Civil Disobedience – Critical Essay

An in depth response to Evan Carton’s, The Price of Privilege: “Civil Disobedience” at 150.

Evan Carton is a university lecturer who has taught Thoreau to students for years, mainly to students that are “intelligent, middle-class, well intentioned” undergraduates of the University of Texas. Carton mentions throughout his essay the thoughts that previous students have had on Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, how previous students can never quite explain why their views on Civil Disobedience are so strongly put forward in their responses when questioned why they dislike Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience.

As Carton states towards the end of his essay, all of his students responses are “reasonable”. However, it is Thoreau’s words that are used, not the main body of his work that emotionally effects the students of his classes. Carton’s description of his students thoughts while in their trainers and how they could/would “hear Thoreau whispering” about how the students are being carried on the backs of the underpaid “sweatshop workers” that made the shoes. This description is particularly emotive as it is perfectly applicable to the generation we’re in at the moment. Many people never stop to think about how the garment they’re wearing is made or who by or for how much. Overall, this part of Carton’s essay struck a particular cord with me, and has made me think more about the origin’s of the products i use/clothes i buy.

In one respect, I understand where Carton has come from with this. Although I’ve never taught Thoreau, or would ever like to try to teach it, I did feel rather emotional after reading Civil Disobedience. Not, curling up in a corner crying kind of emotional, but slightly offended, slightly hurt and quite embarrassed. Thoreau makes a point in Civil Disobedience about the slaves and how although we may dislike the idea, we don’t do anything to stop it. I know many people, myself included, that have felt strongly about an issue, yet never quite gotten around to making any difference to it. Never quite had the energy to focus my attention on the pressing matter instead of pushing it away, and hoping somebody else will take care of it. Although, i do believe that we are all guilty of this at some point, maybe even on a lesser scale than something that affects the world, I kind of go against what Thoreau has implied. Yes, we all do over-look the things that we know we really should help with in the world. But on the other hand, one person rarely makes all the difference. In order to resolve a problem, slavery for example, it is hundreds/thousands of people that are willing to work, help, sacrifice for the cause. Yet in the era we’re living in now, it’s not likely that this will ever happen.
Page 571 – All of these objections are reasonable…..

Why do the students hate Thoreau. legit reasons for it.


8 thoughts on “Civil Disobedience – Critical Essay”

  1. While I completely agree with the point about feeling strongly about a particular point but not standing up for it, and I get how and why students might feel slightly offended and disapproving of the idea, I dont see why we should push the blame to Thoreau. Yes, he raises points that makes us uncomfortable, but in the end, he is just simply pointing out facts. Whether we choose to do something about it or not lies in our hands.

  2. At the same time though, with globalisation, the world is getting to be increasingly interconnected. Almost every decision we make sets off a domino effect, affecting people near and far in ways that we can only imagine possible. I don’t think it’s fair to feel upset over every small decision. Yes, we should do what is right. But no, we shouldnt have to beat ourselves up for– say buying a pair of x brand shoes produced in a sweatshop in Thailand. Because not buying it sets off a chain of reactions that probably leads to something as bad as supporting the shoes and sweatshop.

  3. For the most part, I would agree with Averil here. While that sweet pair of Nikes for $5 must have come from a sweatshop, I don’t think that not buying them would have an equally bad effect. Instead I would think that the responsibility doesn’t really fall to you the consumer. I think the ‘sitting on the shoulders of others’ should be taken in to consideration if you are advocating a cause which you completely contradict with your actions.

  4. Yes John, that’s my point. Anything can happen. We have no idea what good or bad impacts anything we do happen. To be fair, every decision probably has positive and negative impacts. So it’s really hard to say.

  5. I just remembered something. I had an issue with the whole ‘sitting on the shoulder’ part. Isnt it normal to ‘sit on the shoulders’ of those who came before us? Learning from them and their mistakes, what they think, getting better and better? One lifetime isnt enough for one to make all the mistakes on our own, why can’t we learn from others’ mistake ‘step on their shoulders’ and become better from there? I guess there are many different ways to look at this ‘sitting on the shoulders’ part.

  6. I thought the “sitting on the shoulder” part was referring to relying on someone, and the problem with being reliant on someone is that it makes an individual feel helpless and has many consequences in the future. I may be speaking nonsense but that’s just what I got from it 🙂

  7. I agree with callam I thought Thoreau was trying to promote self-reliance with that statement.

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