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Thread: Thoreau Theory?

  1. #1

    Default Thoreau Theory?

    If any of you have ever read Henry David Thoreau's essay Civil Disobedience you will understand a little more of what I am talking about here. There was the part in his easy, where he asked the somewhat rhetorical question of Whether or not Democracy is the end of the line, by which he means can government evolve any further than democracy (and still work might I add). What are your thoughts on this?

  2. #2

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    I find Thoreau a questionable thinker. Do I find him a valid thinker? Oh, yes! But like other transcendentalists (namely, Emerson), I find his concepts to be difficult for us to apply in our modern timeframe.

    While I have a lot of conceptual issues with "Civil Disobedience" as a work, it raises some really interesting points as a piece of historical commentary. One of my favorite quotes from "Civil Disobedience" goes as follows:



    "All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize."
    All machines have their friction. Thus, democracy. Democracy, if expected to be a perfect form of government, is being held to expectations that do not behoove it. Democracy, as a political concept, is an ever-changing beast. It is not meant to be static or even fully functional -- function begets efficiency, efficiency begets process, process begets reign, reign begets the transition towards forms of government less compatible with the concepts of democracy. What Thoreau is doing, in encouraging this ideal of "civil disobedience" is setting into motion what needs exist in democractic government, i.e., the theme of question.

    If we do not question what choices are being made by a government, then we threaten to eschew our ability to affect that government, and thus, that government begins distancing itself from the opinions of those for whom it was initially created.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dawes View Post
    I find Thoreau a questionable thinker. Do I find him a valid thinker? Oh, yes! But like other transcendentalists (namely, Emerson), I find his concepts to be difficult for us to apply in our modern timeframe.

    While I have a lot of conceptual issues with "Civil Disobedience" as a work, it raises some really interesting points as a piece of historical commentary. One of my favorite quotes from "Civil Disobedience" goes as follows:



    All machines have their friction. Thus, democracy. Democracy, if expected to be a perfect form of government, is being held to expectations that do not behoove it. Democracy, as a political concept, is an ever-changing beast. It is not meant to be static or even fully functional -- function begets efficiency, efficiency begets process, process begets reign, reign begets the transition towards forms of government less compatible with the concepts of democracy. What Thoreau is doing, in encouraging this ideal of "civil disobedience" is setting into motion what needs exist in democractic government, i.e., the theme of question.

    If we do not question what choices are being made by a government, then we threaten to eschew our ability to affect that government, and thus, that government begins distancing itself from the opinions of those for whom it was initially created.
    I was neutral with him, I found him neither great or stupid. Some of his ideas were good, but some were like "No, can't happen". I agree with your statement of question, if we do not question our democracy, well than that kind of defeats the purpose of one, making more of a monarchy so to speak, in some ways.

    Yes, democracy is constantly changing, but do you think there will emerge a new form of governmental theory.practice, one better and more practical/functional/efficient than Democracy?

  4. #4

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    I have read some of Thoreau's works, but am quite rusty on his topics, but peaking from a practical sense, I do not believe democracy is the end all form of govt. Ever since the Industrial revolution there has been an increasing gap between the rich and the poor creating social uprest, which can be seen in the Great Depression and the stagflation of the 70's (both economical nightmares). Thinking on a Marxist standpoint, this increased social uprest eventually leads to social reforms or revolutions, thus either slowly skewing the form of democracy to a more socialist machine or causing an exploding revolution. (Universale Healthcare? -- not saying i'm against it) The fact that the rest of the world is finally catching up to the U.S economically and democratically also creates competition for the U.S to either fall behind to a new world superpower, and thus a new govt. or revolutionize their democracy, which the constitution does aid. Overall my opinion is that democracy is not the perfect form of govt. and neither is any other, but neither is any govt. permenant, so democracy will change to fit the needs of the people.

  5. #5

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    I think Dawes is right on the mark, and we can see it in how so called democracy has already changed. Having grown up during the Viet Nam revolution, and the revolution of civil rights, I saw government as extremely corrupt, dictatorial, and possibly insane. At one point, Pres. Nixon asked Henry Kissinger to get down on their knees and pray to the portrait of George Washington.

    Since those days I have seen our government be determined by the sway and power of big business. It would be naive to think that we, the people have much influence in the course of democracy. The last step seems to be a trend toward socialism. I suppose those in power will always see the masses as nothing more than a labor force. To keep the labor force happy and productive, they throw us bones. This is the brave new world. One finds happiness by trying to be on the top of the heap rather than the bottom.

    But there still is sway, and those who have attained power can be influenced by the written and spoken word. Words have power because they can influence the masses, and the many are a powerful wave. We saw this power in the election of Pres. Obama. Great ideas change the world. They change ideologies, and their road is emerging as telecommunication. Look at China with its firewall, attempting to block the internet. Look at Iran in fear of its young generation of upwardly mobile. Government is fluid and changes, sometimes ever so slowly, and sometimes violently.

    Imagine where our government and its ideology will be in one hundred years?

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by dogboy View Post
    I think Dawes is right on the mark, and we can see it in how so called democracy has already changed.
    Yes. I kept wanting to reply, but didn't have anything more substantive than intellectual drooling to contribute.



    Quote Originally Posted by dogboy View Post
    Since those days I have seen our government be determined by the sway and power of big business. It would be naive to think that we, the people have much influence in the course of democracy. The last step seems to be a trend toward socialism.
    I would disagree. I think the last step, the final step would be Theocracy. Now, you can wrap this up in a veneer of socialism, but the Theocratic leader would just never pay out of the system.



    Quote Originally Posted by dogboy View Post
    I suppose those in power will always see the masses as nothing more than a labor force. To keep the labor force happy and productive, they throw us bones. This is the brave new world. One finds happiness by trying to be on the top of the heap rather than the bottom.
    Ah, but we'll race to the bottom to get there.



    Quote Originally Posted by dogboy View Post
    But there still is sway, and those who have attained power can be influenced by the written and spoken word. Words have power because they can influence the masses, and the many are a powerful wave. We saw this power in the election of Pres. Obama. Great ideas change the world. They change ideologies, and their road is emerging as telecommunication. Look at China with its firewall, attempting to block the internet. Look at Iran in fear of its young generation of upwardly mobile. Government is fluid and changes, sometimes ever so slowly, and sometimes violently.

    Imagine where our government and its ideology will be in one hundred years?
    Yargh. Hopefully, it will have been disbanded--either by force, social upheaval, or both--and cast aside in favor of a more equitable and just approach.
    Last edited by h3g3l; 02-Dec-2009 at 23:20. Reason: Fixing "we'll race to..."

  7. #7

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    While walking by a used bookstore, I saw the complete works of Henry David Thoreau in a fancy gold lettering book, with that cool included bookmark silk thingy. Being a huge fan of the romantic period of American Literature (Do you know what it is as you pass to be loved by strangers? Do you know the talk of those turning eyeballs ~ WW), I walked inside and asked for the price of the book, expecting something around 15 or 20$

    The owner of the store said the book was free to the first person who asked for it, a person had paid for it and left it in the open to be taken by the first person who asked for it, and that person was me. I read a good deal of it while in Peru, working in the slums of Belen on the riverbanks of the Amazon. When I have finished it, I plan on finding a used bookstore and letting the first person to ask for it have it.

    So I told you that story to tell you this one. I think Thoreau has some wonderful ideas, antiquated ones, but wonderful. I think the creation of a government is something that is never over. (Hence the symbol of the unfinished pyramid on the one dollar bill), but also the driving force of questions and pushing ourselves to find the barriers of the world are needed for us to have any growth.

    In other words, always wonder and ask questions.

  8. #8

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    Yes, I must agree. Bravo to you, Mullet. And h3g3l, Theocracy is the word I've been searching my aging brain, and all I kept coming up with was Oligarchy. But yes, when the power of business determines elections, that what we have is a theocracy, like the Senate in the Roman Empire. I like your comment about racing to the bottom. I believe I'm really good at that. Interesting that this thread came up as Obama tries to solve the Afghanistan riddle. I'm wondering when the next Walter Cronkite will emerge from the press and announce that Afghanistan is unwinnable.

  9. #9

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    I would like to dispute the claims of this being a Theocracy. A Theocracy is where a divine power is the civil ruler over a peoples. I would specifically say business does that, since there isn't a super natural being within business that governs them, although you could say that the invisible hand is that super natural being.

    Instead of it being a Theocracy, I would say it is more of a Corporatocracy, but with a little hint of Theocracy we are more like a...Thorpocracy I guess you could say.

  10. #10

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    In my opinion, Thoreau, Emerson, and every other transcendentalist to be very controversial, and I believe that the only reason they even got so much credit and made a name for themselves was because back in the 1800's almost everybody still believed in god or had some kind of spiritual belief.

    However, I will admit that they were all exceptionally quite smart in some respect, particularly Civil Disobedience in general.Thoreau nailed it perfectly when he described any outcome of the Mexican-American war as "swallowing arsenic". Thoreau didn't believe in the reasons for the US to go to war with Mexico over gaining Texas, due to the slavery issue. However once the US did in fact gain Texas the entire abolitionists(freesoiler) v pro slavery erupted throughout the entire country.

    But then again there are those texts such as "Walking" by Thoreau and "Nature" by Emerson, and if one were not to believe in god then the entire basis of everything in those essays just comes crashing down. "Walden" was also very questionable, and primarily built upon his own imagination. It was basically just "This is my opinion, I know declare it truth... so hah"

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