Henry David Thoreau’s essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” written in 1849 is as relevant to the times now as it was then. We have a right to stand up and question any institution or individual that claims authority over us, just as he did then. In fact, it is our duty as citizens to do so. Thoreau decided that he could not be associated with the government of his day without disgrace. How about our government today? Can we associate with it without disgrace?
I can hear his words echoing in my mind: “It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right” (Thoreau, 1849). Our government enacts laws that intend to subjugate and enslave. We are hit from all sides with programs that invade our privacy, take away our rights as free citizens, and make chattel of us. Our government is out of control, and its laws do not stand for what is right. Therefore, it is our duty as citizens to question its authority. It is our duty as citizens to revolt. Thoreau states:
“All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist the government when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.” This revolution is not one to eliminate the government, but to make it better. “I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government” (Thoreau, 1849).So how do we go about this revolution? Thoreau makes it clear that
It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong…but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support (Thoreau, 1849).
“Under a government, which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison” (Thoreau, 1849).As Dylan Thomas so aptly put it: “Do not go gentle into that goodnight…rage, rage against the dying of the light.” May we find the strength to rage against the dying of the light of our nation while our republic gasps its last breath. May we, as individuals, find the courage to stand up to the powers that be and make the right choices. It starts with one person, and one choice. Do not abrogate your responsibility and sit on the fence of compromise. Decide to do what is right today.
Thomas, D. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bigeye.com/donotgo.htm
Thoreau, H.D. (1849). Retrieved from http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil.html