Thoreau believes that people should not participate in injustice but that they do not have to actively promote a more just world. What is the difference between these two concepts, and why does Thoreau make this moral distinction?
Is Thoreau's conception of civil disobedience compatible with democratic government? Why or why not?
What is Thoreau's opinion on wealth and consumption? Why does he say that the rich are less likely to practice civil disobedience?
What might Thoreau think about the role of government in today's society? (In particular, think about the modern welfare state and the military complex.)
Thoreau asks rhetorically, "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator?" How would you answer this question? Is compromise on moral issues a necessary part of living with other people?
How does Thoreau justify the moral need for civil disobedience? What principles does he rely on in his justification?
Many leaders (Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr.) have used Thoreau's ideas on civil disobedience as the guiding force of political movements. Is such a use of these ideas consistent with Thoreau's skepticism about politics? Which (if any) of Thoreau's ideas are valuable in the context of political activism? Which do not pertain?
In what ways is Thoreau's essay based on the concepts of individualism and self- reliance?
Thoreau combines his arguments about why people should practice civil disobedience with personal anecdotes and discussions specific to his own time and place. Is this a rhetorically useful approach? Why or why not?
Would you describe Thoreau as optimistic or pessimistic about people's ability to improve the world? Explain.
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