Civil Disobedience Transcendentalism Analysis

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When Henry David Thoreau retired to live on Walden Pond from 1845 to 1846, he was afforded ample time to contemplate the nature and necessity of his daily activities. He discovered that work is of great significance to the foundation of civil society, clearly evidenced by the fact that the very first chapter, Economy, contains the word “labor” dozens of times. In Walden and “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau criticizes the exploitative logic of capital accumulation embodied by the alienated man. He proposes pragmatic solutions, influenced by Transcendentalism, designed to develop the individual consciousness necessary for a more democratic society. An anti-capitalist perspective reveals Thoreau’s inspiration for his political commentary that influenced…show more content…
He recognizes that the failure to rise above a myopic focus on profit makes an individual complicit with immoral action, stating: “the opponents to a reform…are …more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity” (Thoreau 269). Concern with capital accumulation undermines the enactment of justice because an economic worldview depicts other beings as objects of exploitable value. As a result, democracy holds no function when a majority prioritizes commerce above the preservation of morality. Additionally, alienated laborers do not grasp that they possess the potential to reform an immoral government, and continue in complacency with the political laws they take to be eternal truths. In the context of abolition, Thoreau figures that “[w]hen the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent” (270). Alienation obstructs the ethical evaluation of extant legal institutions like slavery, breeding apathy toward oppression. In response to this issue, Thoreau declares that individual morality transcends political law because the latter is “set up by a legislature elected by the majority and…founded on expediency” (Christie 333). Designed for maximum economic efficiency and supported by uneducated masses, political law does not align with higher moral law; therefore, the ethical citizen had no obligation to follow it. Within a capitalist structure, the efficacy of democracy is compromised because citizens with materialist ambitions and those with none at all retain majority rule. In lieu of this matter, Thoreau proposes an individualist strategy of civil disobedience that rests on the assumption that individual moral conscience triumphs state

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