Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.
The title of this post is a quotation from Henry David Thoreau author of the seminal book Walden with it's corresponding essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. We are currently experiencing remarkable political times with Brexit and the election of the American president Donald Trump. Even the most casual observer of the news cannot ignore the mass of public protest in the wake of every executive action. The tide of demonstration is not likely by all accounts to subside as the presidential term advances in age. The protests have largely been remarkably peaceful from a historic perspective. Why?
Since the publication of Thoreau’s Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (first published in 1849), have often been cited as sources of inspiration and influence by luminaries such as Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. It seems that the current anti-Trump protest movements have taken head to Thoreau’s observation/admonition, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.” These words are no doubt clarion calls for the protests as they stand today.
On the other side of the political ledger, conservatives - namely those that support president Trump’s policies, there are likewise reflected in Thoreau’s text. Take for example the opening passage:
These words penned in the 19th century continues to still us in the 21st century. Today's hot topics such as the Mexican-American War (today cast as anti-Mexican immigrant policy), slavery (today in the form of voter suppression) and the problems of American Imperialism (think American military adventurism) are still present albeit in new forms.
Supporters of Mr. Trump believe (no doubt with glee) are hopeful that the recent election is ushering in a time when, “… a government which governs not all” is drawing inexorably closer. Opponents however may read Thoreau's opening passage as a cautionary admonition against government overreach. Certainly too much government of any form is a guarantor of tyranny.
The beauty and enduring nature of Thoreau’s work is two fold. First and foremost Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience have proven themselves over time to be deep exploratory wells for the exploration of the American personal and political psychic dichotomy. Regardless of one’s political persuasion these texts certainly offer much to ponder. Whether dubbed a “coastal elite” or a “fly over country” resident - you no doubt relate to the very spirit in which Walden was written. Who among haven't dreamed of living a simpler life in nature?
On the Duty of Civil Disobedience lays bear political fault lines in the American psyche while offering actionable insights into achieving a measure of equilibrium.
Thoreau, brilliantly blurs the lines and in so doing may offer our generation of American’s a common ground for advancement. How we as a civilization face and advance during these tumultous times requires a re-read of Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. If for no other reason than to foster a kind of social healing through the reconciliation of the schizoid halves of the American experience,