Thoreau reveals the essence of his essay from the first lines. He brings a message to the people, calling for less influence of government on the society, as he believes this is what will make it more efficient. He believes government could be improved and become better. He explains that despite the common rules of logic, the society is ruled by the minority, not the majority, as the main advantage of the minority is physical dominance. Thoreau criticizes mankind, briefing on their role during the service for the government. He compares them to machines, possessing bodies, but missing their souls, following the commands from the authorities. His point is dedication, self-dedication in particular. Those men who become fully dedicated to certain deeds are considered totally useless, and only those who give away the smallest part of themselves to the people are highly appreciated and valued for their contribution.
Thoreau uses an example of the social injustice, meaning the existence of slavery in the independent society that spent years and lots of efforts to get on the new level. This example shows men, or machines, to be absolutely indifferent to the problems of society and their government and their unwillingness to make any changes. Another reason is that not all the people agree that slavery should be done with or war on Mexico should be declared, as these objectives do not relate to those of their own. He critiques the way election take place as wise men should not rely on the chance, which is his vision of election process. Legislation and laws work for majority, but many people remain unsatisfied with them; however, they do not react anyhow, being afraid changing something, even in a positive way, might bring even worse consequences compared to what they have with the bad laws.
We do not meet the Government directly; however, government man, the tax collector, makes us contact it at least once each year. These people happen to choose this job on their own, it’s only their own choice. If such people are honest, and just, the best place for them in our society is the prison. Just men have no other opportunity to combat for abolition of slavery then from jail. Thoreau explains that even the freest of the regular citizens feel themselves under the influence of the government; they can speak about a lot of issues that worry them, but are not ready to stand up against the government. On the other hand, even if people follow with the government, but decide to refuse to pay the taxes, they will be brought down together with their families, deprived of the property they have etc. Thoreau raises a question of who should decide who needs to pay and who should collect the taxes; he suggests any school could create its own tax bill and collect money for its own needs, same as the priests do.
Thoreau uses his own one-day imprisonment as an example of other people’s perception of a single imprisoned individual; he claims they do not understand physical imprisonment cannot influence the person’s will to do or not to do something. The night to prison becomes a travel to the alien country; world changed once Thoreau entered it and when he left the next day the old world could not be recognized as well. Those changes were not dramatic, but he saw the people in the new light, feeling himself on a higher, non-conformist level.
The author does not intend to be absolutely distanced from the others, but he insists on his better understanding of the basics. Thoreau believes we should be given a choice to appeal to the majority with the plea not to pay the taxes if we do not agree with the purpose they would be used for. He points out a problem America has – thousands of politics and orators, but only a few really good legislators in all of its history. Thoreau concludes with the statement that strong and powerful Government could only emerge provided it recognized every single individual in all of his higher powers and strengths.
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