Response to Richard Drinnon’s essay on Civil Disobedience

When I was reading Richard Drinnon’s essay about Thoreau and his Civil Disobedience, I was especially intrigued by the prevailing argument of whether Thoreau was an individualist or an anarchist. Therefore, I was inclined to evaluate Thoreau’s opinion in the Civil Disobedience and other’s opinions about him as a political figure.

From the Civil Disobedience, Thoreau clarified that he is just a civilian who wants to stop the government from carrying out unjust actions and wants others with same idea to be actively involved. He chastised people were afraid of expressing their opposition to slavery and the Mexican War, and asserted that not paying tax and preventing the support of government’s expediency is righteous action that a patriot can do. The audience tends to think that Thoreau was either an individualist, an anarchist, both or neither. Just as an elucidation, individualists are those who values personal ambitions and independence while opposing other organizations such as the government. And, the anarchists are those who consider the state as harmful to the civilians and desires community without hierarchy and laws. From Thoreau’s acting against the government and claiming for individual freedom he seems to be an individualist, whereas his comment on the state as being ‘evil’ and his statement “That government is best which governs not at all” seems to disclose his anarchist side.

As shown in Richard Drinnon’s essay, people show different opinions about Thoreau’s political stance. This is mostly due to his satire, wide margins for writing and use of paradox which caused people to interpret Civil Disobedience in variety of ways. From personal point of view, Thoreau seems to hint at, then contradict his opinions that can be regarded as either individualist or anarchist. For example, Thoreau states that good government shouldn’t govern, then alleviated it by saying that “I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government”. Furthermore, he informs us that he is “as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject”. His use of language confuses the audience: he seems as if he wants the government to disappear but in the end just wants it to be improved, and he opposes the government and demands individual freedom but concurrently makes speech in favor of others who also opposes the government’s unjust action.

From my perspective, he doesn’t seem to be either an individualist or an anarchist but rather a civilian who demands one’s freedom to advocate what one wants to support, and who wants to live a self-satisfactory, voluntary life. I believe that his chastising speech, bold tone and active opposition is what made him stand out as possible individualist or anarchist and to be rigorously debated amongst people. Hence, in my opinion Thoreau is rather an ‘advisor’ who bravely points out the faults of society and recommends people what to do in order to live their own lives.