Many scholars have tried to distinguish the relationship the individual has with their society as a whole. Some have looked to conformity more, while others, like Henry David Thoreau, have stated that people should be conscience of their society, particularly their government, and enact on the injustice it has served. I agree with this idea, for if man did not question the ethics of their government, who would?
In his essay, “Civil Disobedience”, Thoreau critiques the American government for taking on the “majority” ideals; he says it is “not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest” (Thoreau).
Basically, Thoreau argues that American government is going to enforce majority ideals, even if they are not even close to what the minority thinks, because the majority has the power.
He believes that the government is not working for all the people, only the ones that could potentially do something, if they disagreed with any policies that are going on.
Thoreau argues that the American government then cannot be based on justice. He writes, “But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it” (Thoreau). WIth this, Thoreau is stating that if a government only takes on the morals of one group of people, even if they are the majority, it truly cannot be a government of justice because it is biased to the majority party.
Then, Thoreau goes on to critique the citizens that let the government come to this. Thoreau strikes up some very important questions, such as, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation? Why has ever man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward” (Thoreau). What Thoreau means is should man be a cog in the machine? Should he go on in life never questioning the people that make and enforce the laws, and if he does not, is he man?
I believe Thoreau is writing with great determination to change people at this point. He sees that tragedy, such as slavery and the Mexican American War, is taking place, and as he studies the American consciousness at this point, nobody is even questioning these monstrosities to mankind.
To me, there are so many parallels to what Thoreau is referring to in his time and to what is happening currently in America. I see many people not caring what happens to society, or to our laws as corporations, who are not physically strong but are the most influential making them the majority party, become friends with politicians. I have seen many laws that are unjust be passed, such as Citizens United, and wars be brought on, such as the Iraq war, that should have never happened. And why did they happen? Because the people who should care and even be aware of what is going on, are not. They have become mindless cogs in the machine we call “America”. People need to start questioning if their laws are put into place for our protections, or if they are put into place for another’s interest.
In conclusion, I feel that if David Henry Thoreau were alive today, we would be sipping on coffee talking about modern America and the lack of consciousness it has. Thoreau’s essay explains what is wrong with America, man not taking a stand for what they believe, and letting the government take the front wheel of society. It is sad that this essay was written in the 1840’s and it still rings truth today.