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
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-
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.