Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” is considered must-read for anyone who studies the principles of democracy, the relation between government, individual and society, and the foundations of political system. I would focus my essay on the question of inefficiency of voting as well as on the discourse initiated by Thoreau. Thoreau basic thesis concerning the nature of voting is that “All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it.
” (Thoreau http://eserver. org/thoreau/civil. html) Thoreau proposes an idea that voting is a mere lottery. While voting, a person can never know if he or she wins. He shows how voting turns to be unable to deal with actual problems of his time, e. g. slavery. Votes may be bought. Some citizens simply don’t care about their nation, while voting; Thoreau brings up an example of am “unprincipled foreigner or hireling native. ” (Thoreau http://eserver. org/thoreau/civil. html) The character and the views of the person who votes are unstable.
Another important issue aroused by Thoreau is that many people are deprived of opportunities to participate in the political process; they have no chance to nominate themselves for a position in the government until they come from political circles. I agree with the author that this is a very vital point for the reason that men get access to power and influence not n the basis of their virtues but on the basis of his occupation and connections. Thoreau is concerned with the fact that the voter expresses his will, but leaves the actual decision to the majority.
The question of relation between majority and minority has been crucial to American democracy. Majority rule with minority rights is one of the most widespread definitions of a democratic political system. Thoreau sees little virtue in the action of masses, therefore stresses “that the popular opinion is not always the right one. ” (Wheatley http://www. geocities. comrubyhatchet/disobedience. html) Actually, personally I don’t see enough consistency in Thoreau’s writing at this point. Who is to decide what is right and what is wrong? He trusts neither government nor nation.
He doesn’t suggest a mechanism for distinguishing “right” opinion. Nevertheless, Thoreau is “lamenting the part of democracy that has allowed a majority, no matter if they’re right or wrong, to have the last say and force any minorities to conform to its wishes. ” (Wheatley http://www. geocities. com/rubyhatchet/disobedience. html) He states the following: “A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. ” (Thoreau http://eserver. org/thoreau/civil. html)
The system of majority rule and the protection of minority interests is controversial. I think that majority may be blind; still, it should remain the only legitimate source of power unless other efficient system is introduced. “He [Thoreau] doesn’t trust the majority of the people to vote for the more moral and ethical choice. Thoreau argues that a simple majority is not the best means to govern a body, but that it will always win out due to its pure strength and dominance over any opposition. ” (Wheatley http://www. geocities. com/rubyhatchet/disobedience. html)
What should a responsible citizen do in case he realized voting to be ineffective? “To this end he [Thoreau] promotes individual thought and expression, with the hopes that the citizens under said government could make it somewhat better. We agree that people should make their voices heard in government however they can…” (Wheatley http://www. geocities. com/rubyhatchet/disobedience. html) Here civil disobedience comes into play. But modern democracies offer many ways of individual participation in the political process, namely joining a political party, proposing legislative or policy changes, or initiating an open letter to media.
The author of “Civil Disobedience” calls upon the citizens to vote using “not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. ” (Thoreau http://eserver. org/thoreau/civil. html) Here Thoreau proposes a very interesting idea. He suggests that mere voting, if not followed by the action, is useless. One reviewer of Thoreau’s works stresses the point that “merely deciding something is wrong is not enough if that decision is not followed by concrete action. Thorough criticizes the voting process in this context, since anybody can vote for something. Without action following a decision, voting or supporting something is useless.
” (Abacci Books, http://www. abacci. com/books/authorDetails2. asp? authorID=218&misspellID=87) It is true because great number of people voting for something can be simply unaware about the subject or highly reluctant to it. It would be interesting to analyze outing in the light of famous transcendentalists’ debate over natural rights. “Indeed, voting could not possibly be a natural right, for if it were, one would have to extend it to women and blacks. ” (Shklar, 1998 p. 179) Still, “Civil Disobedience” doesn’t give a direct answer to this question. Some scholars support Thoreau’s views nowadays.
A contemporary scholar Jeremy Waldron (1999 p. 127) is sure that “voting – counting heads – seems the very opposite of the sort of care that justice requires. ” Voting is often recognized inefficient in the process of taking group decisions. Major international organizations take decisions by consensus. Now it’s high time for me to draw the final conclusion of my essay. I believe that Thoreau’s essay was of high importance to me because it made me redeem many things I had taken for granted. No doubt, citizens should express their will not only through voting but also through all possible legal mechanism developed in democracies.
We should remember that “For all citizens the ‘simple act of voting’ is a ritual profoundly reinforced by the deepest ‘democratic myth’ – that even the federal government acts with the ‘consent of the governed. ’” (Shklar, 1998 p. 3) I completely support Thoreau’s notion that the citizen have a duty to control the actions of the government and to influence policies and decisions. Active standpoint of every person within the country can ensure transparent and efficient governance. The major lesson the one can learn from Thoreau is to evaluate critically the foundational principles of society and political processes.
1. Henry David Thoreau Civil Disobedience Available: http://eserver. org/thoreau/civil. html Last accessed: 24 Oct 2004 2. Shklar, J. N. 1998. Redeeming American Political Thought. University of Chicago Press. 3. Waldron, J. 1999. The Dignity of Legislation. Cambridge University Press. 4. Wheatley, K. , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, An Essay about Civil Disobedience Available: http://www. geocities. com/rubyhatchet/disobedience. html Last accessed: 24 Oct 2004 5. Abacci Books, Henry David Thorough Available: http://www. abacci. com/books/authorDetails2. asp? authorID=218&misspellID=87 Last accessed: 24 Oct 2004