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Saturday, January 28th, 2012

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10:49p
A very modern voice ...
Ah, another delightful Dover Thrift Editions book! These gems that can both nudge a sub-$25 on-line order up into the promised land of free shipping, but can also be called upon to pad one's reading totals in months when one is falling short of one's goals (remember, I try very hard to read 72 non-fiction books a year, and went into this past December in dire need of some “quick reads”), plus, they're a great way to fill in gaps in that otherwise-excellent Liberal Arts education.

Henry David Thoreau is one of those authors whose presence was certainly noted in the assorted English Major texts and collections, and I'm certain that I'd read some of his stuff back then, perhaps even his most-famous work Walden, but despite having dipped a toe into his writing (I have another couple of brief piece by him in my library), I really didn't have much of a sense of the man's material.

I am very glad that I picked up Civil Disobedience and Other Essays, as its title work is amazing and should be required reading for everybody with an interest in Libertarianism and similar political philosophies. Civil Disobedience, however, is only one of five essays here (along with Slavery in Massachusetts, A Plea for Captain John Brown, Walking, and Life without Principle), and, unfortunately, the rest are not as strong at that. However, this is well worth the (very minor) cost of the volume, and here's a illustrative sampling:

      Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?
      One would think, that a deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only offence never contemplated by government; else, why has it not assigned its definite, its suitable and proportionate penalty? If a man who has no property refuses but once to earn nine shillings for the State, he is put in prison for a period unlimited by any law that I know, and determined only by the discretion of those who placed him there; but if he should steal ninety times nine shillings from the State, he is soon permitted to go at large again.
      If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth, - certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
These words could be coming from a Ron Paul campaign speech today, but they date back to 1849! Thoreau's situation here was the prospect of going to jail for non-payment of a tax … “It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually,” … very modern sentiments, and ones that would be as sure to draw the none-too-gentle attentions of the authorities today.

The next two essays deal, obviously, more with issues of slavery, more specifically in Slavery in Massachusetts (or how it manifested in a “free” state), and regarding the more direct abolitionist efforts in A Plea for Captain John Brown, and both of these are quite inspiring, if less universal. The last two essays are interesting but not as focused as the first three, but I suppose “your mileage may vary”, as these are more railing against the failings of culture/civilization in general rather than that of the Government, so perhaps just don't appeal to me as much!

Anyway, the cover price of Civil Disobedience and Other Essays is a whopping $1.50 so the odds of a brick-and-mortar book vendor having it taking up shelf space is unlikely, but, as noted above, it's an ideal throw-in for an on-line order needing to get up to the free shipping zone. I highly recommend putting this on your list for just that situation.


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