aesthetic Papers, a short-lived periodical that never managed a second issue. The modern title comes from A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, an 1866 collection of Thoreau's work. It's not known if Thoreau ever used the term "civil disobedience."
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Comments or questions to: Richard Lenat - email@example.com